Some people can own property without ever paying for it. Known legally as adverse possession, the law allows squatters who live on property that does not belong to them for a certain period of time to become the legal owners of that property. To acquire property rights by adverse possession in Massachusetts, squatters must live on a property for 20 continuous years openly and without challenge by the owner.
History of Adverse Possession
Adverse possession laws were created to assist in the settlement of land title claims and the development of unused land throughout the country. These laws allowed people to stake claims to land for personal use, including building houses, raising livestock or farming crops. Historically, Americans believed these laws to be helpful in the development of towns and communities throughout the new country.
Squatters must meet certain requirements in Massachusetts to become property owners through squatting:
- Exclusive occupation of the land continuously for at least 20 years
- Occupation must be obvious and known by others
- Squatter did not have permission of owner to use the land
All of these elements are required to obtain legal title by adverse possession.
Adverse possession claims do not always come from strangers; sometimes they are filed by neighbors. For example, one neighbor openly encroaches upon another's land by installing a fence or driveway. After 20 years, the encroaching neighbor can go to court to ask that the land occupied by the fence or driveway be added to theirs, thus increasing the size and value of their property. If the neighbor has given permission to use his land in this way, title by adverse possession cannot be claimed.