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I know each state differs in adverse possession laws but reading into Virginia, it sounds very easy to do. All one has to say is they maintained some portion of land for 10 years undisputed and now they can claim they "own" the property.

My mother owns a vacant land and I notice someone is mowing the lawn. One of the claims of adverse possession is that they make the land theirs undisputed ("Planting your flag" so to speak) and they make it known to the supposed owner that they maintain and control the land. However, whoever is mowing the vacant land is doing so in secret and without letting us know it.

From what I understand in most adverse possession case, someone builds a structure or improve a portion of a property as theirs. For example, a farmer might plant crops in a land which is basically something you can't keep hidden and the owner would have more than enough time to dispute it with survey or otherwise. Then there are cases of building a shed or structure or fence over/just before someone's property line and one can make a claim that a part of a property is theirs. However, to claim an entire property, I never really heard of such a case but I don't know the law enough to really know.

I'm just worried that after some time they could come over with some sort of paperwork or something and claim that the land belongs to them because they maintained it for so long. Can anyone explain what sort of ways someone could make an adverse possession claim and just how successful they can be?

  • Just of curiosity, has anyone mentioned adverse possession? If not, what makes you think they'll try to claim it? – Just a guy Aug 11 at 16:30
  • I guess I'm just worried they might do a sneaky thing where they want to claim adverse possession but at the same time try to keep it hidden from the landowner. – Dan Aug 11 at 16:34
  • First of all, have they been mowing for fifteen years? Second, as I said, if they haven't, you can stop the clock now simply by giving them permission. (If you want to be a good neighbor, you could thank them for mowing, and offer to pay for gas.) – Just a guy Aug 11 at 16:40
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    How are they mowing the vacant land in secret? Are you not monitoring the property? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 12 at 3:33
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    Easy to make, hard to win. – ohwilleke Aug 12 at 20:49
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It's not THAT easy, and it's fifteen years, not ten.

As you say, Virginia requires your neighbors to do more than mow your lawn to get title to your land. In Virginia, most of these requirements are laid out in judicial decisions, not statutes. However, the one requirement set by statute is that the possessor has to have "possessed" the land for 15 years.

As for the rest of the requirements, they are the usual ones. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court of Virginia gave a nice, concise summary. It said that to "establish title...by adverse possession," your neighbor would have to prove that their possession was:

  1. actual,
  2. hostile,
  3. exclusive,
  4. visible, and
  5. continuous...

Here is what the Court said each element requires:

Use and occupation of property...constitutes proof of actual possession. One is in hostile possession if his possession is under a claim of right and adverse to the right of the true owner. One's possession is exclusive when it is not in common with others. Possession is visible when it is so obvious that the true owner may be presumed to know about it. Possession is continuous only if it exists without interruption for the statutory period.

Two things to notice:

  1. Because your neighbor's possession must be adverse, you can stop the 15 year possession "clock" by simply giving them your permission to mow the lawn.

  2. It does not matter that your neighbors are mowing "in secret and without letting us know it." That you are here asking about it shows the mowing so "visible" that you know what is going on.

For more information

Whether your neighbors can claim your land depends on how Virginia courts have interpreted the law. Luckily for you, several Virginia lawyers have gone online to explain those details. These two, (one in the Washington Post), give nice overviews, while this guy, says mowing alone probably won't do it. This guy says, "Virginia courts don’t make adverse possession easy," but he's a NYer, through and through, so who knows whether he knows what he's talking about?

Of course, none of this is a substitute for talking to a Virginia lawyer with experience in adverse possession.

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  • Thanks the thing about those articles is that it sounds to me like they're just mowing land at the border. They're not asserting the entire land belongs to them but a portion. I guess I never heard of an entire land being given up, and I think such a claim would be harder, if not impossible. – Dan Aug 11 at 16:20
  • @Dan You are welcome -- this was much more fun than my usual Tuesday morning crossword! As far as how much land they will get, I think you are getting ahead of yourself. Before worrying about that, I'd say you should figure out whether they will get any land. To do that, you need to ask if they meet all five of the requirements. If they don't then it's pointless to worry about how much land they could get if they could get land. – Just a guy Aug 11 at 16:29
  • @Dan If you want to get a sense of what the Virginia courts are actually doing, the page for the Va SCt decision I linked has links for later cases that cite that case. If you click on those you can see how they are applying VA law. – Just a guy Aug 11 at 16:36
  • Also, isn't the supreme court case a case against people who make adverse possession claims? It's basically saying that they cannot make an adverse possession claim because they did not meet the criteria. – Dan Aug 11 at 16:39
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    You can also break "exclusive" and "continuous" by using the land for your own purposes, e.g. hold a family festival there and get pictures. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 12 at 3:39

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