By: Lia Szasz – Published in the BizWest Thought Leaders column in May 2018.
Did you know that, under Colorado statute, someone can obtain title to your land without paying for it? Under the doctrine of adverse possession, if someone uses your land continuously for 18 years, it may become theirs. This doctrine became famous when a retired judge in Boulder obtained title to part of his neighbor’s property through adverse possession, and a lengthy (and expensive) legal battle ensued.
However, there are actions a landowner can take to prevent this from happening to them. While adverse possession is a concern for all Colorado landowners, it is especially important for those in agriculture, who often have hundreds or even thousands of acres of land. For example, if a neighboring landowner’s fence line is placed somewhere other than the true property line on a ranch, a portion of the ranch could become the neighbor’s property if the fence line stands for 18 years. Those in agriculture should take care to periodically monitor their ground for use by any third party and to put a stop to it.
On the other hand, if you’re buying a farm or ranch, it is also important to have a survey completed to determine the true boundaries of the property. Often, agricultural land is kept in the same family for generations, and a fence line may not reflect the true property line. When someone from outside the family purchases some or a part of that property, a survey may keep you from buying something you did not expect—the defense of an adverse possession claim. A competent attorney can assist those in agriculture, as well as any landowner, in ensuring that they are protected from losing some or all of their real estate to adverse possession.
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