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Recently, the Missouri Court of Appeals had to decide the rightful owner of a 292-square-foot piece of land, aptly described as a “triangular sliver of property.”  This involves a legal claim of adverse possession.

In an otherwise tranquil subdivision, an existing tree line ran north-south, and formed a natural division between Lot 29 and Lot 30.  The owner of Lot 29, who bought the property in 2001, considered the tree line the western boundary of his lot and made improvements.  These included the construction of a pavestone retaining wall, placement of limestone rocks along the tree line and planting numerous bushes and a tree.

In June 2010, the Lot 29 landowner wanted to rebuild his retaining wall and asked the Lot 30 owner if he could bring in construction materials and equipment by crossing over her lot.  The Lot 30 owner, in a very neighborly fashion, gave him this permission.

But, in August 2011, a survey of Lot 30 showed that her eastern property line was east of the tree line.  In a somewhat non-neighborly fashion, the Lot 30 owner then cut down the bushes and the tree in the Disputed Tract, along with moving part of the retaining wall and limestone rock.

Lot 29’s owner filed suit seeking to quiet title to the Disputed Tract by adverse possession.

To acquire title by adverse possession, the possession must be: (1) hostile, that is, under a claim of right, (2) actual, (3) open and notorious, (4) exclusive, and (5) continuous for the necessary period of 10 years.  Possession is hostile if it is antagonistic to the claims of all others. The claimant must occupy the land with the intent to possess it as his own. The claimant’s occupancy must be in defiance of and without permission.

The Lot 30 owner argued that her general grant of permission to “cross Lot 30” constituted an exercise of dominion and control over all land within the actual legal boundaries of Lot 30, destroying the hostile use of the Disputed Tract as a matter of law. In other words, when she allowed him to generally cross her lot, that permission extended to any use within the legal boundaries.

The Court disagreed.  It declined to adopt a bright line rule that a general grant of permission over a broadly referenced tract defeats hostility for every use of land within the broadly referenced tract, without regard to evidence of the parties’ intent.  Thus, the owner of Lot 29 established hostile possession of the Disputed Tract for a continuous 10-year period of time.

If you have questions about who owns proper title to a piece of property, contact us for further legal consultation, provided in a neighborly fashion.