Adverse Possession in Rhode Island

Adverse possession is the process by which a non-record land owner can gain title to another record owner’s real property without compensation by holding the property in a manner that is hostile to the record owner’s rights for a period of ten years or more.  The transfer of ownership occurs after the adverse possessor has met all of the statutory requirements of adverse possession for a period of at least ten years.  A court action is often necessary to establish record ownership on behalf of the adverse possessor.

In accordance with Rhode Island General Law Adverse Possession is defined as follows: “§ 34-7-1 Conclusive title by peaceful possession under claim of title. – Where any person or persons, or others from whom he, she, or they derive their title, either by themselves, tenants or lessees, shall have been for the space of ten (10) years in the uninterrupted, quiet, peaceful and actual seisin and possession of any lands, tenements or hereditaments for and during that time, claiming the same as his, her or their proper, sole and rightful estate in fee simple, the actual seisin and possession shall be allowed to give and make a good and rightful title to the person or persons, their heirs and assigns forever; and any plaintiff suing for the recovery of any such lands may rely upon the possession as conclusive title thereto, and this chapter being pleaded in bar to any action that shall be brought for the lands, tenements or hereditaments, and the actual seisin and possession being duly proved, shall be allowed to be good, valid and effectual in law for barring the action.”

The following example illustrates how adverse possession works in the state of Rhode Island:

The Monties purchased their property in 1990.  At the time of the Monties purchase there was a fence that ran the entire depth of their land.  From the time of the purchase through 2012 the Monties maintained the fence and the land under and around the fence.  The fence was in place and a barn along the boundary line had existed prior to the purchase.  The Monties made repairs to the barn including new shingles, windows, and a new roof.  The Monties have therefore made effective use of the property in question for the last 22 years.  Where any person was in the uninterrupted, quiet, peaceful and actual seisin and possession of any lands claiming the land as his for the space of ten years may establish conclusive title.  R.I. G.L. 34-7-1.  The Supreme Court has long held that the elements to establish adverse possession are that it must be actual, open, notorious, hostile, under claim of right, continuous, and exclusive for at least ten years.  Sherman v. Goloskie, 188 A.2d 79, 83 (R.I. 1963).

In order to meet the open and notorious requirement, the Monties must show that their use of the land would “put a reasonable property owner on notice of their hostile claim.”  Gammons v. Caswell, 447 A.2d 361, 367 (R.I. 1982).  The court found that it is sufficient for the claimant to go upon the disputed land and use it adversely to the true owner and the owner then becomes chargeable with knowledge of whatever occurs on the land in an open manner.  Lee v. Raymond, 456 A.2d 1179, 1183 (R.I. 1983).  The court held that the owner was still chargeable with knowing whatever was done openly on the land he owned even though it could not be observed from the road or from the boundary of the property.  Tavares v. Beck, 814 A.2d 346, 352 (R.I. 2003).  The Monties kept goats they purchased in 1990 in the barn and maintained the property in dispute.  As set forth in Gammons, as a reasonable property owner, the abutting land owner, the Cappues were put on notice by the placement of the fence and the Monties’ open and notoriou