You may be happy to see your neighbor mowing a part of your property and saving you time and sweat, but if it goes on for a long enough time, your neighbor may have a right to the property he is mowing under the legal doctrine of adverse possession. However, there are several ways to stop adverse possession.
Requirements for Adverse Possession
While laws vary from state to state, according to the Legal Information Institute, adverse possession generally occurs under the following conditions:
- Continual possession -- the possession of your property, including any part of it, is continual;
- Hostile -- you have not given permission for the possession or use of your property;
- "Open and notorious" -- you have to know, or should know, it is happening;
- The possession must actually be occurring -- if there is trespassing, the possession is actual;
- Exclusive -- no other person or entity is in possession the property; and
- Adverse possession must occur for a specific period of time that differs from state to state -- often 20 years.
Post Signs, Fence and Gate the Property
If your property is located in a rural area and is large, posting "No Trespassing" signs is a good way to provide notice that no one is permitted on your property. You may also consider putting up a simple fence around the property and a locked gate to any access points. These are simple and easy ways to stop adverse possession before it begins, and to stop ongoing adverse possession. If anyone ignores these messages, you must act to remove the trespasser from your property.
Expulsion and Permission
You can also give permission or kick trespassers out. Simply tell the trespasser to leave. If the trespasser refuses to leave, call the police and have the trespasser removed. If you don't mind that someone is using the property, but you want to protect title to the property, give permission and record it. You may have a lawyer draw up a license or easement outlining the permissible uses and the fact that you are retaining actual title. Then record the license or easement in the county where the property is located. Leasing the property is also an option.
Lawsuit to Eject and Remove Improvements
While more expensive and time consuming, sometimes filing a court action is the best way to stop adverse possession. You can bring a court action to evict trespassers from your property. You can also seek a court order requiring a trespasser to remove any structures or improvements made on your property. Oftentimes, the mere threat of a lawsuit will solve the problem. A real estate lawyer can help you file the lawsuit and represent you in court.
Shawn M. Grimsley holds a bachelor's degree in political science, master's degree in public administration and a Juris Doctor. He practiced law for 10 years, focusing on general business law, securities law, real estate and civil litigation. Grimsley now serves as a teacher and writer.