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What is adverse possession in real estate?

If you have any idea how real estate transaction work, you’re probably already aware that property doesn’t change hands without a great deal of paperwork. The one exception to that rule tends to unfold when adverse possession is involved.

Adverse possession can allow someone to gain a legal ownership interest in a piece of property simply by openly occupying it for a set period.

How long does adverse possession take?

Some states allow adverse possession to confer ownership rights after just a few years – but Idaho is more restrictive. To claim adverse possession, the party involved must show:

  • They have occupied the land for 20 years
  • The occupation has been continuous
  • They have paid all the taxes on the land during that time
  • The land is protected by a “substantial enclosure,” has been improved or cultivated

In addition, there must be no recorded document that declares that the owner is permitting the occupation of the land without any intention of conferring property rights on the occupier.

What does adverse possession look like?

Adverse possession is designed to manage problems with “squatters” (and property owners who just abandon their holdings for whatever reason), but the issue can crop up in surprising ways. Adverse possession claims can involve things like:

  • A shed or koi pond that someone accidentally built partly on their neighbor’s land
  • An urban garden that someone cultivated in what looked like an abandoned lot
  • Disputed inheritances where one heir openly assumed possession of the property
  • Survey errors that have led to confusion about property boundaries

Ultimately, when two different parties both think they have the right to a piece of property – whether they’re talking about a few feet of land, a whole house or an acre – seeking legal guidance is wise.