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Navigating Property Boundary Disputes in Rhode Island

As one of the first areas of the continent settled by colonists, Rhode Island contains property boundaries that were determined centuries ago, and they may not reflect the boundaries used today. Property boundaries and disputes with neighboring landowners can often lead to complex legal issues that may be difficult to understand and apply to the facts on the ground. One particular legal doctrine that plays a significant role in addressing these disputes is “adverse possession,” which can allow a property owner to assume title to land adjacent to their own if certain requirements are met.

Adverse possession is a legal principle that has its origins in the Roman Empire, where possession of an item without a title could eventually lead to ownership if the original owner failed to claim the property. In contemporary times, adverse possession laws exist in all 50 states, providing a legal framework for resolving disputes over property boundaries and ownership. The basic premise of adverse possession is that if an individual openly inhabits and improves a neglected piece of property for a specified period, they can gain legal title to that property. In Rhode Island, this statutory period is typically set at 10 years.

One common scenario in Rhode Island where adverse possession comes into play is when a property owner discovers that a portion of their neighbor’s property, such as a fence or structure, encroaches upon their land by a few inches or more. This situation can give rise to property boundary disputes and, potentially, premises liability issues. Adverse possession provides a mechanism to address such disputes by legally transferring ownership of the encroached-upon area to the party who has openly inhabited and improved it. This can bring clarity to the property boundary, preventing future conflicts.

Rhode Island’s adverse possession law is relatively straightforward. To claim legal title to a piece of property through adverse possession, an individual must satisfy the following elements:

  1. Continuous Possession: The individual must openly and continuously inhabit the property for a minimum of 10 years. During this period, they should treat the land as their own, using it as an owner would.
  2. Lack of Permission: The possession must be non-permissive or without the owner’s consent. In other words, the individual must occupy the land without permission from the legal owner.
  3. Exclusive Possession: The possession must be exclusive, meaning that the individual has sole control over the property and does not share it with the legal owner or others.
  4. Hostile Possession: In the context of adverse possession, “hostile” does not imply animosity or aggression. Instead, it means that the possession is in opposition to the legal owner’s claim. In essence, the individual must act as if they are the true owner, without acknowledging the legal owner’s rights.
  5. Open and Notorious: The individual’s possession of the property should be open and notorious, meaning it is visible and apparent to anyone who might have an interest in the land.
  6. Continuous: The possession must be uninterrupted throughout the entire 10-year period.

It’s important to note that while the state law does not explicitly require the payment of property taxes or making improvements, these factors can strengthen the case for adverse possession. Improvements, in particular, can demonstrate the individual’s investment in and commitment to the property. If a landowner becomes aware of the adverse possession claim, they have the opportunity to challenge it. However, the statute grants them 10 years from the date they discover the adverse possession to take legal action, even if they were under a legal disability at the time the claim began.

Do You Have a Question About a Rhode Island Property Boundary Dispute?

If you are concerned about an encroachment onto your property by a neighboring structure or improvement, you may be at risk of losing title to your land based on an adverse possession claim. Adverse possession cases can be intricate and require a deep understanding of property law and the specific requirements of Rhode Island statutes. The experienced Rhode Island property lawyers at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP assist property owners in asserting their property rights and maintaining rightful ownership of their property. If you have a question about a property line dispute, reach out today for a free consultation. Our lawyers represent people in Rhode Island in all types of property issues. If you have questions about a Rhode Island real estate issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 to schedule a consultation.

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