The legal doctrine of adverse possession allows someone who doesn't own a property to become its legal owner in certain situations. Adverse possession is based on common law -- case law -- though it is also governed in Texas by statutes. Talk to a Texas real estate attorney if you need legal advice about an adverse possession claim.
Adverse Possession Generally
When a person claims a property under adverse possession, he attempts to become the legal owner of the property without ever paying the current owner or making an attempt of any kind to buy the property from the owner. Adverse possession is sometimes known as "squatter's rights," as the person claiming adverse possession is not legally entitled to be on the property and is considered a squatter. Adverse possession claimants often own property and make a claim against a neighbor's property; however, the claim can arise in other ways as long as a claimant meets the Texas requirements.
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The Texas statute defines adverse possession as an actual and visible appropriation of real property. The person making the appropriation must have maintained a claim against the other person's property that is hostile and inconsistent with that person's property rights.
In Texas, a person has to control a piece of property for a set period of time before he can claim the property through adverse possession. The amount of time requires differs depending on the specifics of the case. For example, the original owner can recover the land up to three years after the claimant first occupies it if the claimant has color of title. This means that if the claimant has a deed or a reasonable claim to the title, but does not actually own the property, he has to control it for three years before he can claim it. After the three years passes, the original owner cannot get it back.
Common Law Requirements
In addition to the elements stated in the statute, Texas case law imposes other requirements upon an adverse possession claimant. That person must actually be in possession of the property, meaning she has to maintain control over it, use it or otherwise physically control it instead of merely believing it is under her control. The control must be continuous, meaning there cannot be a break in time in which the claimant stopped possessing the property. Also, the possession must be peaceable and intentional, and it must exclude all others from using the property.