Notes on Adverse Possession & Other Issues

Adverse possession rule is 15 years. Vermont law provides that a person who possesses another’s property (or who uses a right of way over someone else’s property) obtains title to that property (or a legal right over that property) if their possession was “open, notorious, hostile and continuous for the full statutory period of fifteen years.” 12 V.S.A. § 501. Lawrence v. Pelletier, 154 Vt. 29 (1990). If the landowner has permitted the person to use the property no adverse possession claim can be made unless there is an express or implied revocation of that permission.

Note that it takes a court action to transfer title by operation of this law. Only when the town clerk is given such an order for recording as a deed to the property can the grand list be changed to reflect the new ownership. Simply, you do not own the property unitl you have a deed recorded at the Town Clerk’s Office.

A good recommendation for lands maintained or used by another is to have a signed lease agreement by both parties (even if it is for 10 years and just $1) for the field or R.O.W. This is an example of an agreement about both parties understanding the ownership of the property.

We all make mistakes, homeowners, surveyors, lawyers, agents, engineers, and Town officials. Most land disputes start with the buyer not having a clear understanding of the boundaries and other facts related to the property. This can be cleared up and noted if a complete survey is completed prior to the purchase of the property. As a Land Surveyor, I am like the mechanic you bring your new used car to after you bought it. I did not create the problems, but I just find them and give some good or bad news.

I would also suggest good counsel when buying property or property disputes. A buying agent should do their best to get you a lower price based on any issues that could hurt the value of your property in the future.

When disputes start, a good attorney should advise you of reasonable expectations of winning your case and all the chances the other party may win. If your attorney or buyer’s agent agrees with everything you say, they may not be giving you good counsel. Finally, just because you feel you are right, doesn’t mean you will win the case as many court cases end in compromise or a decision you may not agree with.