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Property disputes: What is adverse possession?

When attempting to establish property rights, disputes can arise for any number of reasons. A neighbor could call into question a property line, or an adjacent owner could want to take legal action over a structure on or near the property. Alternatively, the tables may be reversed and you may want the neighbor off your property or the structure taken down or moved. Either way, a property dispute is a legal issue and it must be resolved.

Both residential and commercial property owners can find themselves involved in any number of property dispute issues. In this post, though, we are going to focus on adverse possession.

Massachusetts common law describes adverse possession as the right to claim land if the land was in use continuously for the past 20 years -- or longer. The use must have been open, adverse, notorious and exclusive. In basic terms, this means the person using the property must have not had permission from the owner to do so, but would need to be using it out in the open, in a way where possession could have been seen.

Here is an example of adverse possession: A homeowner lives next to a lot. For over 20 years, he has been maintaining -- in some way -- a small section of the lot that comes up to the property line. Maybe the owner has a structure that technically crosses the property line, or part of his driveway crosses through this adjacent property. Now, someone wants to buy that entire lot, but the homeowner is claiming he should be entitled to the section he was maintaining since he has been using it for more than 20 years. In this case, the homeowner may make a claim using adverse possession.

As one can imagine, such a claim can bring acquisition or development plans to a halt, as the adverse possession must either be defended or established by a court judgment. Additionally, in many cases, these issues do not come up right in the beginning. Rather, many developers find themselves rather far along in their plans when adverse possession claims arise.

At Philips & Angley, Attorneys & Counselors at Law, we represent property owners and developers who are facing legal issues, such as property disputes involving adverse possession. For the past 40 years, our lawyers have been working to protect the rights of corporate clients and individuals. No two cases are necessarily the same, and we give each case the care and attention to detail it needs and deserves.

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