What is Adverse Possession and How Could it Impact your Property?
Adverse possession is a principle of law that allows for a party to claim title to land that is owned by someone else by physically possessing the land for an extended period of time so long as certain requirements are met.
Proving Adverse Possession
To prevail on a claim for adverse possession in Massachusetts, the claimant must prove the following:
- Actual Possession– the claimant must prove that they are actually in physical possession of the land;
- Open and Notorious Possession – the claimant must visibly and openly act as if they owned the land;
- Hostile Possession – the claimant must show that they do not have permission from the owner of the land to possess it;
- Exclusive Possession – the claimant must prove that they are the only one in possession of the land; and
- Continuous Possession for 20 years – the claimant must be in continuous possession of the land for at least 20 years. The 20 year period can be maintained by successive owners of the adversely possessed land if there is privity between them.
Unfortunately, adverse possession claims often times arise between neighbors. A common example of a neighborly adverse possession claim occurs when Neighbor A (or a prior owner of Neighbor A’s property) puts up a fence over the true property line and on Neighbor B’s property. If the fence and Neighbor A’s (or successive owners of Neighbor A’s property) adverse possession of Neighbor B’s land continues openly and without permission or objection for 20 uninterrupted years, Neighbor A may have a viable claim for title to Neighbor B’s land. In order to establish title to Neighbor B’s land, Neighbor A would have to file an action in the Land Court or Superior Court and prove all of the above referenced elements of adverse possession.
Preventing a Claim for Adverse Possession
In order to protect your land against a claim for adverse possession, a land owner should:
- Get a survey of their property to establish the true boundary lines;
- Mark the true boundary lines of their property with a fence;
- Provide neighbors that are using any portion of their property with written permission to do so; and
- Register their land with the Massachusetts Land Court. In accordance with G.L. c. 185, § 53, registered land is not subject to claims for adverse possession.