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Hey! That’s My Land! (Or is it?): Adverse Possession and Acquiescence

by | Aug 26, 2021 | Firm News |

You’ve just bought your dream property. It consists of a lot with a house on it and big side lot area. This entire parcel is listed in your legal property description. That means you are one about one lot away from having any neighbors on one side. Hooray! There is a visible fence that runs along the edges of the side lot area. You decide you don’t want that fence there. You start tearing down the fence and your neighbor from across the street comes running out of his house screaming that you are tearing down “his fence.” His fence? What is this dude talking about? You just bought this piece of property. Your neighbor tells you that this is his land and not yours. That he has been treating that vacant area as his own for the entire 20 years he has lived there. He knew it was not his land, but the former owners of your house never told him that this was their land and not his and never told him to get off of it. Your neighbor says he built that fence 20 years ago and has always maintained the area by mowing it, etc. You want him to tear the fence down because it is on what your deed say is your property; but is it your property? Probably not. WHAT? How can that be?

There is a legal doctrine called “adverse possession.” It comes into play when someone that does not hold title to a piece of property “adversely holds possession” of that property for at least 15 years. So what fulfills the requirement of “adversely holding possession” of a piece of property?

The possession by someone other than the true owner must be:

a) continuous for a period of more than 15 years;
b) open;
c) notorious;
d) exclusive, and
e) hostile

Basically, what this means is that using the land with the permission of the true owner does not let someone acquire land by adverse possession. So in the example above, let’s say you don’t buy what your new neighbor’s story. You contact the people you bought the property from and they tell you that 20 years ago, that neighbor asked them if he could build a fence around that area of land because he has a tiny yard, he owns huskies, and those dogs love to run. The former owners of your property, being dog lovers and not really wanting to maintain the lot, said “sure go ahead, but you need to maintain the fence and take care of the area.” In this case, there is no adverse possession because the use of the true owner’s property was permissive. That land is your land! If the former owners of your property said that they knew that the land was theirs and the neighbor just put up a fence 20 years ago and started maintaining the property and they never brought it up to him because they did really care, well now you’ve got a problem! At Court will most likely find that your neighbor now owns part of what would have been your property.

Hey lady, the title of this blog also mentions “acquiescence.” What the heck is that? Pretty much the same scenario, but the neighbor is your next-door neighbor and instead of a fence enclosing the vacant area, there is a fence that runs in between the two houses. That fence is built 5 feet over what is the legal property line. If the former owners of your home and the next door neighbor treated that fence as the boundary line for more than 15 years, whether they did so mistakenly or not, then the court will consider the fence line the new boundary of the properties. Unlike adverse possession, acquiescence can come into play if the properties at issue are adjacent to each other.

Are you in a similar situation as the two examples given above? The attorneys at Tilchin & Hall, P.C. can help. Please give our firm a call at (248) 349-6203 or email us below. Please be advised that we cannot give legal advice over the phone and can only provide legal advice to our clients.

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