Adverse possession is a type of real estate law concept in which one person may be allowed to possess either all or part of a property under title to another person simply by occupying the land for a certain extended period of time. Some of the principles of adverse possession law in Texas are referred to as “squatters’ rights.”
Here’s an overview of what you should know about adverse possession of real estate.
An overview of adverse possession law
Adverse possession is unusual because it involves the person gaining possession of the land despite using it in conflict with the actual owner’s rights over a period of time. This could be true even if the person using the land had been trespassing. However, in some areas, if that trespasser had been on the land for a long enough time, the true owner could lose ownership of the land. Depending on the jurisdiction, that time period could be five or 10 years of use, or any other period of time designated under local law.
The specific requirements for gaining control of land through adverse possession are:
- Actual possession of the property
- Exclusive use of that property
- “Open and notorious” property usage
- “Hostile or adverse” use of the property
- Continuous use of the property
While the concept of adverse possession might sound like an unfair arrangement for property owners, the reason adverse possession laws exist in Texas is to create fairness by establishing a statute of limitations for title disputes. There could be a situation in which, for example, you (presumably) legally purchase and use a piece of land for an extended period of time, and a long-lost heir of a past owner appears to try to claim ownership. Adverse possession laws prevent this from occurring after a certain period of time, as that heir’s failure to claim the land for a certain amount of time disqualifies them from ownership.
Adverse possession can be used for sections of land plots as well as entire land plots. If you notice a neighbor using or building on a particular part of your property and you do not take any action to stop them from doing so, they may gain a permanent claim to that section of property after a certain amount of time. You either need to stop the neighbor from completing their work or file a claim before the adverse possession laws go into effect.
With regard to the aforementioned “squatter” or trespasser situation, adverse possession can apply if the squatter remains on the property for the amount of time necessary to assume possession, without being removed during that period. If the squatter is ever removed, the clock starts over. The owner can charge rent or give their permission to the squatter to temporarily use the property, and that will avoid adverse possession.
If you’re interested in learning more about how adverse possession law works, in Texas we encourage you to contact our team of licensed state land surveyors at D.G. Smyth & Co., Inc. with any questions.