People often become irrational when it comes to the possession of land, and why not? There is substantial emotional and sentimental attachment to family cottages and land. In Michigan I frequently hear of disputes over lot lines, the edge of driveway, a fence line, what lies beyond the property lines and even water frontage and access to it. That’s where today’s blog post comes in – Discussing adverse possession. What it is, what happens and how to avoid losing out.
Lot Line Configurations
Cottage properties generally have creative lot line configurations. Whether that is due to access to the water, accessing the main road and even through the creative way property is divided and sold off. And as buyers and cottage owners it is important to understand the implications of encroachments and trespasses so that you can legally protect your property.
Michigan law states that if another person’s land is occupied by a non-owner for at least 15 consecutive years without interruption, that property may be given to that non-owner. That’s right, the law of “adverse possession” means that a non-owner MAY become the owner of your property after 15-years! Consider driveways, sheds, garages, out-buildings and access to water frontage as prime examples of when this happens. Perhaps as a new buyer your neighbor tells you that the previous owner, their best friends, allowed them to build stairs leading to the lake. These have been on your property for the 12 years without problem, as the previous owner told them verbally they could build them. They need just three more years to establish adverse possession, and that chunk of property could become theirs. So how do you avoid losing out to Adverse Possession?
Remove the Encroachment
As a landowner, you can demand that any encroachment be removed. If the neighbor will not voluntarily remove the structure, you can either file a lawsuit or grant “permission” for the continued encroachment. Granting permission negates adverse possession from occurring so long as it is in writing. You could also maintain and post “No Trespassing” signs, or erect a fence. You could even provide the trespasser with written permission or create an easement. A few examples of creating an easement include allowing neighbors to park on a person’s land, keep a dock on the property or even store a boat on an unused plot. If you know that a person is on your land, leasing it to them may also protect you.
Prevent Adverse Possession
The best way to prevent Adverse Possession though is to be present on your property. Because Michigan is triggered by the nature and length of time the trespasser possesses the land, being present means you have an eye on what is happening. Document trespassers and find potential problems before they become bigger problems.
For new buyers, be sure to obtain surveys of the land and even old tax records. Make sure no one else is paying taxes on the property or a part of it. Take the time to do your due diligence and document anything on the property. The 15 consecutive years may be calculated prior to your cottage or land ownership.
While adverse possession can be stressful to a landowner, there are many ways to prevent it from happening before it starts. By being aware of the risks and how to prevent them, you can take the steps needed to ensure that you’re properly protected. Establishing or defending an adverse possession claim can be complicated and if you have questions please contact me. I am happy to discuss the specifications of your unique situation.