Recently, I drove past the vineyards and antique shops for a trial in Yamhill County. The dispute was over land ownership and involved the legal theory of adverse possession. I represented a young couple who found themselves fighting to hold onto the very land they had purchased. A developer, through his corporation, claimed that he had acquired part of their land through adverse possession. When threatening to burn down their house, firing his shotgun, and running them down with his truck did not work, he filed suit to have his claims legally recognized.
Adverse possession allows one to acquire land without purchasing it, even if a recorded deed is in another’s name. One has to prove that the adverse use of the land is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous–for a 10-year period. As of 1990, Oregon added the requirement that one has to prove an honest, objective, and reasonable belief of actual ownership of the land.
Opposing counsel argued that a long-standing fence running through my clients’ property should be the new property line. At trial, we were able to shoot holes in his claims. We showed that the fence was not intended as a boundary, that prior owners of my clients’ property regularly drove on the property outside of the fence, and that an ongoing feud over the property line negated any reasonable belief of ownership. We prevailed on all claims and convinced the judge to order the removal of an encroaching garage from the disputed property.
To protect against an adverse possession claim, you should periodically use the land, erect a fence or other barrier on the boundary, or otherwise provide notice that the land belongs to you. And if there is a duel, please do not hesitate to call if you need a gunslinger (though no gun here, just legal arguments).