Perhaps one the best traits of Iowans is our inherent ability and inclination to be great neighbors to one another. That “Iowa nice” factor fosters tight-knit neighborhoods, which, in turn, promotes strong communities. There are instances, however, where that natural cohesiveness can lead to issues for one’s legal rights in their real estate. The tendency to be considerate and accommodate minor requests or intrusions of our neighbors is a basic reflex for Iowans. However, property owners must be alert to those intrusions that either persist or lay the framework for long-standing changes to the nature or use of the established property lines. Property owners who aren’t careful to recognize these developments risk losing their exclusive property rights over the impacted area. What is Adverse Possession?In Iowa, non-interest holding individuals can gain property rights in another’s land through a process known as adverse possession. These rights may arise where an individual establishes hostile, actual, open, exclusive and continuous possession over another’s property under a claim of right or color of title for at least ten years. Similar rights can also arise over the particular use and control of a specific portion of a holder’s land through what’s referred to as a prescriptive easement. Here again, the same basic elements need to be established.Encroachment: Preventing Property PiratesThe best way to prevent would-be property pirates from digging in is for landowners to monitor their property lines and address any perceived intrusions or annexations early and often. Alert encroachers to the fact that they’re extension or use over the particular area runs contrary to the established property lines and cannot continue. Importantly, make sure that early requests to encroachers are documented, as this will help substantiate an early record of the issue if it ever proceeds to litigation. If, on the other hand, the property owner is not entirely opposed to the use or encroachment on their property, there are mutual and contractual solutions available like easements that serve to settle property ownership and use issues. Again though, property owners are under no obligation to entertain or enter into these types of arrangements.Ultimately, the best way to prevent the loss of property rights to encroachers—be they neighbors or otherwise—is to respectfully identify and assert the true property lines and rights involved. If you’re dealing with encroachments, consulting an experienced real estate attorney can make all the difference.
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