The doctrine of adverse possession provides a legal way a party can acquire the property of another in Massachusetts by occupying it for a certain amount of time. Simply put, this concept allows trespassers to gain title to someone else’s land without their permission. Commonly arising in encroachments and boundary disputes, adverse possession is not to be confused with an easement by prescription — which allows for the permanent right to use, rather than own, the land.
What Are the Requirements for Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession claims are complex and highly fact-specific. Importantly, a party cannot just enter onto another’s land and claim rights to it. They must file a lawsuit and satisfy several criteria under Massachusetts law. Specifically, the claimant must establish the following:
- They physically entered onto the land and are the sole possessor of it
- The possession is open, notorious, and obvious
- The land was possessed without the consent of the owner
- The possession was continuous and uninterrupted
- The possession occurred for 20 years
Adverse possession can occur even if several others occupied the land during the possession time frame though “tacking.” This means that an adverse possessor can combine the period of possession of all prior owners so that they can meet the 20-year requirement.
Preventing Adverse Possession Claims
A typical example of adverse possession is when someone puts up a fence a few feet past their neighbor’s property line without permission, and the neighbor does not object to the placement of it for 20 years. In such cases, the neighbor may not know that they were the actual owner of the land. In fact, many adverse possession claims may occur because a property owner did not know who owned what. However, lack of knowledge won’t bar a claim in court.
Massachusetts landowners must actively take measures to protect their land. Critically, owners should regularly inspect their land and know where their property lines are — especially if they own a significant amount of woodland. If an owner believes there is an encroachment, it’s essential to have a complete survey of the property conducted.
When purchasing property, it may be in a buyer’s best interest to obtain an enhanced title insurance policy covering boundaries and encroachments. This extended coverage can also provide protection regarding issues arising from incorrect surveys and prescriptive easements. Title insurance is a one-time expense that is calculated based on the purchase price of the home. It can help buyers save a substantial amount of money that could potentially be spent on litigation.
Learn More About Continental Law Group’s Residential Real Estate Services
Continental Law Group offers a wide variety of real estate services to buyers and sellers for residential transactions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Our attorneys also have extensive experience researching and repairing title issues, as well as issuing title insurance policies. Based on a modern business model, CLG has offices located in Boston, Salem, MA, and Portsmouth, NH. Call (617) 616-8210 to learn more about CLG’s residential real estate practice and other legal services.