Anyone who owns a large tract of land has probably heard of so-called “squatter’s rights.” The idea that somebody could take over your land and, eventually, gain title to that land might sound despicable. Unfortunately, it’s a real legal principle, and it happens all the time. This principle is called adverse possession.
If you own a large ranch, farm or pasture that abuts other people’s property, you might be wondering if it’s possible that you could someday lose all or part of that land. Adverse possession lawsuits often come up in the form of farmers who encroach on their neighbors’ fields year after year, but they could also come from someone mistakenly thinking that they obtained the legal rights to build a house on land that you own.
How could someone legally get away with taking my land?
There are four steps a trespasser must take in order to gain legal ownership of your land. A trespasser could win an adverse possession lawsuit if all of the following are true. They:
- Enter and use your land without your permission
- Use the land continuously as if it were their own
- Use the land in an open and obvious way
- Don’t share the land with you, the rightful owner
Is it too late to reclaim my land?
In Texas, you generally have 10 years to bring a lawsuit to kick an adverse possessor off your land who is cultivating, using or enjoying the property. That time limit can change, depending upon factors such as whether they took the property under “color of title” (meaning they got the property through some document that they claim is a valid deed) and whether they pay taxes on the property.
If you’ve recently discovered someone using your property, it’s best to consult a lawyer right away to determine whether your opportunity to reclaim your land has already passed or not.
What can I do to prevent it?
The best way to prevent someone from adversely possessing a portion of your land is to inspect it regularly. As listed above, one of the requirements for adverse possession is that the trespasser use your land in an open and obvious manner. This means that, if you’re inspecting your property regularly, you’ll probably see what they’re up to on your land, and you probably won’t be taken by surprise.
It can also help your case if you set up fences and signs to make sure people know exactly where your property ends. That way, no one will be able to claim that they thought the part of your land they’re possessing was really theirs.
Although “squatting” is a real problem that Texas ranchers and farmers may have to deal with, it doesn’t have to scare you. Taking the proper preventative steps can help you to avoid legal issues with squatters and encroaching neighbors.