The statutes governing adverse possession can be found in the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, starting at section 16.021. Adverse possession under the statute is defined as "an actual and visible appropriation of real property, commenced and continued under a claim of right that is inconsistent with and is hostile to the claim of another person." The statutes also set several different statutes of limitations (time periods). These range from three to twenty-five years depending on the facts of the case, although the most common statute of limitation that applies is the ten year time period. A possible adverse possessor must satisfy all of the statutory conditions for the entire applicable time period.
Over the years, many Texas courts have decided cases that clarify the statutes even more. This process results in what is called “case law.” Case law adds that “it must be true that the possessor of the property actually does openly possess it (the belief of entitlement to possess is insufficient), has possessed it continuously for the statutory period (sporadic possession is insufficient), and that the possessor peaceably asserts a claim of right adverse to and exclusive of all others (possession shared with an owner is insufficient). All of these are fact issues for a court to decide.” Willis, David J. "Chapter 23 ADVERSE POSSESSION." Real Estate Law & Asset Protection for Texas Real Estate Investors. S.l.: First Edition Design Publ, 2013.
Some self-help websites offer advice on how to use adverse possession for personal gain, often promising that you can get free title to acreage or homes. Many of these websites contain information that is irrelevant or even completely false—and following some of the advice might leave you vulnerable to lawsuits or even get you charged with a crime. You don’t have to look for very long online to find many news reports of potential adverse possessors, like this Florida man, being ejected from properties by the police or even facing felony charges.
In our experience, adverse possession is often unintentional and usually results in only small-scale losses to landowners. For example, a fence which was placed few feet onto a neighbor’s land might, after many years, mean that the person who built the fence has met the requirements of the adverse possession statute. After bringing the proper suit, the fence builder could have clear title to the extra land he or she fenced off. Applying the adverse possession statutes in a case like this is logical because it eliminates the need for a survey every time someone wants to build a fence or driveway or other structure. If adverse possession did not exist, title owners could come onto the scene decades later and demand that anything placed on their land—up to and including parts of houses or other buildings—be removed. As you can imagine, this may be a huge hassle or a significant expense for the established adverse possessor.
Do you have questions about boundary lines, property rights, or adverse possession in Lampasas County? Are you concerned that your property might be subject to an adverse possession claim by a third party? Contact us at Martin, Millican, Henderson & Shrum for a consultation.
This blog post only applies to the laws of Texas. The post may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat it as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue. Also, please be aware that laws change, so this column is valid only as of the date it was published. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.