Friday, August 21, 2009

Adverse Possession under the Three-Year Statute

This blog entry is the second of a series related to adverse possession. Adverse possession is a legal principle under which someone can acquire ownership of real property that belongs to someone else. It is a form of “involuntary conveyance.”

The shortest period for a claimant to assert adverse possession over real property under Texas law is three (3) years. In order to qualify for adverse possession under Section 16.024 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, the claimant must:

* actually and visibly appropriate the property (in other words, take possession of the property in such a way that it is open and obvious);

* possess the property in a manner that consistently and unmistakably indicates the claimant asserts exclusive ownership to the property;

* use or possess the property peacefully, but without the owner’s permission (in other words, scaring the owner off with a shotgun is not allowed); and

* hold the property under title or “color of title.”

The key to the three year statute for adverse possession is the final factor listed above. In other words, the claimant must have received (1) a deed or other document reflecting title to the property, but his title is considered “irregular” because there is a document that is missing or has not been properly recorded, or (2) an unusual document, such as a certificate of headright, land warrant, or land scrip.

If all of these three things occur, the statute requires that the true owner to the property take action by bringing a lawsuit to recover the property within three years from the date that the claimant first enters the property, or else he will lose his ownership rights. In actuality, however, a title insurance company or buyer will likely request that the claimant sue the rightful owner or presumed owners and obtain a judgment reflecting title through adverse possession before they will agree to purchase the property from the adverse claimant.

There are several other statutes in the State of Texas which describe what factors must occur before a claimant can obtain title through adverse possession. As a result, adverse possession is a complex legal issue, and we strongly suggest that you seek the advice of an attorney (preferably someone versed in the litigation process, as well as real estate law) if you are confronted with either the need to assert or defend against a claim of adverse possession.