When someone occupies and uses another person’s property without permission for a certain period of time, that person may obtain legal ownership of that property through adverse possession. A legal determination of adverse possession and of the legal rights of the parties claiming ownership of a piece of property can be made in a court case known as a quiet title action.
What Is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that confers property rights upon a trespasser under certain limited conditions. Adverse possession is intended to grant title to someone who inhabits and improves neglected property over a certain period. Adverse possession also recognizes that the statute of limitations has run out on the original owner’s right to file a legal action to eject a trespasser from the property.
How Does One Obtain Adverse Possession?
Under Virginia law, a trespasser must meet certain requirements to obtain adverse possession of property. These requirements include:
• The trespasser’s possession of the property must be “hostile,” which means that it violates the true owner’s property rights. Additionally, the trespasser must not have the true owner’s permission to possess the property.
• The trespasser must actually possess the property.
• The trespasser must exclusively possess the property, which means that only the trespasser occupies the property in question.
• The trespasser’s possession must be open and notorious, which means that the trespasser uses the property as the real owner would and does not attempt to conceal their occupancy and possession of the property from the true owner or the public. In many cases, this also includes improving and maintaining the property as a real owner would rather than squatting in a property whose condition decays over time.
• The trespasser must continuously maintain occupancy and possession of the property for at least 15 years. Virginia law allows trespassers to “tack on” a prior trespasser’s occupancy to meet the 15-year requirement, if the trespassers have some sort of chain linking them together such as if a prior trespasser “sells” the property to a subsequent trespasser.
Filing a Quiet Title Action
Adverse possession rights are formally determined by a quiet title action. A trespasser who believes that they meet all the legal requirements for adverse possession may decide to file a quiet title action to obtain legal title to the property that they can record and sell.
More commonly, quiet title actions are filed by the original owner of the property to reaffirm their property rights. Quiet title actions may be filed when a property owner finds their neighbor encroaching onto what the owner considers their property. The action allows a court to ascertain the original property boundaries and to determine whether the encroacher or trespasser has met the requirements for adverse possession. If an encroaching neighbor has not met the requirements for adverse possession, the court will issue an order reaffirming the original owner’s property rights, which require the neighbor to cease their use of the property.
Quiet title actions are also filed when property owners go to sell or take out a mortgage on the property. A prospective buyer or a bank may have concerns about the state of the property owner’s title if they find evidence of a trespasser on the property or a neighbor encroaching onto the property.
Contact Us If You Have Questions about Adverse Possession
If you have questions about how adverse possession may affect your property rights or if you find yourself in a quiet title action, reach out to Taylor, Taylor & Taylor, Inc. for a confidential consultation with an experienced real estate attorney in Glen Allen, VA.