Maybe you were left a piece of property by a distant relative. Or, you and your spouse bought a “distressed” home with the intent of fixing it up and selling it. Perhaps you are a commercial landowner and don’t pay as close attention to every property you own as you should. Let’s say, in any of the above cases, that, for whatever reason, you haven’t gotten around to using the property, or maybe even visiting it, for a few years. You have the title, so there shouldn’t be any problem. In most cases this is correct. However, every once in a while, Nevada residents read a story about someone who is living on or using someone else’s property, and suddenly is given a legal right to it. This may be the result of “adverse possession.”
“Adverse possession” is a legal concept that goes all the way back to English Common Law before the founding of the United States. The idea is that if the owner of the land isn’t using it, if someone else gives the land a productive purpose for long enough the law will favor that purpose over it being “wasted.” In modern terms, this means that someone who stays on or uses a piece of property for a certain amount of time and meets some other qualifications may be entitled to keep that property, even if it wasn’t legally titled to him or her.
In Nevada, adverse possession requires several things. The trespasser, who is someone without legal right to be on a property, must have a “hostile claim” to the land, and have actual, open and notorious possession of it. This means that the individual must not be using the property secretly, and must be physically present upon it, and using it as if he or she owned it. Further, this possession must be exclusive and continuous: the trespasser must not be sharing it and must remain on it without prolonged absences. If a person does this on a piece of property for five full years, and has paid the property taxes during that period, and the actual owner has made no objection, the trespasser may be given title to the land by a court.
The above situation is uncommon, as most people who own land either live on it or use it for some other purpose. However, it is not unheard of for “squatters” or businesses to take up residence in seemingly abandoned areas and treat them as if they were the owners. Those wishing for more information on these types of complex situations may wish to consider getting more information about Nevada real estate law.