Real Estate: Adverse Possession

Many Missouri land owners do not realize that they might be at risk of losing some of their precious land simply because they do not know or understand Missouri law. You may believe that you are simply being a good neighbor when you allow that neighbor to use your idle land for his own purposes, but beware! You need to know the law concerning adverse possession.

Any person can file a lawsuit against you to acquire legal title to YOUR land if he meets the following criteria:

  1. He has maintained actual possession of your land for ten years or more. This could simply mean that he was the one who mowed the grass on a particular parcel for ten years.
  2. He has maintained hostile possession of the subject real estate for more than ten years. Did he make it clear that he intended to exercise dominion over the land? Did he erect a fence around it. Did he act like he owned it. This does not mean that he has to threaten the legal owner. It simply means that he acts like he IS the owner for ten years or more.
  3. He must maintain open and notorious possession of the subject real estate for more than ten years. His possession or claim to possession cannot be hidden. His use of the land must be open to inspection. You have to be able to see or otherwise discern that he is in fact possessing your land and that he intends to do so.
  4. He must maintain exclusive possession of the subject real estate for more than ten years. This means that you or some other neighbor cannot be using the particular parcel of land for your own purposes. If you, for example, continue to use your own land, even though you allow another to use it too, you demonstrate that you have dominion over the land and another cannot wrench it from you via the legal means of adverse possession.
  5. The adverse possessor must maintain continuous possession of the subject real estate for more than ten years. Assume that you allowed your neighbor to use your land for five years, say from 1998 to 2003, and then you used the land again from 2003 to 2008. Now assume that your neighbor used the land again from 2008 to 2014 and the total time he used your land for both periods exceeds ten years. He cannot gain your land by adverse possession because he did not exercise dominion of your land for a continuous period of ten years or more.

Land owners, therefore, should always be cognizant of the boundaries and uses of their lands. Review your fence lines regularly. If you find someone using your land and it is okay with you, then draw up a simple lease agreement with that person that demonstrates that you still exercise dominion over it. Never remain silent when another person begins to dominate your own land. You may think you’re being a good neighbor. Ten years later he may show you that you have acted the fool!