Adverse possession allows owners to prove title through possession for a certain period of time. Obtaining title to property through adverse possession is similar to obtaining an easement by prescription. There is no exchange of document of title and no closing or deed conveyance under adverse possession. Instead, title is awarded because of certain types of actions related to land. Adverse possession is a statutory doctrine and the requirements vary from state to state. If statutory requirements are met, title passes as though there had been a conveyance through the traditional methods of deed transfer.

The recognized elements of adverse possession are as follows: There must be an actual possession of the real property claimed; the possession must be hostile to the true owner; the claimant’s possession must be exclusive; the possession must be open and notorious; the possession must be continuous and uninterrupted for the statutory period; and the possession must be with an intent to claim title to the land occupied.

In North Carolina, to acquire title to land by adverse possession, the claimant must show actual, open, hostile, exclusive, and continuous possession of the land claimed for the prescriptive period under known and visible lines and boundaries.

A party claiming title by adverse possession has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, that the possession and use of property was 1. actual, 2. open, 3. visible, 4. notorious, 5. hostile, 6. under claim of right, 7. continous, 8. exclusive, and 9. for a duration exceeding the 20 year limitation period. A claim of adverse possession is a mixed question of law and fact.

A “hostile” use is simply a use of such nature and exercised under such circumstances as to manifest and give notice that the use is being made under claim of right. North Carolina presumes permissive use, and the presumption is stronger when the parties are related. In cases of adverse possession by a tenant as against the landlord, the lease must end before the use becomes adverse to the landlord. The statutory period to acquire title by adverse possession without color of title is twenty years.

The adverse nature of adverse possession consists in actual possession, with an intent to hold solely for the possessor to the exclusion of others, and is denoted by the exercise of acts of dominion over the land, in making the ordinary use and taking the ordinary profits of which it is susceptible in its present state, such acts to be so repeated as to show that they are done in the character of owner, in opposition to right or claim of any other person, and not merely as an occasional trespasser. It must be decided and notorious as the nature of the land will permit, affording unambiguous indication to all persons that he is exercising thereon the dominion of owner. Hence, the possession must be open, notorious, and adverse. Additionally, the claimant may claim title by adverse possession only when he has possessed the property under known and visible lines and boundaries for 20 years.

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