Differences in Adverse Possession Between States

Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

Adverse Possession is one of the most complicated and interesting concepts in property law. Each state has established guidelines and regulations regarding when adverse possession entitles a trespasser to claim a property right to a particular piece of land.

What is Adverse Possession?

Adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire a valid title to that land. All states require that certain conditions be met before a claim of adverse possession can be made. Possession must be:

  • Continuous - the party must use the land without any interruptions of time during the statutory period
  • Hostile - the property is not used with the permission of the owner
  • Open - the person must not secretly possess the land; however, the owner is not required to actually know that someone is on their land
  • Actual - must be physically present on the land
  • Time - must possess the land for the time required by statute
  • Exclusive - must be possessed by the person seeking claim on the land and not by anyone else, including the true owner

Some states allow people to claim a property interest in land if certain conditions are met.
adverse possession.

State by State Comparison of Requirements

The main differences between the states concern the length of possession, the payment of taxes, and color of title (the presence of a document that claims to establish ownership, such as a deed). In general, states in the East do not require additional documentation, although they may require the claimant to pay taxes on the land. States in the West tend to allow shorter periods of possession, but require some additional action, whether that be the payment of taxes or the presence of a deed.

All states require at least three years to establish a claim for adverse possession; some require up to 30 years.
adverse possession map.

Time Required For Adverse Possession

Three years: Arizona (deed and taxes also required).

Five years: Arizona (plus deed and taxes if land is city lot), California (plus taxes), Montana (plus taxes), Nevada (plus deed and taxes), Texas (plus deed and taxes).

Seven years: Alaska (plus deed), Arkansas (plus deed and taxes), Colorado (plus deed and taxes), Florida (plus deed or taxes), Georgia (plus deed), Illinois (plus deed or taxes), Kentucky (plus deed), North Carolina (plus deed), Tennessee (plus deed), Utah (plus taxes), Washington (plus deed or taxes), Wisconsin (plus deed and taxes).

10 years: Alabama (plus deed or taxes), Alaska, Arizona, Indiana (plus taxes), Iowa, Louisiana (plus deed), Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico (plus deed), New York, North Dakota (plus deed and taxes), Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota (with taxes and deed), Texas, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin (plus deed), Wyoming.

15 years: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota (plus taxes), Nevada (plus taxes), Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia.

18 years: Colorado.

20 years: Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho (plus taxes), Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin.

21 years: Ohio, Pennsylvania.

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