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Tennessee Adverse Possession Laws

It may seem odd at first glance, but most states allow squatters to obtain legal title to a piece of real estate if they inhabit that property for a certain number of years. The doctrine of "adverse possession," also referred to as "continuous trespassers' rights," is intended to discourage the abandonment of property by rewarding those who use it. Of course, it's not that simple. In Tennessee, someone may claim title after seven years (or 20 years without color of title) if they satisfy the following requirements:

  1. Must enter the land without the owner's permission (hence the term "adverse");
  2. Must actually be on the land, using and caring for it as if it were his or her own;
  3. Must use the land and/or structure in an open manner (in other words, it may not be secretive or covert); and
  4. Must use the land continuously for seven years, without sharing this possession with others (unless it's possession by tenants in common).

It can all get a little confusing, but the following chart outlines some of the law's main provisions.

Code Section 28-2-101, et seq.
Time Period Required for Occupation 7 yrs. with color of title; 20 yrs. without color of title
Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability After disability lifted: 3 yrs.
Improvements -
Payment of Taxes 20 yrs.
Title from Tax Assessor -

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Tennessee land use and zoning attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Adverse Possession Laws and the Statute of Limitations

It's important to understand adverse possession laws within the context of the statute of limitations. Essentially, the property owner has a certain period of time to bring an eviction action against a squatter, or "continuous trespasser." Once the statute of limitations has run out, the property owner forfeits his or her right to evict and the squatter may claim title. If the trespasser does not possess the property openly, then the statute of limitations doesn't run. Essentially, adverse possession laws ensure that old claims that are difficult to prove don't leave unused land in limbo.

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