Adverse possession – it’s one of the most talked about, yet most misunderstood legal concepts out there. The specific requirements for this legal concept vary by jurisdiction, but the general premise is as follows: if the owner of a piece of property has not occupied or used their land for an extended length of time, there is the possibility that someone trespassing on the land can enter the property, maintain occupancy on it, and subsequently acquire legitimate ownership of it. In the legal world, this process is referred to as “adverse possession.” Put simply, adverse possession is a route to ownership in which the trespasser gains legal title of real property via the actual, open, hostile, and continuous possession of the land to the exclusion of its initial possessor for the amount of time set by state statute.
The concept of adverse possession can be traced back to the time of the ancient Roman Empire. They developed what is known as the usucapio law that permitted someone who had present possession of a good to claim lawful ownership of said good if the true owner did not come forward to claim it. Over the years, especially in times of economic turmoil, transferring this concept to real property offered a method for real property to be purposefully utilized by making sure that the person who actually used the asset efficiently would eventually be able to claim ownership of it.
The majority of adverse possession cases involve disputed property boundaries between two individuals holding title to adjacent real estate. For example, if one landowner builds a stone wall on his property and the wall meanders at some points onto the neighboring owner’s land, and the neighbor does not offer any objection, eventually, the wall-building property owner can exert ownership of the land enclosed by the wall – including the land that initially was owned by his neighbor via a claim of adverse possession.
Adverse Possession Requirements
For an individual to claim title to real property via adverse possession, specific requirements must be fulfilled. Per Washington statute, the possession at issue must meet the following conditions:
Actual: The individual claiming adverse possession must physically utilize the property as a typical landowner would. Simply entering or hunting on a property does not fulfill the requirement of actual possession. The behavior of the adverse possessor must alter the state of the property. In instances involving non-residential real estate, this may involve clearing, mowing, growing crops, logging, mining, building enclosures such as fences or walls, harboring animals, building structures, or making other similar improvements to the land. For residential properties, qualifying activities for adverse possession may include cutting the grass, trimming hedges and plants, switching out the locks, or conducting repairs on swimming pools, sprinklers, or other fixtures.
Exclusive: The individual asserting adverse possession must possess the property to the exclusion of the present owner for a statutorily-fixed length of time. In Washington, the required period of exclusive possession is ten years. If at any point during that window of time the initial owner utilizes the land, adverse possession cannot be asserted.
Uninterrupted: The adverse possessor must occupy the land continuously for the full ten year period. Intermittent or periodic use of the land does not qualify. For instance, simply harvesting crops on a seasonal basis but failing to conduct other ownership activity in between harvesting seasons does not meet this condition. If, at any point over the course of the ten year period, the real landowner ejects the adverse possessor (either through legal means or by verbally instructing them to leave), the ten-year clock resets.
Open & Continuous: The adverse possessor’s utilization of the land must be so apparent and open that a reasonably diligent landowner could not fail to take notice of the activity. This condition may be fulfilled by erecting a barrier, putting up signs, building fixtures or houses, and other comparable activities.
Hostile: The adverse possessor has to come onto or utilize the property without the true landowner granting them permission to do so. Accordingly, adverse possession claims cannot be asserted by those renting property, hunters, or other individuals who use the property after first obtaining the owner’s permission to do so.
In Washington State, all five of these conditions must be satisfied for ten years in order for an individual to be eligible for an adverse possession claim. Additionally, the party that is asserting ownership of a given property by way of adverse possession shoulders the burden of proof that they have met all of the applicable requirements to do so. On the other hand, if an adverse possessor has occupied a property and made all required tax payments on it for seven years per a “good faith color of title,” they only have to establish that their possession was actual, open, and continuous in order to assert a valid claim of adverse possession.
Contact an Effective Tacoma Real Estate Attorney Today
If you suspect that you may have a valid adverse possession claim, or if you are a property owner fighting a claim of adverse possession, it is essential that you consult an experienced real estate attorney as soon as possible. Adverse possession cases are nuanced, fact-intensive affairs that can be complicated and overwhelming for even the most sophisticated clients. Luckily, you do not have to face this ordeal on your own. The Tacoma real estate attorneys of Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., have over fifty years of combined legal experience in a broad array of legal issues, including adverse possession. No matter the size or complexity of your case, we are committed to providing you with the time, effort, and attention to detail that your case deserves.
Your property rights are simply too important to entrust just any law firm with your adverse possession case. Contact our responsive and client-focused legal team today by calling us at 253-272-2997 or by visiting our website to learn more about how we can assist you in developing an effective and favorable result in your case.