Perhaps you have heard the story of a person moving into an abandoned property and living there for a certain time, and being able to take legal ownership of the property from the previous owner. This may sound like either a fantasy or a nightmare, depending on whose perspective we are seeing the situation from. Is it really possible for a trespasser to become a legal owner simply by refusing to leave the property? Squatter’s rights, stemming from a legal doctrine known as adverse possession, involve a legal concept that allows a person to claim ownership of a property that they have used and possessed without the owner’s permission for a certain period of time.
In Rhode Island, adverse possession is recognized under state law. To claim adverse possession in Rhode Island, the squatter must prove that they have continuously possessed the property openly, notoriously, and adversely for at least ten years and that they have paid all property taxes during that time. These requirements are designed to allow for a person who started off as a trespasser to demonstrate their ability and desire to productively possess and use a property that had been abandoned. The state has an interest in allowing squatter’s rights because the adverse possessor must pay taxes on the property, and often a property is improved significantly by an adverse possessor taking ownership.
In some situations, a property that appears abandoned may not be, and a rightful owner will be required to fight an adverse possession claim. A common example of this involves inherited property. When a large estate is divided, investment properties may be willed to heirs by a deceased benefactor. Properties that have fallen into disrepair can be easily ignored by the new owner, who may not have an immediate interest in addressing the maintenance or tax issues. Furthermore, an inherited property may be geographically distant from the new owner. If squatters move into a forgotten or ignored property, the owner may be risking losing the title to the property based on an adverse possession claim. There are methods to prevent an adverse possession claim from being viable.
It’s important to note that adverse possession can be a complex and controversial issue, and each case is evaluated on its own unique set of facts and circumstances. It’s always best to consult with a qualified real estate attorney in Rhode Island if you have questions about adverse possession or squatter’s rights. If you own a property that is being inhabited by trespassers, it is important to take action quickly to prevent a possible adverse possession claim from vesting and threatening your investment. If you have questions about a Rhode Island real estate issue, the qualified attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo can help you find answers quickly and take the appropriate action if needed. Our property lawyers have experience asserting our clients’ rights to contested property. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.