Unlike a laptop or a bag, it’s pretty hard to imagine someone simply taking a home, a hunting cabin or a plot of land and claiming it as their own — but it can actually happen.
Generally speaking, you can’t claim ownership of a piece of real estate without a lot of paperwork changing hands, unless adverse possession is involved.
What is adverse possession?
In essence, adverse possession allows a trespasser to eventually gain legal ownership over a piece of real estate whose owner has either neglected or (in many cases) entirely forgotten that they owned it.
Sometimes the trespasser is entirely (or mostly) unknown to the person who has legal title to the property. For example, imagine that you inherited a hunting cabin on a plot of land from your father. You now live in a different state, so you could be entirely unaware for years if a stranger took up residence in the old cabin and made it their home.
In many cases, the trespasser is actually a neighbor and their actions stem from a misunderstanding of the boundaries between your two properties. For example, maybe your property is cut in an “L” shape, with the foot of the property running behind your neighbor’s home. For whatever reason, you and your neighbor have both forgotten that patch of land is really yours, so your neighbor unknowingly tends it and uses it for a garden plot for years.
What does adverse possession take?
Adverse possession is neither a quick nor easy process — and, despite its name, it isn’t inherently hostile. In Texas, it takes 25 years for the property’s title to pass to the trespasser.
During that time, the trespasser must continuously be present on the land and use it as if it were their own without the owner’s permission. They must do so openly, exclusively and obviously (just like a true owner).
Whatever side of the dispute you’re on, adverse possession claims can get complicated. Make sure you have a full understanding of your rights and the challenges ahead.