Those in Montana who own many acres of land should take care to survey their property frequently, to ensure their property is not unknowingly being used by someone else. This is because the legal doctrine of adverse possession allows a person to claim ownership of property that is being neglected or abandoned, if certain elements are met.
What is adverse possession?
In general, adverse possession allows a person to claim ownership of a piece of unused or abandoned property if they move onto it, make improvements on it, and openly possess it for a certain period.
Specifically, in Montana if a person exclusively and physically occupies another person’s property without the property owner’s knowledge and permission for five continuous years, and this occupation is open and obvious, then they might obtain ownership of the property via adverse possession. However, for a person to claim ownership of property in Montana through adverse possession, they must pay property taxes.
What does not count as adverse possession?
Note that letting a neighbor cross your yard does not give the neighbor adverse possession rights, as you knowingly consented to said use. Easements also do not establish adverse possession in Montana.
Similarly, renting a house on someone else’s property does not establish adverse possession, because the tenant knows and agrees that the property is owned by the landlord, not by the tenant.
Adverse possession is a complex real estate topic, and it is not always easy to prove. Still, landowners in Montana might benefit from keeping an eye on their property and who is using it.