Adverse Possession

We can help guide you in the ownership of legal titles and navigating legal title disputes.

What is Adverse Possession?

Adverse possession (otherwise known as “squatter’s rights”) refers to the process used to gain legal title to another person’s land by acting as its owner for a period of time. In D.C., the person who wishes to obtain title to land by adverse possession must act as its owner by proving actual, open and notorious, exclusive, continuous and hostile possession for 15 years.

An adverse possessor must prove each of those elements to gain legal title. But what do they mean? Here is a brief description of each:


In order to actually possess it the person seeking title must use it as the true owner would. If it is a yard, maintain the yard; if it is a parking space, park in it regularly.

Open and Notorious

Use of the land must be out in the open and visible to anyone nearby. This means it is not enough to use the land in secret. One’s use must give notice to the current land owner that he is using the land as his own. Building a fence or improving the land could meet this element.


No other person can use the land as an owner would during the 15 year period, including the true owner. For example, if all the neighborhood kids are using someone’s lawn, none of them would be exclusive users. However, in some cases, an adverse possessor can “tack” onto a previous person’s use to get to the 15-year period. In other cases, two people can combine to take title of the land as joint owners.


One’s use of the land must be uninterrupted. This does not mean constant use, but rather use like that of a true owner. For example, if the property is a summer home and an adverse possessor uses it every summer, that could be continuous use.


The adverse possessor’s use must send a message to the owner that he/she intends to possess the land adverse to the owner’s interests. If the owner gives permission to use the land, one will not be able to obtain title to that land through adverse possession.

Other Consideration: Mistake

A claim for adverse possession is not defeated by mistake. For example, someone finds out that the piece of land he thought was on his property is actually on his neighbor’s land. He can still bring an adverse possession claim to get legal title. If all the other elements are met, the fact that his use began because of a mistake will not defeat his claim.


This is only a broad overview of the law and does not include all the exceptions and defenses to an adverse possession claim. If you wish to obtain a title of a piece of land through adverse possession or are in danger of losing some of your land through adverse possession, make sure to contact an attorney to review your case and determine the best plan of action.

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