Property owners have enough things to worry about without problems sneaking up on them from seemingly nowhere. Maintenance, improvements and taxes are issues every owner has to deal with – adverse possession may be less common, but it does happen.
What is adverse possession?
Adverse possession is a doctrine originating in British common law. Normally, trespassing on another’s property is illegal but, if it’s done for long enough and the right conditions are met, the trespasser can actually make a legal claim to that portion of the property they’ve been trespassing on. Although the doctrine is old, it still has its place in modern law, including that of Ohio. And when it does come up, it can result in litigation.
The most common way for adverse possession to rear its head is between two property owners who share a boundary. Think of two residential neighbors, one of which decides to build a fence between them. But, instead of building the fence one the very edge of their own property, they erect it a few feet within the adjoining property.
There are strict requirements for adverse possession to work
Simply building a fence on another’s property won’t give someone any right to that property. But it does speak to some of the requirements for adverse possession to be effective – it must be open and notorious – meaning the property infringement can’t be hidden. Adverse possession also requires that the owner of the property did not give permission for the infringement, so that the infringement is hostile to the owner’s rights. The trespasser must also act alone, rather than in concert with others.
The biggest hurdle for a successful adverse possession claim is the time requirement. The trespass must occur continuously for at least 21 years, in Ohio, before any right to the property can be asserted. But if a property owner is not vigilant and fails to monitor their property for long enough, they could lose a portion of it to a valid adverse possession claim.