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What is adverse possession?

Chances are you either know someone who lives by one or have traveled passed one in your lifetime: a noise barrier. These are large, relatively unattractive walls that the highway department puts up to block interstate and highway noise from residential neighborhoods.

Most of the time these noise barriers are welcomed by homeowners whose properties butt up against busy roadways. However, occasionally they present a problem when erected feet behind a homeowners own fence. When this happens, accessing the few feet of otherwise vacant landscape between the two structures can be difficult, resulting in an ugly, unmanaged backdrop to a homeowner's manicured lawn. So how do frustrated individuals remedy this situation? Depending on how long they plan on residing in their home, they may be able to gain rights to the additional space through the little-known law of adverse possession.

The idea of adverse possession allows a person to gain rights to a piece of property they are otherwise not entitled to, by moving onto it and improving it. Now it may sound easy, but there are several elements necessary for an adverse possession claim to be valid. First and foremost, the 'squatter' must have physical possession of the property for a specific amount of time. In Florida, the minimum amount of time before someone can claim adverse possession is seven years. The squatter must also be aware they are on land that is not theirs, not keep their act of trespassing a secret, and must improve the land in some way. If all the necessary elements are present, a squatter may be legally entitled to the property.

For homeowners that are looking at the three or 4 feet between their own fences and a noise barrier as an eyesore, removing their own fence and improving the property may eventually make it theirs. Although claiming the property through adverse possession may still be a bit of a battle, homeowners may be able to enjoy a larger outdoor living space and nicer landscaping until then. For individuals looking to file an adverse possession claim, speaking to a skilled real estate attorney would be wise.

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