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Adverse Possession

Reviewed 05/10/2022
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Image of a sunny pasture with two treesIntroduction

Adverse possession is a method of acquiring exclusive ownership of land even though someone else holds the title to that land. You may see it referred to as the "doctrine of adverse possession" or, less elegantly, as "squatter's rights" or "title by theft." Although many other states have put adverse possession into their statutes, New Hampshire has not, and it is in case law – which is as authoritative and binding as statutory law - that you will find most of the elements that must be proven in court. The elements of adverse possession are: the use must be adverse (without permission and hostile to the owner's interests); it must be notorious ("so conspicuous as to impute notice to the true owner" -- Black's Law Dictionary); it must be continuous and uninterrupted; it must be exclusive (not in common with neighbors, or others), and it must be for a period of at least 20 years as defined in the statute of limitations for the recovery of real property (see RSA 508:2, I).  Adverse possession applies only to private property, not to public lands, waters, highways or transmission lines.

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