Adverse Possession: Can You Get Property For Nothing?


In Illinois, it is possible to develop a claim to property that was never originally yours or never officially conveyed to you.  This is the doctrine of Adverse Possession, sometimes commonly referred to as “squatter’s rights.”

You can obtain property by Adverse Possession when the following occurs for 20 consecutive years: (1) you continuously use the property, (2) your use of the property is not permitted by the actual owner, or is “hostile” (3) you do not hide that you are using the property, and (4) your use of the property conflicts with the actual owner’s right to use and possess the property.

For example, you might build a garage on a piece of vacant property next to your house.  If you continuously park your car in the garage, and openly drive in and out of the garage for 20 years, without the permission of the owner of the vacant land, you have a claim to the vacant land.

Although this rule may sound unfair, it is supported by public policy.  If the owner of the vacant land was not using it, and you were actively driving in and out of a garage built on the vacant land, you were putting the property to better use.

There are some exceptions to Adverse Possession.  If the owner of the vacant land where your garage now sits, paid the property taxes on the vacant land for the last seven years, the owner of the vacant land can likely defeat your Adverse Possession claim.  Alternatively, if the owner of the vacant land was disabled or in the United States military while you were using the garage, your Adverse Possession claim may also fail.

Having a good attorney can help avoid losing your property to adverse possession.  It can clear up confusion you may have as a property owner so you do not have to face a lawsuit down the road.

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