Acquisition of property via adverse possession in Maryland

by | Oct 12, 2021 | Firm News | 0 comments

In 2021, Stewart A. Sutton was retained to resolve a property line issue in Montgomery County, Maryland.  In the 1980s, the same person owned adjoining lots.  The owner added a garage to his home on Lot 1.  Because the corner of the garage was too close to the property line, he subdivided Lot 2 to create a 100 foot square notch for the proper set-off for the garage on Lot 1.  When the owner sold his home more than 20 years ago, the notch inexplicably was not conveyed to the second owner.  The second owner was aware of the notch in the property line; and he built a fence along the property line that enclosed the notch.  In 2021, the second owner sold the home to a third owner.

The third owner of Lot 1 had two options to acquire ownership of the 100 square foot notch.  He could either file a quiet title action to acquire the notch via adverse possession or he could buy the notch from the owner.  

Maryland allows a person to claim ownership of a neighbor’s property that he or she has occupied for 20 or more years. Courts & Judicial Proceedings § 5-103 (setting forth a 20-year period to adversely possess property).  The twenty years of adverse possession “must be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under claim of title or ownership, and continuous or uninterrupted”.  White v. Pines Cmty. Improvement Ass’n, 403 Md. 13, 36 (2008)

The third owner was allowed to tack on the second owner’s 20 plus years of adverse possession of the subject parcel to satisfy the statutory period.  White v. Pines Community Improvement Association, 173 Md. App. 13, 48 (2007) (holding that a successor land owner can tack to satisfy the 20 year time period for adverse possession).

Maryland courts have consistently held that enclosing part of a neighbor’s property with a fence for 20 years establishes ownership of the subject property by adverse possession, even if the placement of the fence on the neighbor’s property was done by mistake.  Freed v. Cloverlea Citizens Association, Inc., 246 Md. 288 (1967) (“it is immaterial that the holder supposed the visible boundary to be correct or, in other words, the fact that the possession was due to inadvertence, ignorance, or mistake, is entirely immaterial”); Bishop v. Stactus, 206 Md. 493, 499 (1955).

Fortunately, the third owner did not have to incur the time and expense of  filing a quiet title action to acquire the notch via adverse possession.  The owner of the notch agreed to sell the 100 square foot notch for a nominal amount. 

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