Adverse possession is a process where someone can acquire ownership over another person's property -- like a home or a piece of land -- simply by taking control of it and occupying it or using it for a prescribed period of time.
In Arizona, that can be done in as little as two years.
For the wary landowner, that means it's important to be careful about your property rights -- because you could find them usurped rather quickly. If you own property, here's what you should do to protect yourself against adverse possession by a trespasser or another party:
- Mark the perimeter of your property clearly with a fence. This can prevent someone from creating an easement without your knowledge, particularly if your property isn't all within sight of your windows or door.
- Post signs. Signs that say "No Trespassing" or "Private Property" can help you assert in court -- if necessary -- the fact that you were doing your best to make others aware that they were not entitled to be on your land. This could help you defeat any claim that the intruders weren't aware they were trespassing.
- Keep unoccupied buildings (especially in a disused commercial district) well-secured and locked down against intruders. If a property is in a remote area, consider bars on the windows and steel doors to keep intruders at bay.
- Monitor your property as often as possible. If you live out of the area, hire a security company or a property management firm to periodically check your property for intruders and squatters.
If you find yourself in a situation with a trespasser who has claimed the right to occupy a building you own or use land that is yours, don't attempt to take the law into your own hands. Doing so could expose you to legal liabilities. Instead, talk to an attorney who is experienced with adverse possession cases and other real estate issues.