Adverse Possession Laws Vary State To State

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

(File photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images)

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A man moved into a house in Springdale, Ohio, changed the locks, and began living there. Which came as a big surprise to the people who own the house and had gone out of town. An even bigger surprise, he might get to keep it.

Why? Because every state has a law on adverse possession. That’s a legal term for when a trespasser comes onto the property and then, if he files an action in court, might get to keep it.

In order to win property by adverse possession, the trespasser has to live on the property without the owner’s permission, and he must actually physically occupy it for a continuous time period in an open way (in other words, he can’t hide when people come by to check on their property). The key is that the length of continuous occupation ranges from as few as five years in California if the trespasser is actually paying property taxes, to as long as thirty years in New Jersey.

So, you don’t have to worry that someone is going to get your house if you go on vacation. But if your neighbor puts up a fence one foot over your property line and you never complain, when you go to sell your house, he might have a claim that he now gets to keep that extra foot. So you should use your feet to walk over to his house and say, about that fence of yours, it’s mine unless you move it.

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