Property Laws and Adverse Possession in the State of Kentucky

Adverse possession property statutes -- sometimes known as "squatters' rights" laws -- exist in every state. They detail the requirements for a trespasser eventually becoming the legal owner of property formerly owned by another.

One essential requirement is that the trespasser must live on the property or otherwise treat it as his own for a certain number of years. Kentucky Statute § 413.010 requires that the trespasser occupy the property for a minimum of 15 years. This period may be shortened to 7 years, per Kentucky Statute §413.60, if the trespasser has a certificate of title or a deed to the property. It doesn't matter if these documents conflict with the current owner's title -- in fact, they must. Otherwise there is no "adversity" in the possession.

Beyond the residential minimum, there are four other essential requirements in each state, although some states have more.

The Adverse Possession Must Be Hostile

If a party comes onto a property owner's land with permission, he isn't occupying it as a right. All adverse possession laws, including Kentucky's, insist that the trespasser must occupy the property as a right regardless of a conflicting claim. The term "hostile" in these statutes doesn't mean "by force," but rather in disagreement with the claimed rights of others. Some states allow an "honest mistake" as effectively hostile and some do not. Kentucky does. One Kentucky property owner could build a fence on his neighbor's property because of an inaccurate survey and through that mistake eventually become the owner of the property extending to the fence line.

The Adverse Possession Must Be Actual

A written claim of adverse possession has no legal weight. The trespasser must physically inhabit the property.

The Adverse Possession Must be Open and Notorious

"Notorious" as it is used in the statute means something like "known to all," and reinforces the requirement of openness. For example, if someone had a large heavily wooded tract of land, a trespasser couldn't claim adverse possession by sneaking deep into the woods and occupying a partially hidden cave. The trespasser must act openly, as an owner would The possession must be apparent to anyone passing by the property.

Possession Must Be Exclusive and Continuous

These two adjectives occur in virtually every state's adverse possession language, as they do in Kentucky's. What numerous court decisions have determined is that in the context of adverse possession:

• "Exclusive" means that the trespasser must not share the property with the purported owner. A trespasser who builds his driveway on a neighbor's land has taken exclusive possession. A trespasser who sometimes uses his neighbor's driveway -- when he washes his car, for instance -- has not.

• "Continuous" does not mean "never leaves the property." A trespasser who builds a cabin on another's property and lives in it may leave the cabin to buy supplies and conduct business without jeopardizing his claim. A trespasser who builds a cabin he uses only occasionally probably has no claim. On the other hand, if he uses the cabin every weekend or during hunting season, the matter is ripe for dispute.

About the Author

I am a retired Registered Investment Advisor with 12 years experience as head of an investment management firm. I also have a Ph.D. in English and have written more than 4,000 articles for regional and national publications.