Who Can Claim Property Based on Adverse Possession in Arkansas?

Rare circumstances under which a trespasser or encroacher in Arkansas can claim legal title to a piece of land.

If you are a homeowner in Arkansas, you have good reason to make yourself aware of the legal doctrine of adverse possession. It essentially allows someone who falsely believes a piece of your land to be theirs to gain ownership if you fails to object within a certain period of time, and the person pays taxes on the land.

To make sure that all of your Arkansas land remains yours, it makes sense to keep an eye on your property lines and any encroachments, and to learn about Arkansas's adverse possession laws.

Background on Adverse Possession Principles

Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a trespasser—sometimes a stranger, but more often a neighbor—to gain legal title over someone else's land. The concept first developed in early modern Europe, as a way to achieve fairness when one owner has neglected or forgotten about a piece of land while another has been using or caring for it for so long that to make them leave would create hardship.

Arkansas legislators have added to the basic theory, however, such that adverse possession claims are more difficult in this state than in many others.

Arkansas's Requirements for Adverse Possession

Arkansas common law (created by courts) dictates most of the elements that a trespasser must establish to prove adverse possession, supplemented by a single section of the state's law (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-11-106). Adverse possession in Arkansas is established from the nature of a trespasser's possession and the length of time the person possesses the land. The trespasser's possession must be:

  • hostile (against the right of the true owner and without permission)
  • actual (exercising control over the property)
  • exclusive (in the possession of the trespasser alone, for example by having fenced it off)
  • open and notorious (using the property as the real owner would, putting the original owner on notice of the possession)
  • continuous for the statutory period (7 years for unimproved and unenclosed land or 15 years for wild and unimproved land)
  • based on "color of title," meaning some document, such as a deed or will, that appears to award ownership to the trespasser, even if it's defective, and
  • be accompanied by full payment of taxes over those years.

Adverse possession should not be confused with having an easement to use another person's property—for example, when a neighbor is allowed, by mutual and written agreement, to use your driveway to access their house. Easements involve shared rights with others in pieces of property, whereas adverse possession results in a shift in title, and the corresponding right to exclude others from the property. Read more about easements.

Cutting Off an Adverse Possession Claim With Action to Quiet Title

What should you do if you spot a trespasser or a neighbor encroaching on your Arkansas land? Your first move, of course, is to speak with the person and ask that they remove all structures from, and refrain from entering onto, your property. It might have been an innocent mistake.

If the trespass continues, you might want to consult a lawyer and bring a legal action, for example to quiet title. You'd basically be asking a Arkansas state court judge to issue an order declaring that you, and not the trespasser, are the true owner and title holder of the land. This order is particularly helpful if you are seeking to sell your property, and need to reassure potential buyers.

No Adverse Possession Claims Possible Against Government Land

Any property that is held by Arkansas' state and local government entities is typically immune from adverse possession actions. So, if you live next to an unused state park in Little Rock, you won't be able to "annex" a larger yard by building a structure there and waiting seven years. Arkansas's government always has first priority when it comes to ownership.

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