Entry: Adverse Possession
Pronunciation: ad – vers – po – sesh – uhn
Definition: real estate term where a person takes wrongful possession of land from the rightful owner for a certain period of time and gains legal title to that land
Again, adverse possession occurs when a person takes wrongful possession of another person’s land and gains legal title to that land! At first, this may sound absurd. That’s because this means that a person who is not the rightful owner of the land can actually gain legal title to land owned by someone else. You may be asking, why? Or how could this be?
Well, adverse possession is a legal concept from 13th century England with a simple policy behind it – If you don’t use your land, you lose it! So, does adverse possession apply today in the United States and other countries? Yes, it actually does in many jurisdictions. But, it’s not easy to accomplish.
In short, the adverse possessor (i.e. person trying to claim legal title to someone else’s land by adverse possession) must generally prove 5 elements including that his or her use was: (i) hostile – without permission of the rightful owner, (ii) actual – took actual physical possession of the land, (iii) visible – others could see the adverse possessor occupying the land, (iv) exclusive – the adverse possessor did not share the land with the true owner, and (v) continuous – without interruption for a certain period of time (often 21 years).
We like to remember the elements through the acronym of HAVEC: (i) hostile, (ii) actual, (iii) visible, (iv) exclusive, and (v) continuous.
There are many other legal issues that arise with adverse possession, as it is quite an interesting legal concept. For more information on adverse possession, please read the contract law articles.