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Couple loses land to squatter's rights law
The Standard Speaker ^ | October 5, 2009 | JIM DINO

Posted on 10/05/2009 4:34:30 PM PDT by Daffynition

If you own a piece of property, it's a good idea to know what is going on there.

If you don't, you could end up losing it.

A Valley woman can attest.

The woman and her husband purchased a large parcel of land a few miles away from their home as an investment, and sort of forgot about it.

Meanwhile, a neighbor to the land used it for 21 years and then claimed ownership, using the old "squatter's rights" law in Pennsylvania.

"We purchased it in the 1970s, as an investment," the woman said. "We paid the taxes on it every year, but never looked at it. We thought, who is going to steal it? It's land. You can't put it on a flatbed and haul it away."

Also, the neighbors of the land were friends of the couple.

"These were people we knew all of our lives," she said. "We were not aware what was going on with the land."

When the couple decided to sell the parcel to raise money for their four children, they discovered the plight of the land.

"We had a buyer, so we hired a surveyor," she said. "That's how we found out about it. When we hired the surveyor, we got served with papers that (the neighbors) had put in a claim."

Then, lawyers for both sides began to negotiate and the result was that the neighbors ended up with 55 percent, the lawyer for the couple 25 percent and 20 percent for the couple.

"Hopefully, we can still sell it," she said. "One of the reasons we didn't keep up with what was going on there was that the land was off then beaten path. The land was a few miles away from our house. And the land was landlocked. We went out to see it, and it was a very bumpy ride "

The woman said she and her husband could have opted for a jury trial to get the land back, but then they took the risk of losing all of it.

"We didn't want to go to trial," she said. "This could have dragged out for years. We didn't want to do that."

So they took the deal.

But the woman wanted to use her unpleasant experience to educate others.

"It's just not ethical," she said. "I wouldn't do that to somebody. It's so much like stealing. (The neighbors) didn't pay the taxes on it, nor did they have the deed. We paid the taxes on it, all those years.

"I think people should be made aware that this law exists," she continued. "I don't want to see this happen to someone else. We should teach children in school skills they will need to live, like how to balance a checkbook and how the stock market works. We should also teach them about the law."

The law is called adverse possession, and what happened to the woman is relatively common across the United States, according to attorney William Hoffmeyer, of the Hoffmeyer & Semmelman law firm of York, experts in land law.

Hoffmeyer said any neighbor who permits use of their land for 21 years can lose the land to the person using it.

Hoffmeyer said the law arose when Pennsylvania was being settled by William Penn.

"It started when land was going to waste," Hoffmeyer said. "The law was created so that if someone else could use the land, they got it."

Hoffmeyer said there are four key concepts for someone to claim, or lose, adverse possession.

"Those words are open, notorious, hostile and visible," he said. "Open means if someone is doing something with the land right out in the open and not hiding it," Hoffmeyer said.

"Notorious is if anybody knows what is happening on the land. Visible means one can see what is being done with the land, and hostile means what is being done with the land is against the rights of the true owner."

There are some ways to fight the law. Hoffmeyer said.

"If the landowner could take action to eliminate any of those words," he said. "For instance, to eliminate hostile, the landowner can take specific legal action against the user. They can tell them they are no longer permitted to use the land, and if they continue to do so, a trespass action will be filed against them. Or a court injunction could be filed, that forbids the people on the land."

Hoffmeyer said he encounters many cases of adverse possession in his daily practice.

"We see it quite a bit," he said. "It happens many times with people who inherit land from their parents. They don't live anywhere close to the property, so have no idea what is going on there. Out of loyalty to their parents, they pay the taxes on it every year, but never look at the property until they discover a neighbor is trying to take it from them.

"It also happens when neighbors around a property inch over a boundary line," Hoffmeyer continued. "A less-than-desirable neighbor may mow the lawn over the line; or plant trees, flowers or shrubbery over the line, or install a fence over the line."

It is up to the property owner to monitor such activity, and stop it as soon as he or she learns it is happening, Hoffmeyer said.

"You can write a letter to the neighbors, telling them they are trespassing," he said. "In the letter, you tell them if they don't cease and desist, you will initiate a trespassing action against them."

Hoffmeyer said in one case, a landowner who had sold land around him noticed his new neighbors were moving in - literally - toward him.

"The landowner sent the neighbors a letter which stated they all acknowledged and understood they were not acquiring ownership of the land, but were being permitted to use it," Hoffmeyer said. "They were also told they had to assume the liability for the property they are using."


