A possession claim is a legal claim asserting the right to a property's title on the basis of specific circumstances. Many nations allow people to file such claims, although the specifics of the process can vary considerably between jurisdictions. It is possible to file a possession claim independently, but many people work with an attorney to increase the chance of success and draw upon the attorney's experience and familiarity with the process, as navigating the court system can be challenging for people who do not have experience.
In a possession claim, the claimant's goal is to transfer the title to his name, providing the court with compelling evidence to support the claim that he rightfully owns the land. The classic situation is one of adverse possession, where a person takes control of a tract of land and uses this control as the basis for a possession claim. In order for adverse possession to work, the claimant has to satisfy several criteria.
The first is open use of the land, in such a way that the property owner would reasonably know about it. In addition, this use has to be hostile; someone cannot file a possession claim on the grounds of having rented a house for nine years, for example. This type possession of the land is not hostile, but rather occurs with the permission of the owner. In addition, the use of the land has to be exclusive. While multiple people can file a claim together, they cannot share use of the land with a property owner. If someone shares pasture with the owner, for instance, she cannot file a possession claim.
People must occupy the land continuously, and must also do so for a set period of time, depending on the law. People may be able to file an adverse possession claim if they use land openly, pay taxes on it, make improvements, and do so without the permission of the owner for as little as a year in some regions. If at any time the owner takes action to repossess the land, such as having squatters evicted, they have no grounds for a possession claim and would need to start all over again.
Allowing people to file possession claims creates a system for handling unclaimed and untended land. People interested in taking land by adverse possession have an incentive to make improvements and interact with members of the surrounding community, as this will strengthen their cases. Likewise, landlords have a compelling reason to maintain property and make sure it is controlled, as failure to keep an eye on a property might result in an adverse possession suit to claim title to the land.