Adverse Possession

In Massachusetts, an adverse possessor can quiet title to obtain clear, record title to the real property of another if they maintain all of the elements of adverse possession for 20 years.

The adverse possessor has to prove that their possession of real property owned by another person is:

  • Nonpermissive and adverse.
  • Actual and exclusive.
  • Open and notorious.
  • Continuous and uninterrupted for 20 years. [1]

Once an adverse possessor establishes all of the elements of adverse possession, they hold good, marketable title to the property. An adverse possessor must obtain a court judgment to convert the good, marketable title to good, record title.[2]

A real property owner must bring an action to eject an adverse possessor within 20 years after the possessor begins occupying the property.

Certain properties are not subject to adverse possession, such as:

  • Registered property (M.G.L. c. 185, § 53).
  • Railroad property (M.G.L. c. 160, § 88).
  • Property held by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or any of its political subdivisions (including municipalities) for: conservation; open space; parks; recreation; water protection; wildlife protection; or any other public purpose. [3]

If you are a property owner, there are ways you can protect against adverse possession claims. Because adverse possession is very time sensitive the sooner a property owner is aware of potential adverse possession claims, the earlier they can act to avoid losing their property rights.

  • It is always recommended that you get a survey done, especially if one has not been done in a long time.
  • Have the property boundaries measured and marked with stakes.
  • Routinely inspect your property for any tree cutting, boundary markers that have moved, fence encroachments, and other signs of occupation.
  • Speak with neighboring owners.

If you determine that someone is attempting to adversely possess your property, you should also consider the following:

  • If you consent to the use, you can contact the adverse possessor to give express consent for the use to disrupt the nonpermissive element of adverse possession. Always follow up in writing.
  • If you consent, you can enter into an easement agreement or a license agreement.
  • If you don’t consent, the sheriff can post a Notice to Prevent Acquisition of Easements.
  • You can posting “No Trespassing” signs.
  • You should contact your title insurance company.
  • Seek legal assistance.

Because there is a twenty year statuary period in Massachusetts, property owners only have to exert a small amount of effort to protect their property rights if they periodically check their property and take the necessary steps to cut the 20 year period off.

For more information, please contact the real estate litigation team at Dillon & Sullivan, Attorneys at Law, LLC. (781) 452-9302.





[1] M.G.L c. 260 § 21
[2] O’Meara v. Gleason, 140 N.E. 426, 427 (Mass. 1923).
[3] M.G.L. c. 260, § 31.