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What You Should Know about Encroachments and Adverse Possession for the Real Estate License Exam

The Real Estate License Exam will expect you to know something about encroachments and adverse possession. The ultimate limitation on the use of your real estate is losing the use of it or, in some cases, actually losing ownership of it. Loss of use or ownership doesn’t happen automatically. It requires a court’s decision.

Encroachment of real estate

An encroachment is the unauthorized or illegal use of someone’s property by another person. On one hand, an encroachment sometimes happens by mistake, as in the case of someone building a garden shed a few feet over the property boundary line onto your property. On the other, it can also be intentional. Someone, for example, may build a house on your country property. Yes, that really happens.

As is usually the case with unauthorized use and claims against someone’s property, ownership or use is lost only as a result of court action. In a case involving a disagreement over a boundary line, court action may be necessary to resolve the dispute. Tell that to those feuders, especially when one claims they have the automatic right to that tomato garden because they’ve been using it for ten years.

Adverse possession of real estate

Adverse possession is someone actually claiming ownership of your real estate because of how they’re using it. Say your neighbor puts up a fence ten feet onto your property. It was a mistake. He knows it, and you know it, but neither of you does anything about it. Not a big deal you say. He’ll just have more lawn to mow and you less.

No problem, right? Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t. If the fence stays and your neighbor uses your ten feet of property as though it’s his own for the required period of time set by the state, he can go to court and claim ownership of the property by adverse possession. And he may even win.

One point to note about adverse possession if you’re thinking of building a pool on the county property behind your house. Government land is usually protected from an individual claiming ownership or use because of adverse use of the government owned land.

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