It may seem strange to think that a trespasser can legally possess a piece of land by adversely possessing it, but it happens all the time. In many cases, the adverse possessor will be a neighbor who has encroached upon or is continuously using a portion of your property, such as a driveway or shed. However, in some cases, the adverse possessor may be a squatter, or a total stranger that moves on to your property without your permission or knowledge.

In the state of Florida, the adverse possession of the property by the trespasser must be open and notorious, actual, exclusive and continuous, and hostile. Open and notorious essentially means that the trespasser’s actions are obvious and out there for the world to see. A takeover is not open and notorious if it is done in secret or if the trespasser is trying not to be seen.

Actual possession requires that the trespasser physically possesses the land and is not just possessing it hypothetically. Exclusive and continuous possession of the property requires that the trespasser not share their possession with others and possesses it for at least the number of years specified in the statute (Florida specifies at least seven years). While this does not mean they have to be on the property 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (seasonal use is okay), it does mean that they show they were acting as a true owner for seven years.

Finally, the adverse possession needs to be hostile. Under adverse possession laws, hostile means that the trespasser mistakenly possessed the land, possessed it without knowing who really owned it, or intentionally took over.

Establishing your rights after adversely possessing a property can be challenging and require real estate litigation. A real estate attorney can review your situation and advise you on next steps.