Fabrizio & Brook, P.C.
(248) 362-2600
An Unwavering Commitment To Success

Beyond 'squatters' rights': Understanding adverse possession in Michigan

Many homeowners may not think adverse possession laws are relevant to them. After all, "squatters' rights" conjures up images of trespassers and homesteaders.

In practice, adverse possession laws are more likely to be invoked to settle relatively minor disputes over where property lines are drawn. Many of these disputes stem from misunderstanding rather than ill will.

A classic example involves a misplaced fence. Image that 20 years ago you bought a new house and immediately decided to replace an old fence between your yard and your neighbor's. As far as anyone knew at the time, the new fence matched property lines, and you and your neighbor have each been tending your respective sides of the fence ever since.

But when it comes time to sell your house, it turns out the fence is actually a bit off from the legal property lines, and a few inches of yard you've been mowing all these years had originally belonged to your neighbor. After a significant amount of time has passed - 15 years in Michigan - adverse possession laws can allow you to obtain legal ownership of this land.

Here's where it can get tricky: imagine you and your neighbor realized you'd misplaced the fence in the first place, and everyone knew you had accidentally encroached on your neighbor's land. Your kind neighbor said not to worry about it, you could leave the fence on his land. Even since, he's been good-naturedly thanking you for tending to the few square inches of yard now on your side of the fence.

In this case, can you include the extra land when it's time to sell your house? Probably not. The difference between these two situations gets at an important concept in this area of the law: the difference between "hostile claims" and "permissive" use of land.

The first situation is "hostile" because you've acted as if the property is yours, treating it as your own, even though it was a mistake to do so. In the second situation, your neighbor has allowed you to tend to a bit of his property, with the clear understanding of what the property lines actually are. If you sell the house to someone he doesn't like as much as he likes you, he very well may want to protect his precise property lines.

If you run into this type of dispute in real estate transactions from either side of the proverbial fence, it may be a good idea to consult an attorney who understands the nuances of this area of the law. For permissive land uses, it's a good idea to draw up written agreements to avoid unwanted adverse possession claims.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information