The doctrine of adverse possession allows a person to acquire ownership of land if that person has used the property in Massachusetts continuously for 20 years. The most common cases of adverse possession are a:
- Private road
- Fence that is over the property line
- Garden or farmland
To avoid adverse possession, the property owner can post no trespassing signs, give written permission for use to the user who signs and acknowledges the agreement, rent the property, call law enforcement or speak with an attorney.
The 4 requirements for adverse possession
In order for use to fit the adverse possession definition, the use must meet four criteria.
The use must be:
- Open and notorious: not in secret or hidden, but well-known or obvious
- Hostile: not in the owner’s interests; without permission
- Continuous: used consistently, not once or twice
- Exclusive: not public or used by many people
Once established, the title of the property may be acquired. Government-owned land is not eligible. If the user of the land is an infant, there can be no adverse possession. Likewise if the landowner is incarcerated or has been certified as mentally incapacitated/insane.
Why does adverse possession exist?
The idea behind adverse possession is to ensure that land is being used efficiently. The spirit of the law is to ensure that land is not being deserted by a property owner when someone else is willing to take it over and make use of it.