Adverse possession is commonly referred to as “squatter’s rights.” The Legal Information Institute defines the term “adverse possession” as a legal concept that allows trespassers (squatters) to acquire legal title to someone else’s property when specific requirements are met.
A squatter is a person who occupies someone else’s property despite having no legal claim to it but may acquire legal title through an adverse possession claim. Like other states, Missouri law allows trespassers who spend a sufficient amount of time occupying or caring for someone else’s property to become its actual owners when the property has been neglected or forgotten by the rightful owner.
In that situation, trespassers may exercise their squatter’s rights if they can prove specific elements of an adverse possession claim, including proving that the trespasser treated the property like the actual owner would.
For example, a valid adverse possession claim may arise if a person used a neighboring vacant field for gardening for more than 10 years and the rightful property owner made no effort to claim ownership of the piece of land.
Time of Use Requirement in Missouri
Under Missouri law, a claimant who intends to exercise their squatter’s right must show clear and convincing evidence proving that they occupied someone else’s property or possessed it for their own use for at least 10 years.
Proving that the claimant continuously occupied the property for 10 years or longer to satisfy the time of use requirements in Missouri could be challenging. That is why a person who intends to make an adverse possession claim might want to contact a skilled real estate attorney in St. Louis, Chesterfield, or other parts of Missouri.
Keep in mind that temporarily leaving the property does not necessarily result in the loss of a squatter’s right—that is, unless the trespasser intended to abandon it. Essentially, the squatter may assert the theory of adverse possession when pursuing a “quiet title” action, which is a lawsuit that confirms or establishes ownership of the real estate.
Factors to Qualify as an Adverse Possession Claim
There are no statutes in Missouri that would explicitly address adverse possession claims. However, courts have established several factors to qualify as an adverse possession claim and allow people who possess abandoned or neglected land to become rightful owners.
Some of the factors that a squatter must meet to assert their right and prevail in an adverse possession claim include:
- Proof that the squatter occupied or used the property for at least 10 years.
- The claim is “hostile” toward the rightful owner’s rights to the property. In other words, it means that the squatter’s use of the property is in conflict with the rightful owner’s title to it.
- Proof that the squatter has treated the property like the actual owner would. This is known as “actual possession.”
- The squatter has lived on the property exclusively. Exclusive possession of the property is a vital element of an adverse possession claim. Sharing the property with other people may invalidate the adverse possession claim.
- Proof that the squatter’s residency must be obvious. It means that the squatter cannot hide the fact of their occupancy to be eligible to make a legitimate adverse possession claim.
One notable exception to the adverse possession claim in Missouri is that people cannot assert their squatter’s right to claim ownership of state or local government land or property.
Consider hiring an experienced real estate attorney when dealing with adverse possession claims. I’m prepared to use my knowledge and resources to help you understand your legal rights and work toward reaching a favorable outcome. If you are the rightful owner who has become aware of someone else’s occupancy of your property, reach out to me as soon as you can. Additionally, you could benefit from legal counsel if you used or occupied abandoned or neglected property or land for over 10 years and wish to exercise your right to make an adverse possession claim.