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government; US: Pennsylvania
KEYWORDS: adversepossession; squatter; squattersrights

1 posted on 10/05/2009 4:34:30 PM PDT by Daffynition
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To: Daffynition
Deeply immoral in this day and age.

That the laws allows someone to do this is very wrong.

If someone did this to me I'd be very angry. I'd be hard pressed not to seek retribution in other ways.

2 posted on 10/05/2009 4:41:48 PM PDT by DB
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To: Daffynition

These types of situations can happen to anyone - know your boundaries.

Anything more going on with that couple in Bolder Colorado whose land was taken away from the lawyer neighbors that knew the judge that ordered it?


3 posted on 10/05/2009 4:43:07 PM PDT by libertarian27 (Ingsoc: Life, Liberty and the Department of Happiness)
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To: Daffynition
Also, the neighbors of the land were friends of the couple.

When we hired the surveyor, we got served with papers that (the neighbors) had put in a claim."

Those are some good friends.

4 posted on 10/05/2009 4:45:02 PM PDT by Pontiac (Your message here.)
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To: Daffynition

5 posted on 10/05/2009 4:46:11 PM PDT by JoeProBono (A closed mouth gathers no feet)
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To: libertarian27

If someone did this to land I or my relatives owned then I sincerely doubt that any structures that the trespassers had put up would survive the next “lightning” storm.


6 posted on 10/05/2009 4:48:14 PM PDT by AUH2O Repub (Palin/Hunter 2012)
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To: Daffynition

The first thing you do.....


7 posted on 10/05/2009 4:48:36 PM PDT by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: libertarian27

If someone did this to land I or my relatives owned then I sincerely doubt that any structures that the trespassers had put up would survive the next “lightning” storm.


8 posted on 10/05/2009 4:48:53 PM PDT by AUH2O Repub (Palin/Hunter 2012)
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To: DB
Or you could be like this squatter.
9 posted on 10/05/2009 4:49:34 PM PDT by Daffynition (What's all this about hellfire and Dalmatians?)
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To: Daffynition

They should follow the King Ranch laws. You step on their land; you get shot.


10 posted on 10/05/2009 4:54:05 PM PDT by freekitty (Give me back my conservative vote; then find me a real conservative to vote for)
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To: libertarian27

Many years ago, my attorney told me that when you buy property, you should have it surveyed. He said you don’t do it so much for yourself but for your heirs.

This could have been prevented. Owning property also entails responsibilities.

I don’t know any additional info about the Colorado story. Sorry.


11 posted on 10/05/2009 4:54:24 PM PDT by Daffynition (What's all this about hellfire and Dalmatians?)
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To: Daffynition
Meanwhile, a neighbor to the land used it for 21 years and then claimed ownership, using the old "squatter's rights" law in Pennsylvania.

"These were people we knew all of our lives," she said. "We were not aware what was going on with the land."

No doubt the neighbors think themselves clever. I wonder what they will be thinking on Judgment Day.

12 posted on 10/05/2009 4:55:37 PM PDT by Logophile
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To: DB
Deeply immoral in this day and age.

Adverse possession is a necessary and practical rule that fixes some thorny property issues. But usually... it is only about small amounts... an adjustment of a long-accepted property line for example: Say you and a neighbor have had a fence between your lots for twenty years, and you've both just assumed that it defined the property line. Then he gets a survey done that places the property line three feet inside your fence. Without adverse possession he could just take it. This could be extremely disruptive to you, especially considering what else might be affected. Building setbacks could be enforced on the new line that means taking out part of the house, or outbuildings, or pools, or whatever. But AP basically says "Look, you agreed to this line before and you don't get to change it after all these years". It's actually pretty reasonable.

This case seems pretty extreme. If they really didn't know about the land use, it seems to me that the AP clock starts ticking when they found out. But I'm not a lawyer. It's also hard to see how it could take such a huge portion of the land.

13 posted on 10/05/2009 4:58:13 PM PDT by Ramius (Personally, I give us... one chance in three. More tea?)
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To: Daffynition
There are two concepts in law that I would like to see abolished, both having to do with property.

1. Eminent domain. I'd rather, if the government really wants to put up yet another cop shop or indoctrination center, they pop 'round to Century21 and ReMax like the rest of us shlubs and pay the real market rate. As it stands now, they can just say "your land is worth x, and we want it, so here you go, now get off."

