Adverse possession is a Middle Ages legal concept that can prove to be a threat to your Alabama land. You probably have 2 to 3 neighbors with property lines bordering yours. Did you know that those neighbors may be able to get their hands on the legal title to certain pieces of your property? The law also allows unknown trespassers that have squatted on land for a certain period of time to claim ownership.
It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with Alabama’s rule on adverse possession to ensure that your land remains yours. Or you may want to assert an adverse possession claim over a piece of land that you have developed and want to continue using.
Understanding Alabama’s Adverse Possession Law
The Homestead Act of 1862 enacted the adverse possession law of Alabama. Individuals are allowed by these laws to come into possession of a property if they have publicly lived on it for a specific time period and made improvements. Typically, they would have a deed to the property and would have paid property taxes or rent on it.
In Alabama, the original owner is burdened with the task of using their property or forcing squatters to leave. In many states, it is incumbent on the property owner to ensure that the unoccupied land they own improves the community around it and serves a purpose. Any land that is left untouched for years will probably be voted in favor of the squatter by the courts that tried making improvements on it.
Property owners and landlords need to prove that they legitimately own the land. This is because squatters have the right to become legal owners of a piece of land if they have used it and lived there for long enough. You should get in touch with a capable real estate attorney in Alabama if you have concerns about adverse possession regarding your land.
Adverse Possession Effects and Requirements
Adverse possession doesn’t result in legal title transfer automatically. It lends vested property rights to the person in the possessed area. Individuals can initiate a quiet title action for obtaining the legal title to a certain property after meeting statutory requirements for adverse possession.
State statute governs the requirements for adverse possession. These are the adverse possession statute elements that need to be met in Alabama:
- Open and Notorious
It is important for the person seeking adverse possession to occupy a piece of land in an open and obvious manner. The parcel of land cannot be occupied secretively. The person should not make any efforts for remaining undetected. Landowners are not required to have any actual knowledge of the occupation.
The parcel of land should be exclusively occupied by the person seeking adverse possession. They may not share it with the true owner or public.
In Alabama, adverse possession requires the land occupation to be adverse and hostile to the interests of the true owner. Possession is not considered hostile if the landowner gave permission to use the land. However, the landlord doesn’t really need to have actual knowledge of the occupation as long as the occupation is adverse to their interests.
For instance, a landowner may not realize that their neighbor’s fence extends over his property line. This occupation can be termed sufficiently hostile since the landowner never gave the neighbor permission to encroach on their property.
- Statutory Period
The land possession needs to continue for the predetermined statutory period of the state. This statutory period can be as short as three years or for a period extending twenty years. In Alabama, the statutory period for adverse possession is 20 yrs. (Bradley v. Demos 599 So.2d 1148).
The squatter needs 10 years for the Color of Title and should have paid taxes on the property for 10 years. It is necessary for the possession to be continuous and exclusive in Alabama. The trespasser cannot share the land or property possession with others. They need to be in possession of the land for an uninterrupted time period.
- Uninterrupted and Continuous
Before you get too worried about trespassers taking over your land, you should know that they need to meet all elements of adverse possession at all times during the statutory time limit. Adverse possessors can use the property in a consistent manner with the type of possessed property. For instance, a ski lodge may be determined to be used continuously even when it is only used during the winters.
Preventing Adverse Possession in Alabama
These are a few precautions you can take for preventing a claim of adverse possession:
- Mark the boundary lines clearly.
- Walk the property lines for any signs of trespassing.
- Install “no trespassing” signs.
- Build a fence around the property.
What Does Quiet Title Do in an Adverse Possession Claim?
You can bring a Quiet Title lawsuit for clearing a clouded title. This course of action is advised only when you have done everything to resolve the matter out of court. A clouded title means the piece of land has an adverse possession claim, encroachment dispute, or ownership claim.
Buyers won’t want to purchase land that may require a lawsuit to resolve ownership. By bringing a quiet title lawsuit, you can have the judge decide the true owner(s) of the land. The judge’s decision will effectively “quiet” the title.
It’s a good idea to work with a skilled real estate attorney since these actions can often be time-consuming and complicated. In addition, you risk losing your right to the property if a judge rules against you.
Your attorney can ramp up the efforts to reclaim ownership of the land. In real estate disputes, an ounce of prevention today is worth more than a pound of cure later. You can discourage others from maintaining their claim to the land by taking action sooner than later.
It can be risky to clear the title to your property without the help of an attorney. You should hire an attorney that has a deep understanding of Alabama real estate laws and knows how to protect your property.
Contact an Experienced Alabama Real Estate Attorney Today
Adverse possession and real estate laws can be confusing. You can understand your rights and responsibilities pertaining to adverse possession and other real estate matters by getting in touch with capable attorneys at the BHM Law Group. We offer legal advice after understanding all aspects of a client’s case because we know that a cookie-cutter approach rarely works in matters of real estate. Get in touch with us today by calling 205-994-0902 or using our online form.