Landowners in New York have cause for concern about trespassers for many reasons. Just one of these may be “squatters’ rights,” or the right of trespassers to claim ownership of your land or a portion of your land if you do not remove them in a timely manner.
As FindLaw explains, adverse possession is an old legal doctrine to discourage neglected land. To encourage land use, “squatters” or trespassers who care for and make use of land may eventually be able to claim it as their own.
Adverse possession laws historically encouraged mass land use, but today they typically apply to disputes between neighbors. For example, your neighbor may be mistaken about your property line and encroach upon your land. These are the most common cases in New York today.
Courts rarely seize land from an owner through adverse possession, but there are certain circumstances when they may consider it. Under the law, there are several requirements.
For a court to consider an adverse possession claim, the trespasser must have used the land openly for at least 10 years as if it belonged to him or her and paid taxes during that time. The law calls this “open and notorious,” meaning that the public must be reasonably aware of the squatter’s use of the land. This requirement gives the actual owner greater opportunity to intervene before it becomes too late.
Next, the “hostile claim” requirement dictates that the squatter’s use of the land must be without the owner’s permission. If you have granted permission to a third party to use your land, other laws apply to your interactions. In other words, someone using your land with your permission may not claim adverse possession.
Courts may consider other matters when looking into adverse possession claims, such as “color of title,” concerning circumstances when the squatter mistakenly believed the land belonged to him or her.