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What is adverse possession?


Adverse possession is a process through which a trespasser openly and exclusively inhabits another individual's abandoned or neglected property under a claim of right and, if the trespasser remains on that land for a consecutive period of time, he or she acquires legal title to that property. Depending on the circumstances, other conditions must also be met before title can be obtained, and they vary depending on the state.

In Arizona, according to Findlaw, adverse possession can occur if an individual publicly occupies a neglected piece of property for two years. However, if he or she occupies with "color of title," meaning the trespasser believes he or she has legal right to occupy and possess the property, then adverse possession occurs after three years of open occupation. If the land in question is a city lot, then a trespasser can only acquire rights after five years.

Adverse possession can occur in many circumstances. Squatter may move into an abandoned piece of property or a neighbor may build a structure that encroaches on another individual's land. In either scenario, the law is intended to prevent landowners from sleeping on their property rights. The law, in essence, favors those who put land to use by making improvements to it. Therefore, it is important that Arizonans who own property ensure that they are aware of where their property lines are and whether anyone has breached them in anyway.

While this area of law may seem straight forward, it can actually get quite complicated. Each element of adverse possession raises many complex legal issues. When is occupation of land open? What is hostile possession? Are the rules the same for easements? These are just a small sampling of some of the legal questions that can arise. Since adverse possession can be a tough legal area and may lead to a real estate dispute, it may be best to discuss any concerns with a legal professional.

Source: FindLaw, "Arizona Adverse Possession Laws," accessed on July 28, 2014

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