The Alaska Squatters Land Ownership Laws

By Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., Registered Investment Adv

Every state has a collection of statutes governing adverse possession -- the taking of real property belonging to another as the result of occupying the land for a required number of years. In Alaska the statutory period is 10 years. In rare instances, where conflicting titles exist, the period may be shortened to seven.

Prior to 2003, as Jennie Morawetz points out in a lengthy article in the Alaska Law Review, Alaskan court interpretations of these statutes particularly favored occupiers -- sometimes referred to as "squatters" -- and disadvantaged true owners. In 2003, the Alaska State Legislature added new requirements that shifted the advantage to owners. The general requirements of the earlier statutes, however remain in force.

Alaska's Adverse Possession Statutes Prior to 2003

Alaska's pre-2003 statutes spell out the usual requirements for adverse possession which it shares almost all other state statutes, usually with relatively minor differences. The occupier's occupation must be

  • Actual: The occupation must be physical -- not, for example, the mere posting of the property with a notice of ownership. 
  • Adverse: Some state statutes use the term hostile rather than adverse, but the underlying meaning in both cases is that the occupation cannot occur with the permission of the owner. 
  • Open and notorious: Occupying a shack hidden deep in the woods cannot qualify. The occupation must be apparent even to casual passersby. 
  • Exclusive: The occupier cannot share the occupation with the owner, but must act like as the one true owner would, exercising control and dominion and allowing others only permissive use.  
  • Continuous and uninterrupted: Prior to 2003, as Morawetz points out, Alaskan courts tended to interpret these requirements liberally. All states have interpreted the uninterrupted adverse possession requirement to allow leaving the premises from time to time. Alaskan courts  have further determined that an occupier may leave for extended periods --  could inhabit a cabin only seasonally, for example -- and still qualify.  

The 2003 Adverse Possession Revision

Although it does not specifically nullify the earlier requirements for adverse possession, Alaska's 2003 Senate Bill 93 effectively ends many adverse possession occupations in Alaska by disallowing the eventual award of either prescriptive easement or title to a squatter who deliberately and knowingly occupies land belonging to another.

The exceptions all have to do with "good faith" occupations of one kind or another. A common example is a bad survey that leads Mary to believe that one of her property boundaries extends 10 feet farther than subsequent, more accurate surveys indicate. One Alaskan solution to this problem is a prescriptive easement. Provided that her occupation of this 10 foot wide area fulfills the usual adverse possession requirements and has gone on for 10 years, she may receive a prescriptive easement allowing her continued use and control of the land she mistakenly thought was hers, but she will not automatically gain title.

Owners' Remedies

Since 2003, the pendulum has swung far in favor of Alaskan owners, some of whom formerly felt obliged to pursue an expensive and burdensome monitoring program of thousands of acres of wilderness lands in order to preserve ownership rights.

One way to preserve ownership rights in Alaska is simply to post the land with notice of ownership and prohibiting trespass. It would be prudent in these instances to include in the posting and invitation to the would-be trespasser to contact the owner in the event of any supposed dispute.

Another solution, if the trespasser is otherwise not a problem -- a hunting cabin in a remote area, for example -- is simply to give the trespasser permission to use the property. Requiring the trespasser's written acknowledgement establishes that his occupation is only by permission and establishes the trespasser's knowledge of the true owner's claim.

About the Author

Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.