Adverse Possession Litigation

Adverse possession litigation situation where the clock is ticking on filing a claim.

Property owners often do not realize that certain actions taken by neighbors or trespassers coupled with prolonged inaction on their own part can result in losing the title to portions of their land through adverse possession. Adverse possession is an ancient legal concept that is still prevalent in the area of real estate law today. The real estate litigation attorneys at PALUMBO LAW represent property owners in adverse possession matters throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. 

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is a doctrine by which landowners of record may lose title to their property by failing to assert their rights against one who has taken actions contrary to their property interests. This common law doctrine embodies the long-recognized public policy aimed at encouraging landowners to actively protect their interest in their property and to ensure that the land is owned by those who make the most productive uses of it rather than by those who ignore it. 

The ultimate goal of an adverse possession action is to clear up and resolve disputed titles. If successful, an adverse possession action will allow the claimant to acquire title to the subject property if the true record owner failed to reestablish his or her ownership rights through, for example, an eviction or quiet title action, before the applicable statute of limitations expires. Under the common law, the general elements of adverse possession are that the possession must be:

  1. Hostile and under claim of right
  2. Actual
  3. Exclusive
  4. Continuous, and
  5. Open and notorious

The period of time needed for a claimant to establish adverse possession varies by jurisdiction and is defined by statute. In Rhode Island, legal title to an otherwise neglected piece of property may be claimed by openly inhabiting it for at least 10 years. In Connecticut, the time period for establishing adverse possession is 15 years. In Massachusetts, the time period is 20 years. 

Hostile possession and under claim of right

The possession required to acquire title by adverse possession must be hostile. A claim of right, or color of title, essentially means a claim of ownership.  The term “hostile” signifies possession that is without permission or license, and is unaccompanied by recognition of the true owner’s right to the property. Simply stated, hostile possession means that the claimant does not have the true owner’s permission to be on the land. Consequently, permissive use of the land is a common defense raised in adverse possession cases.

Actual Possession

Most states require the claimant to establish “actual possession” as an element of adverse possession. What constitutes actual possession of property presents a mixed question of law and fact, and is frequently in dispute. There is no typical fact pattern in these cases and the outcomes can be difficult to predict. Proof of actual possession may be presented through a combination of witness testimony and documents. Evidence of actual possession must extend to the entirety of the property over which the claimant is asserting as adverse possession claim.   

Continuous and Uninterrupted Possession

The claimant must also establish that his or her possession of the property in dispute was continuous and uninterrupted for the full statutory period. “Continuous possession” has been defined as a possession that has not been abandoned by the claimant. “Uninterrupted possession” generally means possession that has not been effectually broken by the possession of another person. Simply put, the claimant’s possession must remain intact without any legally significant interruption for a period of time not less than the applicable statute of limitations of the jurisdiction. 

Exclusive Possession

The claimant’s possession of the subject property must also be exclusive. “Exclusive possession” for the purposes of adverse possession means that the claimant possesses the land for himself or herself and not for others. In other words, the claimant must not share possession with anybody other than one to whom the claimant gives permission to use the land. The purpose of the exclusivity requirement is to put the true record owner on notice of the claimant’s adverse possession of the owner’s land. 

Open and Notorious 

This element has been defined as possession or control that is plainly evidence to others. For possession to be open and notorious, it is generally meant that the act asserting dominion over the property must be of such quality to put a person of ordinary prudence on notice of the fact that the claimant is claiming the land as his or her own. The purpose of this requirement is to place true owners on notice so that they can take steps promptly to vindicate their rights by legal action.  


Whether you are pursuing or defending against an adverse possession claim, you need a lawyer who brings experience, knowledge, and a track record of success. Whenever property ownership is at stake, having a skilled real estate litigation attorney by your side and advocating for your rights can be the deciding factor in these complex cases.  Contact the Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut adverse possession lawyers at PALUMBO LAW today to discuss your case.