Adverse Possession Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Adverse Possession, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Adverse Possession?

n. a situation in which an expression may be understood in more than one sense. ambiguitas latens and ambiguitas patens are the two different kind of ambiguities in words, first one referring to the ambiguity caused by some external factor, the deed being free from any ambiguous expressions. The second or patent ambiguity occurs when a clause in a deed, will, or other instrument, is so defectively expressed, that a court of law, which has to put a construction on the instrument, is unable to collect the intention of the party.

History and Meaning of Adverse Possession

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to take ownership of someone else's property if they use it in an open and notorious manner without the owner's permission for a certain period of time. The idea behind adverse possession is that the law should reward those who make productive use of land and punish those who neglect it. The doctrine has its roots in the common law of England, where it was used to resolve disputes over unclaimed land.

Examples of Adverse Possession

  1. A man starts using a vacant lot next to his house as a vegetable garden. He fences it off and tends to it regularly for 10 years without objection from the owner. After 10 years, he files a claim of adverse possession and is granted legal title to the property.

  2. A woman moves into a house that she believes is hers, but later discovers that there was a mistake in the property boundaries and the house actually belongs to her neighbor. She continues to live in the house and pay property taxes on it for 5 years, hoping to establish adverse possession. However, her neighbor discovers the mistake and sues her, preventing her from gaining ownership.

  3. A business owner expands his parking lot onto a strip of land that he believes is part of his property. He uses it for parking for 7 years without objection from the true owner. However, the true owner discovers the encroachment and demands that he remove the parking lot or pay rent for the use of the land.

Legal Terms Similar to Adverse Possession

  1. Easement - a legal right to use someone else's property for a specific purpose, such as for access to a public road.

  2. Encroachment - an intrusion onto someone else's property, such as building a fence or structure over a property line.

  3. Trespass - unauthorized entry onto someone else's property, without any intent to claim ownership.