Real estate is a plentiful commodity in our state. Many of us who live in Sarpy County drive by farm fields and wide open spaces daily. In this environment of undeveloped land and friendly neighbors, most citizens are unaware of the concept of adverse possession – a situation by which someone can legally take possession, and ultimately title, of a section of land without the owner’s consent and or compensation.
In Nebraska, one can acquire the title to a piece of land by simply occupying it for 10 years. However, there are certain stipulations that must be met for this to be justified. For example, the encroacher must hold the land as their own, which involves demonstrating care of the property, perhaps building on it or adding fencing, in an open and continuous manner.
If the land use or “possession” by the new occupant goes unchecked for ten years, that person can claim legal rights to the title of the land. The occupant must show that possession is actual, open, notorious (adverse) and continuous during at least a 10 year time period in Nebraska.
Growth and development in Sarpy County makes this a high stakes issue. The price of an acre or building lot has tripled since the 1990s, so even a small strip of property could put a lot of money at risk. While this is not a rampant problem, there are many cases in our area and the number keeps rising. It happens in subdivisions, on rural properties and frequently on land near the river, which presents challenges with property line measurement due to shifting.
When a property conflict arises, a suit is filed in district court. It then becomes the burden of the person claiming adverse possession to demonstrate the actions taken over a period of time.
Our firm has been involved in minor disputes where property lines were simply measured incorrectly which resulted in a transfer of property. In addition, we’ve seen more impactful cases, including one where half of a business owner’s new building was on another person’s property. Neither party was fully aware in this situation. In the end, the business owner lost title to half of the building.
So, the lesson here is to be diligent in monitoring any land you own for encroachment or signs of use by others, especially neighboring property owners. Make sure you know your legal rights and responsibilities as a property owner to prevent these types of situations and to understand how to respond if an issue arises.