Special Limitations of Adverse Possession

As with many areas of the law, there are often certain caveats or limitations which effect the application of the law in some situations. The law of Adverse Possession is no different. The law of Adverse Possession dates back centuries, and as such, has had centuries to be established and refined. In its purest sense, Adverse Possession is a type of statute of limitations, a law that sets a time limit after which an action can no longer be brought to enforce your rights with regard to certain issues. Thus, with Adverse Possession, the idea is to set a time limit (15 years in Minnesota), during which period of time an owner of land must bring an action to stop someone else from controlling and using his land. If he fails to do so within this time limit, then the law will not offer him further protection, as he has been provided with ample opportunity to resolve the situation in his favor. But, as you can easily see by reviewing our discussion of the Requirements of Adverse Possession, the law of Adverse Possession has grown and changed over the centuries from a simple statute of limitations into what can be a very technical application. Moreover, there are certain special limitations that must be considered when making a claim for Adverse Possession.

Government Lands
One of the most impactful limitations upon a claim of Adverse Possession concerns government lands. The rule is simple: Adverse Possession can never be used to claim ownership over land that belongs to the State of Minnesota or United States of America. It does not matter if the person claiming to have succeeded in Adverse Possession over a piece of land owned by the government has completed every one of the requirements for establishing Adverse Possession, and has occupied the land in question for 100 years. No matter what, you cannot use Adverse Possession to take government lands.

Over the years, people have tried to claim portions of State forest lands through Adverse Possession, often due to the fact that such lands border cabin properties throughout the State. Other claims involve people asserting ownership over lands once deeded by the federal government to railroad companies during our Nation’s expansion westward, which lands later reverted back to the federal or state government after being abandoned by the railroads. Another common claim involves land owned by the State to be used for roadway purposes that the State has never actually used, or has long ago abandoned. In each of the aforementioned situations, it makes no difference whether an individual claims to have satisfied every element of a claim for Adverse Possession, because the land is owned by the government and therefore cannot be claimed by Adverse Possession.

This limitation makes all too much sense. Imagine the reprocussions if state and federal lands were subject to Adverse Possession claims. People willing to take a risk that they may get kicked off a piece of land would swarm state and national parks in the hopes that they may be able to get a nice piece of land for free. States and the federal government would need to hire more rangers just to inspect the parks, including the forests of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area or Yellowstone National Park, to ensure that no squatters were laying claim to the land through Adverse Possession. Instead, things are made simple, and Adverse Possession is not allowed in such cases.

Payment of Taxes
Like the often stated misunderstanding that if you want to copyright something you should mail it to yourself, many often mistakenly believe that in order to successfully take land through a claim of Adverse Possession you have to pay taxes on the land being claimed. Like the lore of copyright, this idea regarding the payment of taxes with respect to a claim of Adverse Possession is not accurate, but nor is it entirely wrong.

The idea that taxes must be paid on any property claimed through Adverse Possession is not wholly without merit. In fact, in certain situations, payment of taxes may be an added requirement in establishing a claim of Adverse Possession. This is true with respect to large pieces of land that are being claimed through Adverse Possession. It would seem a bit off if an individual could lay claim to an entire parcel of land through Adverse Possession if the true owner of the land was paying the taxes thereon.

Just the same, it would be extremely difficult for someone who is attempting to claim 2′ x 2′ portion of land from their neighbor through Adverse Possession if that person had to pay taxes on the land in question before they could be successful in a claim of Adverse Possession. How would you accurately identify the area being claimed? How would you determine the tax assessed value of such a small area of land? While the county assessor’s office may gladly accept additional payments that may come in, designating the section of land paid for and determining the accurate amount of tax for such a small piece of land may well be impossible.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not taxes must be paid in a claim for Adverse Possession will depend on several factors, and it is important to seek out good, competent legal advise in any such situation.

Registered (Torrens ) vs. Abstract Land
You may have heard the terms registered land, also known as torrens property, and abstract land. Interestingly, a piece of property’s designation as either registered or abstract land has huge implications with regard to a claim of Adverse Possession. Namely, one cannot succeed on a claim for Adverse Possession over registered land. Just like a claim of Adverse Possession against land owned by the state or federal government, it does not matter if a person seeking to claim another’s land as their own through Adverse Possession has met and satisfied every requirement, if the land is registered land, the claim will fail.

This is not to say, however, that owners of registered land need not worry themselves about someone trying to lay claim to their land. In fact, there are many instances in which the courts have allowed people to succeed on a claim of Boundary By Practical Location (BBPL) when the same is asserted over registered land. Nonetheless, a claim of Adverse Possession would fail.

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