Written by attorney Peter M. Navis

Wisconsin Adverse Possession and Boundary Disputes with Neighbors


There is a saying that "Good fences make good neighbors." Sometimes, however, those fences can cause disagreement between neighbors.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession, which is the legal term that includes boundary disputes, arises when someone claims ownership of another's land because they have maintained "hostile, open, notorious, exclusive and continuous possession" of that land against all others. Typically, if an individual has maintained that possession for an uninterrupted period of 20 years, he or she becomes the new owner of that land.

What is a boundary dispute?

A boundary dispute is a type of adverse possession where one landowner claims to have acquired land of an adjoining landowner (a neighbor). Typically, but not always, the claim is based on a fence that is on the neighbor's property, rather than on the true property line. Other circumstances in which a boundary dispute may arise include a garage or other building being built over the property line or some other improvement crossing that line, such as a driveway.

What happens if I have a dispute with my neighbor?

If you and your neighbor dispute where the proper boundary line between your properties is, there are several steps that can be taken.

  • First, continue to attempt to peacefully resolve the dispute without attorneys, the court system, or others. This is the best method to ensure that you can remain neighbors, rather than become enemies.
  • Second, if the first step fails, is to contact an attorney to have him or her help you in resolving the dispute. An attorney may be able to resolve the dispute through additional negotiations and will be able to determine if court action is warranted. Of course, you may skip this step and proceed directly to Step 3, if you wish.
  • Third, you may bring an action in court called a Declaration of Interest in Real Property. This action allows the court to determine who has what interest in the dispute property. This action used to be known as a 'quiet title action.'

Is there anything else I should about these disputes?

Yes. There is a related doctrine called "Acquiescence". Acquiescence lowers somewhat the burden required to prove that ownership in a dispute parcel of land has changed. This doctrine is more complex than that of adverse possession. An experience attorney will be able to address whether Acquiescence would apply in your case.


When a dispute arises as to who owns a parcel of land, it is important to understand the difference between adverse possession and acquiescence. Moreover, although negotiations may allow neighbors to resolve their differences, a court may be requested to resolve the dispute. An experience real estate attorney will be able to guide you through the whole process.

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