Picture this: you’ve lived peacefully alongside your neighbor for as long as you can remember, and not much about your properties has changed. A simple fence separates you, with a small shed on your neighbor’s side. Specific life changes have now facilitated the need for you to move homes. However, after an initial assessment of your property and its boundaries, it’s found that your neighbor’s shed and fence have been encroaching on your property for all these years! In your attempt to rectify this issue and notify your neighbor of their encroachment, they come back to you with attorneys in tow. Your neighbor has chosen to enact adverse possession.
For those who’ve never heard of adverse possession, it’s more commonly known as “squatters’ rights.” And although adverse possession isn’t a commonly used law, it has the potential to create a significant headache for homeowners and property developers alike. Thankfully, there are ways you can avoid adverse possession with a little assistance from Austin Engineering’s survey teams.
What is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession is the legal process by which an individual can claim ownership over otherwise neglected property. While adverse possession laws vary from state to state, the central concept remains the same. After a set amount of years have passed and specific requirements have been met, an individual has a legal right to claim the land they have been tending. While it can be challenging for individuals to meet all the requirements under adverse possession, it’s even more challenging to reverse a successful adverse possession claim.
Illinois’ Requirements for Adverse Possession
One of the most significant requirements for you to claim adverse possession is the length of time you’ve been using a piece of property. Per Illinois law, that statute is 20 years. In addition to encroaching or trespassing for 20 or more years, those wishing to enact adverse possession must prove the following:
- Continuous – The adverse possessor must have maintained continuous possession of the property. For example, if a shed was on your property for ten years, a storm knocked it down, and a year later, your neighbor installed a new shed in the exact location, this would negate any claims the possessor might have.
- Hostile – The possession of property infringes on the true owner’s rights. Where this may not be the case is if the possessor had at any time rented land or received permission from the owner to use it. If either is true, the possession of the land is not truly “adverse.”
- Open and Notorious – The adverse possessor must not have attempted to hide their possession claim. If the possessor used the property in a manner that the actual owner would, without hiding property care, expansions, or occupation, they could claim adverse possession.
- Actual – The property in question must be in the actual possession of the adverse possessor, not the true owner.
- Exclusive – The adverse possessor must solely control the property themselves. If the possessor acts as the true owner in excluding others from possessing the land, the requirements for adverse possession can be met.
Can You Stop Adverse Possession?
While adverse possession claims can be frustrating to deal with, the good news is they are relatively easy to prevent! As long as you stay vigilant over your property’s boundaries, most of the requirements of adverse possession can be challenging to meet. Not to mention, Austin Engineering can assist when it comes to establishing or identifying your property’s boundaries. Here’s what you can do to prevent adverse possession:
- Know Your Property Boundaries
- This is the first and most crucial step to stopping potential adverse possession claims. Understanding your property’s boundaries ensures you can catch encroachment or trespassing before adverse possession can take effect. If needing an assessment of your property boundaries, Austin Engineering can provide quick and accurate land surveys. Furthermore, once you know your property boundaries, setting up signposts or a fence helps avoid accidental or purposeful encroachment of neighbors.
- Grant or Deny Permission
- A simple acknowledgment of your neighbor’s encroachment and your written permission for land usage is all it takes to stop adverse possession claims. Of course, this assumes you are okay with your neighbor using your land (and that you know they’re using it). Otherwise, notifying neighbors of their encroachment and requesting the issue be resolved is just as effective when negating possession claims. And if your neighbors refuse your request, legal action can be taken.
- Use Your Land
- It’s challenging for individuals to claim adverse possession of land if you’re actively using it. For residential property, land usage might not be a concern. However, property and land can go unused for commercial usage for long periods. In such cases, it’s easier for would-be possessors to claim the property was abandoned by its actual owner. Doing something as simple as setting up boundary markings or erecting a temporary structure is enough to prove you are using your land.
Don’t Let Adverse Possession Claims Get the Best of You
Adverse possession can be a tangled legal mess for property owners, land developers, and homeowners. Thankfully, some steps can be taken to negate adverse possession requirements. And with assistance from Austin Engineering’s survey team, you can be confident in your property’s established boundaries. To ask about our surveys or if you are interested in any of Austin Engineering’s other land development services, contact us today at 309-204-0694. Also, we are located at 311 SW Water St, Ste 215, Peoria, IL 61602.