It's my understanding, depending on the state, a renter could take steps to procure the property through being clever* and living there a long time, while taking additional steps to gain a legal claim. Either they have to pay certain bills, improve the property, or get involved in the home owners association. Are there any situations where they can claim the property outside of convincing the landlord to let them pay the property taxes? What about states that allow withholding of rent until the landlord repairs the unity?

I'm specifically looking for edge cases where a dispute could arise between a landlord and tenant that gets dragged out for years. It would be clearly be much easier to just find property no one owns as a result of something like the 2008 financial crisis, where the home owner goes bankrupt and the mortgage company.

*such as, the landlord violating some clause in the lease, and him starting legal proceedings over that.

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    No. If you’re paying someone to allow you to live somewhere, that is the opposite of adverse possession.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 6:37
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    So, my landlord would have to die, have no heirs to the property, I pay the taxes for seven years or take action that gives me color of title. The time period would kick in as soon as the lease expired in that case?
    – ZeroPhase
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 6:42
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    Sure, but at that point nothing you’re doing is related to having once been a tenant. It’s probably easier to find a house to squat in after the owner dies.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 6:45
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    "being sneaky" If you a being sneaky that automatically defeats your claim. Possession must be "open, notorious, and hostile" to prevail.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 14:19

2 Answers 2



The criteria for adverse possession is that you have to be in possession without permission. A tenant, even one that pays no rent (or stops paying rent), has permission.

  • I thought it applies if the landlord or tenant violates the lease, and the tenant manages to stay on the property long enough while obtaining color of title?
    – ZeroPhase
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 10:09
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    The existence of a lease is "anti-color of title" so to speak. The fact that you have a lease specifically disavows any claim you have to the landlord's title. Your are estopped from asserting adverse possession.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 14:17
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    Are there conditions which mean the permission could lapse or be revoked? (e.g. if there's a fixed-term lease, the lease ends and the tenant stops playing rent, then the landlord serves a "you're not allowed to be here anymore: vacate the property" notice but then doesn't do anything else about it or contact the tenant in any way for the next couple of decades.) -- Basically, what counts as "permission", and is it just current permission or "any permission ever" that counts?
    – R.M.
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 16:00
  • @ohwilleke what happens when the lease expires and is not renewed, but (for whatever reason, like "the landowner died, leaving no heir") the tenants are not evicted?
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 15:48
  • @RonJohn The tenant is still estopped.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 1, 2023 at 17:28

Several provinces have abolished adverse possession law (see e.g. British Columbia's Limitations Act, s. 28; Alberta's Property Rights Statutes Amendment Act, 2022; and New Brunswick's Land Title Act, s. 17).

In provinces where adverse possession is still a viable claim, its requirements depend on the English law that was imported into the province and any statutory or common law developments since (see Nelson (City) v. Nelson, 2017 SCC 8, para. 17). A similar concept, acquisitive prescription, applies in Québec under the Civil Code (see arts. 992, 2910; Ostiguy v. Allie, 2017 SCC 22).

Generally, the elements of adverse possession (which, when present, start the clock on the limitation period against the true owner) are that the possession must be:

  • open;
  • notorious;
  • adverse;
  • exclusive;
  • peaceful (not by force);
  • actual; and
  • continuous.

Some provinces also have the requirement that the use be "inconsistent" with the true owner's intended use (e.g. Ontario, Nova Scotia).

In any case, the possession must be adverse. This means that there is no claim to adverse possession where the claimant has the consent or permission of the true owner (Re Koziey Estate, 2019 ABCA 43, para. 44).

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