If you possess land owned by someone else, then you may acquire a valid (legal) title of the land under some conditions. This is known as adverse possession in real estate law. Here are five conditions that you must meet to claim adverse possession of a piece of real estate property:
The first requirement is that you must have actual possession of the land. This usually means you are actually occupying or treating the land as if you are its rightful owner. Merely claiming that the land belongs to you isn't enough. Therefore, building a house on the property and living on it qualifies as actual possession. However, telling your family members that you own the land doesn't qualify.
Secondly, you must possess the land exclusively to others. This means nobody else must be treating the land as their own simultaneously with you. Therefore, you won't get a valid title to the property if both you and the legal owner of the land treat it as your own. The same is true if several people, for example squatters, lay claim to a land; none of the squatters may use adverse possession to claim the land legally. However, you may use this law to acquire the land if the owner has neglected it and is living in another state for the specified period.
The third requirement is that you must possess the land for a minimum period, which is usually seven years or 20 years if it is under the color of title. The color of title refers to a land deed that appears genuine but is actually invalid. However, this possession must be continuous for you to get actual ownership of the land.
Consider an example in which you squat on another person's land for three years, they manage to keep you away for five years, and you repossess the land for another four years. In this case, you can't claim adverse possession of the land because even though you possessed it for a total of seven years, it wasn't continuous.
This fourth condition means that your possession of the land must be something that the owner hasn't or wouldn't agree to. Therefore, adverse possession doesn't apply if the owner has allowed you use of the land for some time. For example, a homeowner who is away may allow you use of their garden for some time; this isn't hostile possession so you can't claim the land as yours even if you use the garden for decades. However, you can claim it under adverse possession laws if you were using the garden without the owner's agreement or knowledge for years.
Open and Notorious
The last requirement is that the adverse possession must be open and notorious, which means that you must be openly treating the land as your legal property. For example, when you build a storage shed on your neighbors land, it is an open and notorious possession because anybody can see the shed. Contrast this with a person who sleeps in an abandoned building, but wakes up before dawn and doesn't leave any signs of occupation in the house. In this last case, the general public may not be aware of your possession of the property, so you can't claim it under adverse possession laws.
Have you been using a property for years and someone has come to claim it? If your answer is affirmative, adverse possession laws may help you to continue using the land. Contact a real estate lawyer like those represented at http://valentineandvalentine.com to help you determine if you qualify.