Adverse possession is a characteristic in the field of property law or real estate law. It is defined as, acquisition of an unoccupied property, that is owned by another individual, by continued use of the land or property for a legal period by a person other than the owner. This would entitle the individual to claim ownership of the land without having to pay for any compensation to the actual owner. Persons or individuals who occupy property in this manner are called “Squatters”.
Adverse possession, sometimes colloquially described as ‘squatter’s rights’,is a legal principle under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property—usually land (real property)—acquires legal ownership based on continuous possession or occupation of the land without the permission of its legal owner.
In general, a property owner has the right to recover possession of their property from unauthorised possessors through legal action such as ejectment. However, in the English common law tradition, courts have long ruled that when someone occupies a piece of property without permission and the property’s owner does not exercise their right to recover their property for a significant period of time, not only is the original owner prevented from exercising their right to exclude, but an entirely new title to the property springs up in the adverse possessor. In effect, the adverse possessor becomes the property’s new owner. Over time, legislatures have created statutes of limitations that specify the length of time that owners have to recover possession of their property from adverse possessors. In the United States, for example, these time limits vary widely between individual states, ranging from as low as five years to as many as 40 years.
Although the elements of an adverse possession action are different in every jurisdiction, a person claiming adverse possession is usually required to prove non-permissive use of the property that is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, adverse and continuous for the statutory period.
Personal property, traditionally known as ‘chattel’, may also be adversely possessed, but owing to the differences in the nature of real and chattel property, the rules governing such claims are rather more stringent, and favour the legal owner rather than the adverse possessor. Claims for adverse possession of chattel often involve works of art.
For officially claiming adverse possession of a property, the individual must fulfill a few requirements. Let us now take a glimpse on these requirements.
- The individual has to possess the property in a real as well as visible manner.
- The individual must possess the property mentally. This is also known as hostile possession. It means that the person who possesses the land restricts any outsiders from using it.
- The possession of the property hast to be unremitting for a statutory period. If the person leaves the property at any time, the amount of time that was spent to get adverse possession of the property is nullified.
Although adverse possession is a legal term or law, it can’t be called legal. The time period of occupation of the property, before getting the title of ownership, is actually illegal. The actual property owners sometimes lose their ownership because of their negligence. As a result the squatters take the ownership of the land, after occupying it for the legally required period.
Here are some steps that should help owners to keep their land or property safe from any outsiders:
- Owners should keep a lookout on the property regularly. The reason for the law of adverse possession to be in existence is that, the government wants the owners to look after their land or property and to keep it in use.
- If the owners find out or get to know about some person or people who are using the land or possessing it in anyway, the owners should immediately ask the trespassers to vacate the property. If they refuse, the owners should get an order from the court with the help of a property lawyer.
- The owners should exactly know the location and extent of their land. They may use barricades or fences to mark their land. This helps in keeping a check on the property.
The law of adverse position seems favorable for the state or nation as no land remains unused. It is also profitable to the person who applies or gets the ownership of the property on the basis of this law. But for the genuine owner, it seems to be total injustice.