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When someone exercises ownership and control over a piece of property long enough in New Jersey, it can become theirs under the doctrine of Adverse Possession. It sounds simple enough but there are a number of requirements that make such actions relatively rare. Here’s how it works.

Although the doctrine of Adverse Possession began in common law, it was later codified by statute at NJSA 2A:14-30 which states:

  • “Thirty years’ actual possession of any real estate excepting woodlands or uncultivated tracts, and 60 years’ actual possession of woodlands or uncultivated tracts,  uninterruptedly continued by occupancy, descent, conveyance or otherwise, shall, in whatever way or manner such possession might have commenced or have been continued, vest a full and complete right and title in every actual possessor or occupier of such real estate, woodlands or uncultivated tracts, and shall be a good and sufficient bar to all claims that may be made or actions commenced by any person whatsoever for the recovery of any such real estate, woodlands or uncultivated tracts.”

So for most cases, a party must show it had:

  1. Actual possession of the real property in question
  2. Uninterrupted
  3. f0r 30 years

There is case law that narrows these requirements further. The character of the party’s possession and control of the real property must also be:

  1. Exclusive (the title owner should not have had access to the property during the 30 years)
  2. Adverse (if there was any sort of agreement allowing the use, then it cannot be adverse)
  3. So visible or notorious “that an ordinarily prudent person would be put on notice that the land is in actual possession of another.” Patton v. North Jersey District Water Supply Comm’n, 93 NJ 180 (1983).

It should be noted that the party asserting an adverse possession claim doesn’t have to have had possession the entire 30 years itself, for the possession to be “uninterrupted”. An adverse possession claim can “run with the land”. An adverse possession claim can be made if a predecessor in title met all the requirements, and the successor/claimant uninterruptedly continued the exclusive/adverse use and control afterwards, totaling 30 years between the both parties. In other words, the time period can tack on from a prior owner. Davock v. Nealon, 58 N.J.L. 21, 32 A.675 (Sup.Ct. 1895)

Adverse possession cannot be made against land owned by a public entity, for public policy reasons. But there is one exception to this rule. If the land being adversely possessed is owned by a public entity, but was not being used by the public entity for a “public purpose”, then a claim can be made for adverse possession. Devins v. Borough of Bogota, 124 N.J. 570 (1991).

In practice, an adverse possession claim is usually brought in the Chancery Division of the County where the property is located. It might be filed as an action for quiet title (NJSA 2A:62-1 and R 4:62-1), and the final Order granting title to the land would be recorded at the County Register to perfect title to the land in question. It is highly recommended, if not necessary in most cases, to obtain a survey with a legal description of the land being adversely possessed for purposes of the final Order. Besides making it crystal clear where the claim begins and ends, to avoid future litigation, a legal description/survey attachment to the Order would prevent difficulties in obtaining title insurance by future owners of the property.

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