Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that permits someone to gain legal ownership of property owned by someone else. Historically, the common law was designed to encourage landowners to make beneficial use of their land. The rationale is that those who sleep on their rights by not keeping an eye on their property may lose it to those who meet the legal requirements of an adverse possession claim.
Elements of Adverse Possession
A trespasser may gain legal title to the property of another by proving the elements of adverse possession, which are:
- Actual and Exclusive: The trespasser must occupy or use the land and treat it as their own for the duration of the statutory period. They must also do so to the exclusion of the rightful owner; if they share possession of the property, it is not considered adverse and will therefore not satisfy this element.
- Open and Notorious: Possession must be done in an open and notorious manner. It is considered open and notorious if the rightful owner would notice their possession if they inspected the property. Those who keep their possession a secret will not be able to adversely possess the property.
- Hostile and Under a Claim of Right: To satisfy this element, a trespasser does not necessarily have to possess the property in a hostile manner. Rather, they must either occupy the land not knowing it belongs to someone else, occupy the land knowing it belongs to someone else, or occupy the land as a result of relying upon an invalid or incorrect deed. Additionally, the trespasser must possess the property without the rightful owner’s consent under claim of right, otherwise known as a claim of ownership.
- Continuous and Uninterrupted: The possession must be uninterrupted for the entire statutory period, which varies by state. In Maryland, the statutory period is 20 years, meaning that a possessor must occupy the property for at least 20 years in order to bring a successful claim for adverse possession.
How to Avoid Adverse Possession
Landowners must monitor their property to prevent trespassers from gaining ownership. There are several steps they may take to stop adverse possession, including:
- Having the land regularly surveyed
- Posting “No Trespassing” signs
- Putting up a fence or gate around the property
- Giving squatters permission to use the property and having them sign a written acknowledgement
- Offering to let squatters rent the property
- Asking squatters to leave and having law enforcement remove them from the property if they refuse
- Installing an alarm system, lights, motion detectors, and other security measures
- Monitoring the property regularly
- Filing suit against squatters who refuse to leave the property
Towson Real Estate Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Assist Clients with Adverse Possession Claims
If someone is squatting on your property and refuses to leave, contact a Towson real estate lawyer at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC. We can take steps to prevent trespassers from gaining legal title over the land and represent your interests in boundary disputes. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County. Contact us online or call us at 443-589-0150 for a free consultation today.