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Squatter’s Rights and Adverse Possession in Rhode Island

Trespassing, or physically inhabiting a property without the consent of the owner, can be both a civil and criminal offense in Rhode Island. There are some interesting exceptions to this rule, one of which is the law of adverse possession. Adverse possession, as applied to real estate, is a legal doctrine that allows a trespasser who openly possesses property for an extended period to take legal title to the property. Although the law of adverse possession has its roots in Old Common Law, the Rhode Island Legislature has codified the right, and it remains the law in Rhode Island.

The most publicized and intriguing stories of adverse possession often include squatters. A squatter is a person who moves into an abandoned property and lives there as if it were their own. Under Rhode Island law, a person who openly and notoriously possesses property for a period of ten years may seek title to the property under the law of adverse possession. In evaluating an adverse possession claim of a residential dwelling, a court may consider whether the petitioner maintained and improved the property while residing there. Squatters who live in a property for 10 years, maintain and improve the property, and follow the proper procedures can gain legal ownership of the home.

Practically speaking, Rhode Island’s adverse possession law is more commonly used in resolving property line disputes between neighboring property owners. If a fence in between two pieces of property is not in the correct place, one of the neighbors is a victim of trespass. If the aggrieved neighbor does not pursue action to correct the trespass after ten years, the trespassing neighbor may be entitled to officially change the land ownership records and take legal title to the strip of their neighbor’s property on their side of the fence. New owners of a home may not even realize that the fences are in the wrong place, and allow the ten years to pass unintentionally.

When purchasing a home, it is important for a homebuyer to confirm with the survey and land records that the advertised property is as it appears. Sellers of homes are required to notify potential buyers of defects, including inaccurate fencing and property line issues. Some sellers are dishonest, and some do not even know of the issue. Purchasers can save a lot of headaches later on by confirming the accuracy of the property line before making an offer. Current homeowners who suspect that a neighbor may be trespassing on their property by using a fence or otherwise taking ownership of the property should not sit on their rights. If a neighbor continues to trespass on your property and you do not take action, the neighbor may eventually be able to take full ownership of your property.

Contact an Attorney to Address Your Adverse Possession Questions

If you are a Rhode Island resident or landowner who has questions about a potential property line dispute or other issue involving adverse possession, the experienced real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo can advise you of your rights, and assist you with any action to be taken. Our Rhode Island real estate lawyers clients in many types of real estate cases, including property disputes and adverse possession claims. Contact our offices today and schedule a free consultation by calling 401-300-4055.

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