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What to Know About Adverse Possession - McCutcheon & Hamner

Q. I have a lease sale contract on a house built in 1939 that needs repairs. The house has a garage with an apartment over it. Part of the garage apartment is on the property I am buying, and part of it is not. The owner says if I pay in full, he will make sure I get it all. Is this legal?

Erica, Florence, AL

A. I always am concerned when a private individual buys property without an attorney involved. Years ago, a gentleman came to see me about a property he purchased with cash. He didn’t do a title search, and he did not know there was a judgment against the person he bought it from. He did not hire a lawyer to help him with the transaction. He learned that he had to pay the judgment.

I don’t know from the information provided whether or not the house and garage are on the same piece of property. The law in Alabama is that if there is an encroachment such as a garage, or a boundary line such as a fence, that through adverse possession those property lines can become established after ten years.

Adverse possession is a very complicated legal subject. Most people would think of or have heard the phrase “squatter’s rights”. Adverse possession requires possession for ten years if the property is contiguous – which means a shared property line. The time is 20 years for a singular piece of property without an adjoining (contiguous) property line.

Because buying property is a large investment, and because making improvements to a property you don’t own is not a good investment, the quick and easy answer is to hire a property lawyer.

I have never seen a county seat that did not have a land title office. Land title offices are often owned and operated by attorneys who specialize in property law. Even when they are not owned by lawyers, the people that run title offices know a lot about who owns what and where. They can often make a recommendation about an attorney who handles real estate transactions.

It would be worth a consultation fee with a good lawyer to go over the lease sale agreement and review the description of the property to be sold. That’s the only way you are going to get an accurate answer.

Buckle up, wash your hands, and as always, your referrals are appreciated!

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