2. "Adverse possession" or squatters' rights or whatever you want to call it. Basically, if you trespass once and get caught, tough noogies for you. But if you do it every day for a long time, at some point it suddenly becomes yours. Bah!

14 posted on 10/05/2009 5:01:08 PM PDT by ExGeeEye (Keep your powder dry, and your iron hidden.)
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To: DB

Squatter’s Laws typically need seven years to become active; the stated reasons that the land not being used (kept or maintained) by the owner can be kept and maintained by someone else.

I’m hesitant to call this immoral, certainly dirty that the neighbors claimed it w/o discussing it. The people who refuse to move out of foreclosed homes are, IMO, much more immoral.

But this does raise an interesting point. Could I buy a foreclosed property being populated with squatters and run them off with a shotgun? I mean that sounds like fun, and maybe we can make it the next Olympic Sport to celebrate Chicago. ;)


15 posted on 10/05/2009 5:02:55 PM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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To: Ramius
Say you and a neighbor have had a fence between your lots for twenty years, and you've both just assumed that it defined the property line. Then he gets a survey done that places the property line three feet inside your fence.

If that ever happened to me, I'd move the fence. It ain't my dad-gum land, and if I accidentally put a fence on it, I'm wrong!

16 posted on 10/05/2009 5:04:56 PM PDT by ExGeeEye (Keep your powder dry, and your iron hidden.)
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To: Daffynition

I guess this is why people post no trespassing signs all over large peices of property for several reasons, liability and adverse possession laws.


17 posted on 10/05/2009 5:09:01 PM PDT by classified
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To: Ramius

Yes I agree about that. Here where I live many people years ago weren’t very careful about their property lines and many a garage is actually 3-4” over the property line. Should the property that owns the garage have to give it up for 3” of land or is it more fair for them to have a clear title?


18 posted on 10/05/2009 5:10:56 PM PDT by chris_bdba
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To: Daffynition
A vile law that deserves to be struck down by a higher court. I would think that if someone pays taxes on a property yearly, they are doing their due diligence. Why must an owner "use" the property for anything at all? If they bought this land as a long term investment, why must they go look at it periodically?

I wonder if I could put up a small shack deep in a forest on federal (or International Paper, or Weyerhaeuser) land, then gradually upgrade it to a nicer shack over two decades . . . could I then claim the land was mine? Probably not but how is this scenario any different than that in the article?

19 posted on 10/05/2009 5:14:13 PM PDT by DesertSapper (God, Family, Country . . . . . . . . . . and dead terrorists!!!)
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To: Daffynition

First year of law school - first week of real property law - adverse possession. It goes back centuries. If you own it - maintain it.


20 posted on 10/05/2009 5:17:53 PM PDT by Buckeye Battle Cry (Enjoy nature - eat meat, wear fur and drive your car!)
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To: Daffynition

it took the neighbor 21 years to steal 55% of it. It took the lawyer months to steal 25% of it. Who’s the bigger thief?


21 posted on 10/05/2009 5:20:40 PM PDT by paul51 (11 September 2001 - Never forget)
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To: AUH2O Repub

And when they came to the fire, they would get shot.


22 posted on 10/05/2009 5:21:46 PM PDT by old curmudgeon
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To: Daffynition
Too bad that the couple can't argue that simply paying the taxes is "using" the land.

Given the Kelo v. New London eminent domain case, the Supreme Court ruled that "public use" could also mean "public good" arising from economic growth or the associated tax base from improved property.

Couldn't these people argue that their tax payments constituted continuous "public use" of the property?

-PJ

23 posted on 10/05/2009 5:27:02 PM PDT by Political Junkie Too (Comprehensive congressional reform legislation only yields incomprehensible bills that nobody reads.)
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To: old curmudgeon

I would be willing to bet if this was US gov land then it would not apply.

They should sue the people for back taxes and for lost use.


24 posted on 10/05/2009 5:28:22 PM PDT by longun45 (Still think a revolution cannot happen here? It's coming and gaining speed.)
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To: Buckeye Battle Cry
If you own it, maintain it.

The "maintain it" part is strange to me. What if I own the land and want to keep it pristine? Keep it overgrown for a possible "wilderness trek" someday? Maybe I want it for hunting or bird watching? Maybe I'm just strange and want my land for a UFO landing spot I dreamed about or maybe just for abso-freakin-lutely nothing . . . but I PAY MY TAXES on it.

