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How is Adverse Possession Proven in Rhode Island?

Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that can be used in Rhode Island to allow a trespasser or squatter to take legal title to a piece of real property after openly possessing and using the land for a certain period of time. Claims of adverse possession are often used to resolve disputes between neighboring property owners who may not have been complying with the officially surveyed property boundaries. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a man who owned property adjacent to a cemetery and had been using portions of the cemetery’s land for his own purposes for several decades.

The appellant in the recently decided appeal is a man who owned property adjacent to the plaintiff’s land since inheriting it from his father. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the appellant had witnessed and been involved in the use of two parcels of land adjacent to his family’s plot, which was technically owned by the cemetery. Since the appellant could remember, his family used and maintained the two plots of land as if they were the rightful owners. Specifically, one of the land plots had been used for storing scrap metal and vehicles for nearly 30 years. The other portion of land had been maintained and landscaped by the appellant and his family for over ten years.

The owners of the cemetery filed an action in Rhode Island state court against the appellant in 2018, alleging that his use of the two plots of land was an unlawful trespass and requesting that the Court order the appellant to cease use of the property and remove the trespassing structures and other items. The appellant responded to the lawsuit, alleging that he and his family are entitled to ownership of the disputed parcels under the doctrine of adverse possession.

To prove a claim of ownership by adverse possession under Rhode Island law, a party must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence the actual, open, notorious, hostile, continuous, and exclusive use of the property for a period of at least ten years. At trial, the judge ruled that the appellant’s storage of scrap metal and landscaping of the grounds on the two disputed parcels was not sufficient to establish the actual, open, or notorious requirements of an adverse possession claim. Based on this ruling, the plaintiffs were granted an injunction for the appellants to stop using the property and remove any possessions therefrom.

The appellants raised an appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, where the court agreed that their use of the two parcels should meet the “actual, open, and notorious” requirements for an adverse possession claim. Based upon this finding, the high court remanded the case to the trial level to determine if the other requirements for adverse possession are met. Although the appellants have not yet proven all of the necessary elements to establish themselves as rightful owners of the disputed parcels, the recent high court ruling was a victory nonetheless.

Do You Have Questions About an Adverse Possession Issue?

Whether you are attempting to establish ownership of a piece of property by adverse possession or you are seeking to prevent another from doing so on your property, the time is now to start taking action to defend your position. Strict time and use requirements are applied to adverse possession claims, and small actions can make the difference between keeping or losing the title to your property. The qualified Rhode Island real estate attorneys with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP understand how adverse possession works in the state, and we can help you make decisions to strengthen the case that disputed property belongs to you. 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.

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