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Wait, a Neighbor Can Take My Property? Adverse Possession Law in Georgia

Harold Hudson on Jun 20th, 2019

As a property owner in Georgia, the notion that a neighbor or a trespasser could gain legal title to parts of your property likely seems absurd. Unfortunately, it’s not. Let us introduce you to the legal concept of adverse possession. To ensure that every bit of your property remains yours, it’s essential that you have a clear understanding of your property’s metes and bounds and that you understand adverse possession law in Georgia.

Adverse possession, sometimes referred to as ‘squatter’s rights,’ is a legal principle that allows a person who does not have legal title to a piece of land to acquire legal ownership without the permission of the legal owner — if certain conditions are met.

Adverse Possession Law in Georgia

Like in other states, Georgia’s adverse possession law is centered around the nature and length of the trespasser’s occupancy of the land. The burden of proof to justify an adverse possession claim lies with the trespasser, not the owner. An adverse possession claim should not be confused with an easement, which involve sharing rights with others on a piece of property.

Adverse possession law in Georgia is derived primarily from the courts, which means no single statute enumerates the conditions a trespasser must fulfill to prove adverse possession. Rather, the courts have established a variety of conditions over the decades through case law.

Adverse possession law in Georgia states that a trespasser’s possession must be:

  • Hostile (without permission of the owner)
  • Actual (exercising control over the property)
  • Exclusive (solely in possession of the trespasser)
  • Open and notorious (not in secret)
  • Continuous for the statutory period (usually 20 years in Georgia, see Ga. Code Ann. § 44-5-14)

This is the how — but you may still be wondering why such a legal concept exists.

Why Does Adverse Possession Exist?

Adverse possession rules have been around for thousands of years, likely because they:

  • Allow the true owners of a piece of land to retain ownership when land records do not match reality, whether due to error or fraud
  • Discourage waste of quality land
  • Encourage landowners to be responsible for and involved in taking care of their land

The earliest recognition of the concept of adverse possession dates back to 2000 B.C. in the Code of Hammurabi, which stated that if an owner left their home, garden or field and another possessed it for three years, the newcomer retained ownership of the land.

Our use of adverse possession in the United States comes by way of English law. In early England, where land records were poor, actual possession of the land was often the best evidence in ownership disputes.

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***The article has been prepared for informational purposes only and are not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  You should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.

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