As a current land owner (very little), I know that the taxes are partially based on the previous plat/survey or an estimation. Would another survey help keep squatters from stealing it if I wasn't using it?

I've looked at aerial shots of the King Ranch near Corpus Christi. I highly doubt every acre on that property was used or even stepped on in the last 2 decades.

25 posted on 10/05/2009 5:32:43 PM PDT by DesertSapper (God, Family, Country . . . . . . . . . . and dead terrorists!!!)
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To: Political Junkie Too

>> Too bad that the couple can’t argue that simply paying the taxes is “using” the land.

Exactly. It would appear the government was in contract with the real landowners for the duration according to the tax bills.


26 posted on 10/05/2009 5:34:47 PM PDT by Gene Eric
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To: Daffynition

Found a story back in November on the Boulder case that they settled - and gave the thief neighbors 12% of their lot in a settlement - they have the lot up for sale - it’s buildable up to 1,500 sqft

I found it on zillow - still for sale:
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2069-Hardscrabble-Dr-Boulder-CO-80305/2140917498_zpid/


27 posted on 10/05/2009 5:35:14 PM PDT by libertarian27 (Ingsoc: Life, Liberty and the Department of Happiness)
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To: DB
The house I grew up in was on 20 acres in a remote suburb of Philly. When my father bought it in 1959 it had 40 acres with a road dividing the front 20 from the back. My father wanted to sell it to a developer but was initialy blocked from doing so by a squatter who had built a house on the very back border of the property deep in the woods off the road. The dirt road to the house was an expanded horse path that was an easement through 2 other properties making things very complicated. These squatters were true hillbillies and didn't take kindly to having their privacy invaded. They frequently sent their kids to vandalize out our property to get us to back off.

My father finally had to make the developer agree to let the house stand and the “owner” to stay on the condition that they hook up to the local sewer, water and electrical utilities. They also had to have their property claim limited to the area they had cleared in the woods which was only 1/8th of an acre. Lots in the development were 2/3rd to 1 acre. The houses were very nice size 4 to 6 bedroom houses with 2 car garages. In the end the development came to much for the squatters and they left. As they only had squatter claims they could not sell the house. That came to my father who sold the lot to the adjacent 2 neighbors fro top dollar.

28 posted on 10/05/2009 5:36:42 PM PDT by Pharmer (Palin in 2012! We are so screwed! Go Phillies!!!!)
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To: Political Junkie Too
Given the Kelo v. New London eminent domain case, the Supreme Court ruled that "public use" could also mean "public good" arising from economic growth or the associated tax base from improved property.

Interesting thing about New London....the development never took place (so far). New London has lost all kinds of revenue.

http://www.riehlworldview.com/carnivorous_conservative/2009/09/kelo-seizure-pointless-project-not-built.html
29 posted on 10/05/2009 5:39:00 PM PDT by stylin19a
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To: DB

Sounds like the squatters need a good ass kicking.


30 posted on 10/05/2009 5:39:09 PM PDT by angcat ("I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.")
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To: stylin19a
Interesting thing about New London....the development never took place (so far). New London has lost all kinds of revenue.

Who would want to build in New London, knowing that the town government has demonstrated a willingness to steal property?

31 posted on 10/05/2009 5:45:25 PM PDT by PapaBear3625 (Public healthcare looks like it will work as well as public housing did.)
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To: Daffynition

My parents owned 110 acres in OK. (they lived in CA) Though the property was not far from where family lived, it was off the beaten track. One of the guys on neighboring property started driving across it, diagonally, as a short cut to the main road. When my parents tried to sell it, the man took them to court to insist that it was now an established easement. The court agreed. In essence, my parents were forced to sell parcels with a road cutting through multiple properties. ... which pretty much cut the value of the properties way down. So much be being “neighborly”.


32 posted on 10/05/2009 5:49:05 PM PDT by DDLL
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To: Buckeye Battle Cry
maintain it.

What does maintain mean? Cut the grass?
33 posted on 10/05/2009 5:49:54 PM PDT by presently no screen name
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To: angcat

When it comes time to remove BO from our house, can he claim squatters’ rights?


34 posted on 10/05/2009 5:52:37 PM PDT by presently no screen name
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To: Daffynition
Some years ago, I sold a parcel of land that the county had platted for two streets. Through adverse possession, I had the county easements vacated and acquired almost two more acres of land, which I sold for more than $20,000 an acre.

