“Adverse Possession,” or “legally stealing property”

Yes, you can legally take real property (land) belonging to someone else.  It’ll take a couple decades, but it can be done!

Most people have heard of “adverse possession,” or “squatting.” These occur when one who doesn’t own the land (trespasser) eventually acquires ownership by means of possessing the land for a certain time period.  Trespassers become the property’s legal owners.  Often this possession is intentional, such as someone who builds a structure on land that appears abandoned or where the owner doesn’t pay attention (think vast farmland), or someone who encroaches on a neighbor’s property thinking that the neighbor won’t say anything or notice (think widening your driveway into the neighbor’s boundary line or extending your landscaping into the neighbor’s yard).

Adverse possession can occur unintentionally also.  Examples of this occur typically through mistake, such as a someone building a fence on a neighbor’s property by relying on a faulty survey.

In Ohio, you can acquire ownership of property if you adversely possess it for 21 years.  The acronym to remember when determining if the elements of adverse possession have been met is “OCEAN”: Open (visible, obvious, capable of being seen), Continuous (regular, uninterrupted use of the land), Exclusive (adverse possessor treating land as if he or she is the owner), Adverse (non-permissive) , and Notorious (owner has been put on notice by trespasser; trespassing can’t be sneaky or secretive).  Does a squatter grow a tomato garden on your land for 15 years, stop for two then claim “adverse possession” at 21 years?  (No adverse possession.)  Does a neighbor mow into his neighbor’s lawn for 21 years, but only in the middle of the night and is never seen?  (Sneaky or secretive behavior defeats “notorious” element and results in defeating claim of adverse possession.)

Adverse possession claims are very fact-specific.  To avoid “squatters,” you should:

  1. Keep an eye on your property.  Enforce your boundaries.
  2. Post “No Trespassing” signs if you own a large area of land.
  3. Give written permission to use your land and get the user’s acknowledgement of such permission.  Examples include giving permission to drive across your land, park on your land, grow crops, etc.  This permission and acknowledgement defeats adverse possession and easement claims.

You might eventually need to involve the police or courts in situations of adverse possession, but whatever you do, do not ignore the situation for 21 years or you have a good chance of losing a claim of adverse possession in Ohio.

Contact me at julie@juliemillslaw.com or visit http://www.juliemillslaw.com with any property or other legal questions.

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