Sunday, November 25, 2007

Aw, Fuck It, I Just Want Your Land

Ben jokes about the "Aw, Fuck It, I Just Want Your Money" tort, but it appears that in Boulder, CO, someone can take your land simply by saying "I want that." (More from a conservative Denver Post columnist here.)

Of course there are limits to the bizarre law, called "adverse possession", used for this land grab. If you want to take someone's land, you have to continually use the land and develop an "emotional attachment" to it. In Colorado, the land in question must have remained untouched for 18 years. Furthermore, no attempt may have been made by the owner to assert their property rights, either by attempting to evict you or by granting you permission to use the land.

I wonder if that'll work with things other than land. If I take someone's diamond ring and they don't notice that it's gone for 18 years, is it mine? If I steal a car, then wait 18 years after the owner stops looking for it, can I claim it?

And lastly, how is this law possibly fair?


Matthew B. Novak said...

I don't think there's a state in the nation without adverse possession laws, and all of us lawyers learn it well in first year property courses. So I guess this doesn't really seem that odd to me.

All the previous owners had to do to keep someone from taking their land through adverse possession was kick them off the land for a day and then the time limit would start over from scratch. Or even more insidiously, they could have just given them permission to use the land for a day, and then the time limit would have had to start over.

Barzelay said...

Adverse possession came about in the 1400's in Europe. The nobility owned vast amounts of land, and it wasn't always obvious or even discoverable whether a particular tract of land belonged to someone. Adverse possession is a quite progressive doctrine that says that if land is not being used by its owner, or even noticed, and someone else makes use of it for a very long period of time, then the person using it should get it. Society benefits from land being put to good use. So let's say some poor family moves to what they believe is vacant land, owned by no one. They build a home on it, they farm it, they raise kids on it, their kids raise kids on it, and they're happy for 100 years. But then suddenly one day, a nobleman's servant rides deep into the hundreds of thousands of acres his master owns, and finds the family living there, and then forces a court to evict them.

If you agree that that wouldn't be fair, then you must agree that, at some point, it is just that whomever is occupying and using the land deserves to be able to continue doing so. Should that change just because it isn't necessarily rich vs. poor? Should it change because the poor family knew it was owned by some nobleman? Should it change because it was 23 years instead of 100 years?

Oh, and I'm not aware of any "emotional attachment" requirement. Normally it's that the adverse possession must be "open and notorious," hostile to the owner's claim of right, and continuous for a certain number of years (in Colorado, 18 years, but in most states, 7 or 10 years).

Barzelay said...

Also, who builds a "dream home" on a tenth of an acre? I think they're bullshitting to try to get sympathy. And no matter how much that columnist would like it to, it has nothing to do with the adverse possessor being a judge, or being powerful. Adverse possession is the law, and the court must follow it.

Mike said...

Honestly, I just think it's pretty damn stupid to own a piece of land for 26 years without ever checking up on it. Seriously, it sounds like a once-a-year drive-by would have revealed that the neighbors were using the property.

Kenny said...

I did a looonnng discussion of this over at
which I won't repeat here.

But, basically, to see it as "fair" you have to think of it in terms of "abandonment." So, with the car or diamond ring, if someone leaves something by the side of the road, at what point in time should someone else get to use that property.

Barzelay said...

You don't have to see it as abandonment in order for it to be fair. You can also see it as a redistribution of property to a member of society who is making better use of the land.