Sometimes the little guy wins ...

35 posted on 10/05/2009 5:53:10 PM PDT by IronJack (=)
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To: Buckeye Battle Cry
Ex post facto laws, laws that "work corruption of blood" and Bills of Attainder go back centuries as well. I'm sure there were those who protested their abolition in COTUS. I'm pretty sure there are people today who could find good use for them had they not been abolished.
36 posted on 10/05/2009 5:55:22 PM PDT by ExGeeEye (Keep your powder dry, and your iron hidden.)
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To: DB

My words would be, “Real nice (structure) you have here. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”


37 posted on 10/05/2009 6:00:20 PM PDT by musicbymuzak
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To: ExGeeEye
If that ever happened to me, I'd move the fence. It ain't my dad-gum land, and if I accidentally put a fence on it, I'm wrong!

I'm talking about a case where the fence was there when both parties moved in.

It did happen to me. Neighbor got a survey due to a dispute with his neighbor on the other side. The survey moved all of the property lines for six lots down, five feet towards me. (A thoughtful person would've wondered if there was a fault with the survey) Idiot neighbor takes this survey to the county and has it recorded. Neighbor he's having the dispute with sees that he now has five more feet of property and he takes it. Like, with a backhoe, clears it and builds a fence. Stupid neighbor spends the next ten years arguing with my grandfather about the "new" location of the property line. Never gets anywhere.

When I'm in the process to buy the property from grandparent's estate, stupid neighbor files a lien against the property to foul the title. My attorney successfully convinces their attorney that we can show adverse possession, regardless of any survey, but at any rate the survey had since been shown to be in error. Followed up with a threat to proceed on a charge of slander of title if we couldn't agree both on the "old" property line PLUS a three foot easement for maintenance. So he lost. Then he went back and tried to get the other neighbor to give back what he'd basically been given, and he was told to pound sand... after that ten years, is was his through adverse possession.

So now his property is five feet narrower, and as far as I'm concerned he deserves it.

38 posted on 10/05/2009 6:39:45 PM PDT by Ramius (Personally, I give us... one chance in three. More tea?)
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To: Daffynition
Why would anyone buy landlocked property? They either got it for next to nothing, or forgot to buy abutting property with access. Something stinks here, and it's not just the 'friends'.

Nam Vet

39 posted on 10/05/2009 9:58:14 PM PDT by Nam Vet ("Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, Wherever you are ! ")
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To: Political Junkie Too
Squatters rights laws don't seem to make any sense when the property tax is being paid.

In this case the lawyer figured out a way to get more land than the owner. Meh.

If you followed the Kelo v New London case, then you already know about the hollow victory in spite of the SC decision:

Eminent domain land sits undeveloped

Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation’s most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne’s lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot’s towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.

Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a “poetic justice.”

“They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing,” said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. “I don’t think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision.”


40 posted on 10/06/2009 1:54:53 AM PDT by Daffynition (What's all this about hellfire and Dalmatians?)
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To: Daffynition
They should have gone to trial.

Adversarial Possession is well established in law.

However, there are some key issues:

1. Maintenance of the land.

2. The payment of taxes levied on the land.

3. A notice of adversarial possession to theowner.

Without knowing all of the facts, it is hard to judge, but the issues of paid taxes and maintenance of the land seems clear.

41 posted on 10/06/2009 3:48:43 AM PDT by Jimmy Valentine (DemocRATS - when they speak, they lie; when they are silent, they are stealing the American Dream)
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To: DesertSapper

By maintain it - I mean pay attention to it and visit it regularly. If you note squatters, maintain your rights to the land by forcing an eviction.


42 posted on 10/06/2009 5:20:00 AM PDT by Buckeye Battle Cry (Enjoy nature - eat meat, wear fur and drive your car!)
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To: Buckeye Battle Cry
First year of law school - first week of real property law - adverse possession. It goes back centuries. If you own it - maintain it.

Also well covered in Business Law for business majors.

43 posted on 10/06/2009 5:31:25 AM PDT by 6ppc (It's torch and pitchfork time)
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To: Ramius
My attorney successfully convinces their attorney that we can show adverse possession, regardless of any survey...

I just wouldn't have done that. Now getting another, corrected survey done, that's another thing...

44 posted on 10/06/2009 5:52:26 AM PDT by ExGeeEye (Keep your powder dry, and your iron hidden.)
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