If you own residential property in Tennessee, it is possible that at some point, you will end up in a property ownership dispute with your neighbor. For example, let’s say your next-door neighbor decides to build a fence around their property. Years later, you discover that the fence your neighbor built encroaches on your property by 10 feet.
You may think that that land is yours no matter what, and that your neighbor will be legally required to move their fence onto their property or remove it entirely. However, this may not be the case. Depending on the circumstances, your neighbor may be able to file a claim for adverse possession to legally establish ownership over that 10-foot area of land.
Establishing adverse possession
In the above situation, your neighbor will need to prove several elements to establish that they have adversely possessed the land. They will need to show:
- Hostile: Prove that you, as the owner of the land, did not give them permission to enter onto your land or build the fence on your land.
- Open and notorious: Prove the fence was built out in the open and that you as the owner were aware of the fence.
- Actual possession: Prove they had exercised control over the land in question.
- Continuous: Prove they had uninterrupted possession for seven years (with color of title) or twenty years (without color of title).
- Exclusive: Prove they did not allow anyone else access to the land in question.
What should you do?
If you find yourself in a dispute similar to the one discussed above, you have a few options to maintain ownership of your land.
Talk to your neighbor
If you have a good relationship with your neighbor, it may be in your best interest to calmly discuss the situation with them. Your neighbor may have been unaware of the boundary line and be willing to move their fence so that it no longer encroaches onto your property.
If your neighbor refuses to move the fence, you may consider granting them permission to keep their fence where it is via a rental agreement. By giving them permission, you take away their right to claim adverse possession. Your neighbor may also prefer this option, so they do not have to spend time and money to move the fence.
Consult with an attorney
If your neighbor refuses to cooperate and you cannot come to an understanding on your own, it may be in your best interest to consult with a residential real estate attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help come up with a solution that works for both parties.