After buying property in Iowa, you may believe you own the land, and it’s yours until you sell it. For the most part, you would be correct. However, in some cases, an individual that is not the record titleholder can gain legal ownership of property when they meet certain conditions.
In legal terms, this is called adverse possession. More colloquially, it is called squatter’s rights. If you have land or property that you don’t visit often, this may affect you.
What Is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that was intended to ensure that landowners maintain their property or at least keep an eye on it if it isn’t being used. Under this law, a trespasser may openly inhabit and improve the property and potentially gain legal title to the property.
Per Iowa law, a party claiming title by adverse possession must establish hostile, actual, open, exclusive and continuous possession under claim of right or color of title for at least ten years. For adverse possession purposes, a claim of right is evidenced by taking and maintaining property, such as an owner of that type of property would, to the exclusion of the true owner; in other words, the claimant’s conduct must clearly indicate ownership. Although mere use is insufficient to establish hostility or claim of right, certain acts, including substantial maintenance and improvement of the land, can support a claim of ownership and hostility to the true owner. Payment of taxes is not essential to a successful claim of adverse possession.
What Are the Requirements?
Five elements are required to establish adverse possession.
Hostile claim: The requirement is met when the party claiming adverse possession intends to hold the title of the property against the rights of the true owner. If the property owner has given permission for the property to be used, then this element has not been met.
Actual possession: This requirement is met when the person with possession cares for the property in the same way another owner would care for a similar property.
Open possession: The possessor uses the property openly. If the possessor is secretive, this element is not met.
Exclusive and continuous: The possessor must be the only one who possesses the property during the ten-year period. This doesn’t mean that others can’t visit. However, if people are allowed to come and go without excluding anyone, it defeats the exclusive requirement. Possession must go on for at least ten years continuously in the same way any owner would live upon their own property. This means vacations and other similar types of absences will likely not defeat the requirement.
Protect Yourself Against Adverse Possession
You can protect yourself from an adverse possession claim by continuing to pay taxes on the property. You can inspect the property regularly for other parties that may be using the property and make it known that you want them to move on in order to negate the requirements necessary for a successful claim.
There are nuances to these situations, so it would be prudent to consult with an Iowa real estate lawyer to determine your rights.
Contact the Iowa Real Estate Attorneys at Telpner Peterson Law Firm, LLP, Today
If you own property that may be at risk of an adverse possession claim, contact an experienced and skilled Iowa real estate attorney. We understand the complexity of the law that covers these claims and stand ready to fight to protect your rights and your property.
Call our office at 712-309-3738 today to schedule your initial confidential consultation.