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Adverse possession - taking over - person sitting on a fence with suitcasesAdverse possession is a little known legal tool involving the transfer of property ownership. It may be scary if it’s your land that someone is trying to take, or it could be an opportunity if a property owner has abandoned that property.

In the discussion on easements, I explained that a prescriptive easement can happen if someone uses your property notoriously & conspicuously over a period of years without interruption.

With adverse possession, it goes one step further. Not only does a person use another’s land notoriously, conspicuously, without interruption, and for a period of years, but additionally that same person pays the taxes on the same land. By doing so, eventually the hostile takeover with taxes paid can result in a transfer of title!

Every state has a law about the amount of time required and other factors, and in California the timeframe is 5 years.

Why do you need to know this? Will you ever use it in Los Gatos?

Maybe not. On the other hand, let’s say you have inherited a piece of property somewhere far away, and you’re not paying awhole lot of attention to it for some reason. If a neighbor there uses your land and pays the taxes for whatever period oftime is deemed necessary by that state, you will most likely loose your property.

An adverse possession case story

An attorney I know told a story of a client of his who used adverse possession to obtain property in an obscure part of California. The client’s land was adjacent to an unused parcel owned by a large utility company. This client used the land openly, notoriously, and so on, and paid taxes on it. The utility company paid no attention – or perhaps really did not care – and after 5 years, and a little bit of legal legwork, that client obtained title to the land formerly owned by the utility through adverse possession. And boy was it a cheap “purchase”!

So pay attention to your land and your taxes to protect your assets. It is unlikely you will be in a situation similar to thelawyer’s client, but you never know. It’s always good to understand your rights and risks.

Related reading:

What is a preliminary title report? (on our Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Escrow (on our site)