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Can you claim land you have taken care of when the owner would not?

Greenleaf, WI |

Is there a law where you can take over and claim land that you have taken care of for 16 yrs. When we purchased our home the previous owners had no problems with the owner of the house next door. Now he calls the police if we park our car on the end of the dead end leading into the field. The land connects this vacant property with ours and the town told us this was our driveway. There is also a piece of land on the other side of our house he owns that we have cut since we lived here. he came over and told us if we woud level the back and cut it we could use it. After we did all the work he said he did not want anything on it. We have taken care of the property for 16 yrs. Is there a homestead act or something where you can claim land the owner does not. Nor does he live there.

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Attorney answers 1


Adverse possession is a statutorily-based right which allows an owner to acquire title to property that he has used and rightly believes he owns, for a specified minimum period of time.

The basic concept is that if an owner openly, notoriously, continuously, and under a “color of right” occupies a piece of property, he may be entitled to assert ownership over that property. Such an ownership “change” does not happen automatically. To establish actual ownership through adverse possession, court action is required. “Notorious” use refers to the obvious nature of the use, such as improvements constructed on the land, and the installation of fences and other obvious signs of ownership. A “color of right” means that there has to be some facts or documents which lead the user to think he owns the property. In other words, if the person claiming adverse possession actually knows that he does not own the land, he cannot gain ownership through adverse possession.

Wisconsin law currently establishes a twenty (20) year minimum possession for a claim of ownership by adverse possession if the claim is not supported by color of title (i.e. a recorded document). Wis. Stats. §893.25. Under the law in Wisconsin, a party has to have uninterrupted adverse possession of the property for twenty (20) years, and can show such possession through a claim of title (e.g. a survey or evidence that it was told where the alleged boundary was) and show occupation through appropriate use (i.e. building enclosures, cultivation, improvements, etc.). The adverse possession can be among multiple owners, as long as the chain of use is continual and unbroken for at least twenty (20) years.

Other matters may shorten the minimum possession time: If a neighbor claimed that he adversely possessed the property under color of title, then the time limit could be reduced to ten (10) years, as long as the written instrument showing title was properly recorded (within 30 days of acquisition of the property). Wis. Stats. §893.26. If a neighbor paid taxes on the disputed property, and made each payment on time, then the time limit could be reduced to only seven (7) years. Wis. Stats. §893.27.

The Wisconsin Statutes are clear in that they require continuous and uninterrupted adverse possession for more than twenty (20) years. (Wis. Stats. §§893.25, 893.29.) This means that a neighbor must prove the unbroken line of possession. A single break in the chain can be sufficient to defeat an adverse possession claim. All others were charged with constructive knowledge of other items in the public record, including the plats, which clearly show the proper boundary.

The foregoing is provided as a general overview and is not intended as legal advice. Consult a Wisconsin real estate attorney. Shawn G. Rice

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