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Wisconsin Adverse Possession Laws

Maybe you've seen a few dilapidated acres just sitting there and wonder why it can't go to better use. Or maybe you’ve heard a story or two about someone who had land out in the country, only to lose some of it to trespassers. These are cases that may fall under “adverse possession” law, which can be pretty confusing area to the layperson. So how does it all work, and what are the particulars in the Badger State? This is a quick introduction to adverse possession laws in Wisconsin.

Adverse Possession Laws in General

The legal doctrine known as "adverse possession" allows trespassers who openly inhabit and improve a piece of property to gain title to that property by meeting some specific conditions. Wisconsin's adverse possession laws require an individual to occupy property publicly for at least 10 years before the possibility of ownership.

Adverse Possession in Wisconsin

The main provisions of Wisconsin adverse possession laws are highlighted in the following chart.

Code Section

893.16, 25 to 27

Time Period Required for Occupation

20 yrs. and Color of Title: 10 yrs. and Color of Title/Payment of Taxes: 7 yrs.

Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability

With disability: 5 yrs., except when due to insanity or imprisonment. After disability lifted: 2 yrs.

Improvements

One way to prove possession.

Payment of Taxes

-

Title from Tax Assessor

-

In addition to the minimum time requirements, you must also demonstrate four general elements to have a valid adverse possession claim:

  • A “hostile” claim: you must either
    • Make an honest mistake (likes relying on an incorrect deed);
    • Merely occupy the land (with or without knowledge that it is private property); or
    • Be aware of your trespassing;
  • Actual possession: you must be physically present on the land, treating it as your own;
  • Open and notorious possession: the act of trespassing cannot be secret; and
  • Exclusive and continuous possession: you cannot share possession with others, and must be in possession of the land for an uninterrupted period of time.

Related Resources for Wisconsin Adverse Possession Laws

Real estate and land use law can be confusing. You can find more introductory information and resources on this topic in FindLaw’s adverse possession section. You can also contact an experienced Wisconsin real estate attorney if you want to understand your rights and responsibilities as a landowner or discuss a real estate case or adverse possession matter.

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