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What Is Adverse Possession in Missouri?

Posted on February 16, 2024

Adverse possession is also commonly referred to as “squatter’s rights.” In real estate law, it is a doctrine that allows a person who is in possession of land owned by someone else to acquire a valid title for that property without purchasing it from the owner. If you own property in Missouri, it is important to understand this law and how to protect your ownership rights.

Adverse Possession Can Lead to Claims on a Property Title

In Missouri, common ways for an individual to become the owner of a piece of property are by purchasing it from the owner or being given the title as a gift or inheritance. However, there is another way: adverse possession. Missouri law states:

Revisor of Missouri Section 516.010Actions for recovery of lands commenced, when – 

No action for the recovery of any lands, tenements or hereditaments, or for the recovery of the possession thereof, shall be commenced, had or maintained by any person, whether citizen, denizen, alien, resident or nonresident of this state, unless it appear that the plaintiff, his ancestor, predecessor, grantor or other person under whom he claims was seized or possessed of the premises in question, within ten years before the commencement of such action.

Under this law, an individual can commence an action for the possession of land that he or she possessed for at least 10 years prior to the commencement of the action. This includes someone who has been trespassing or squatting on the land.

What Happens When an Adverse Possession Claim Is Filed in Missouri?

If the courts in Missouri receive an adverse possession action from a plaintiff claiming that he or she had seized or possessed the premises for at least 10 years, the rightful owner of the land will be notified. The owner has the right to go to court to argue against the claim, as well as file a lawsuit against the trespasser.

A plaintiff who is claiming adverse possession must prove the following elements based on a preponderance of the evidence (more likely to be true than not true):

  • Hostile possession: the squatter was on the property without the owner’s permission to be there.
  • Actual possession: the plaintiff was physically present and using the property for at least 10 continuous years.
  • Exclusive possession: the plaintiff exclusively possessed the property in the 10-year period (not shared it with others).
  • Open and notorious possession: the possession was public to give the rightful owner a chance to take legal action.

State law gives the rightful owner of a piece of property additional time to challenge an adverse possession claim if he or she has a disability. In this situation, the owner has 3 years from the time the disability is lifted to challenge the claim, with a statute of repose (maximum time limit) of 21 years from the time that the claim is initially filed.

How to Avoid Adverse Possession

If you are a landowner in Missouri and want to avoid adverse possession of your property, take proactive measures to protect your ownership rights. Return to your property regularly for inspections to search for signs of unauthorized use or occupation.

If you encounter trespassing issues, take legal action against the squatters right away. Communicate with your neighbors and make them aware of any concerns you have regarding trespassers on the land. Consider installing a fence around your property line and posting “No Trespassing” signs.

Ensure that you pay your property taxes on time to avoid hurting your legal claim to the property. Keep your land title and deeds up to date to help establish a clear chain of ownership. If you become aware of an adverse possession claim, take legal action promptly by contacting an attorney at TdD Attorneys at Law.