I've discovered that my neighbor's fence is on my property. What should I do?
You probably understand that a fence that crosses over your property line, or some other intrusion such as using your property for storage, a garden, a driveway, or the like, violates your short-term rights, but when is a property owner compelled to act to protect his or her long-term interests? Because the fact issues can span decades of property ownership, the answer may be difficult to determine. Although the passage of time does not necessarily mean that you are giving up legal rights, it is generally important not to delay when your rights are threatened.
What is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession, sometimes described as “squatter's rights”, is a legal principle under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property, acquires legal ownership based on continuous possession or occupation of the property without the permission of its legal owner. The statute which sets out elements of adverse possession is Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code sections 16.021 et seq.
To prevail on a claim of adverse possession, a party must prove that his possession of another person's property is:
- Open and notorious;
- Under a claim of right;
- Adverse or hostile; and
- Consistent and continuous for the required period of time.
Some of the requirements tend to shade into each other, so that it is difficult to know where one ends and the other begins. For example, actual possession suggests that your neighbor comes onto your property regularly, (or has a fence that is permanently on your property), while the “notorious” and “hostile” requirements imply that the possession be obvious and without permission. While case outcomes are rooted in the specific facts of the matter, it can be said that a key purpose of the requirements is to put the true owner on notice that someone is making a claim to his land.
If these sound like difficult concepts to apply in a specific case, that's because they are. Tens of thousands of dollars can be spent in an effort to make or defend a claim based on a single one of the requirements. Protecting your interests at an early stage can forestall later problems, even affecting your ability to sell the property.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If you are aware that a neighbor, or an adverse party, is taking a position that is inconsistent with your property interests, there are ways to bring them to a court's attention. Or to your title insurer's in the appropriate case. Without the involvement of a lawyer, it can be difficult to focus on the characteristics that make your case plain and simple. If you are involved in a dispute regarding property boundaries, the sooner you contact a lawyer to safeguard your interests, the better. If your dispute has already reached the litigation stage, it is imperative that you retain a lawyer to represent your interests. Contact The Keller Firm to discuss your adverse possession related matter today.
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