One of the most misunderstood aspects of land ownership in Oklahoma (or anywhere) is adverse possession. It is a very complicated legal issue and should always involve a qualified real estate attorney. Many people believe that possession is 9/10ths of the law. In real estate, this is not true.
Before adverse possession can ripen into fee ownership, several things must happen. Only one of which is occupying the land in question for 15 years. This article is not comprehensive and should not be taken as legal advice but only as a starting point if you think you have a claim or if an adverse claim is being made against your land.
Five elements muse be met before an adverse possession claim can be made. Even then, the claim must go through the court system to make the claim into a fee ownership (deed). It does not just happen automatically, even if the criteria below are met.
The five elements are listed below with a brief (non-lawyer) explanation:
Actual: This means you must have held yourself out as the owner of the property in question. You acted as the owner, told people you are the owner, maintained the property, etc.
Open and Notorious: This means your actions were public and able to be seen or observed by anyone (i.e not secretive)
Exclusive: This just means that you are the only one occupying the land. You can’t occupy the land in question with the true owner.
Hostile: This element is not as easy to prove but it basically means that you are holding the lands regardless of the true boundary or what the true owner believes. The possession cannot be permitted by the true owner or the “hostile” element cannot be met.
Continuous / Unitterupted: This simply means the elements above must have been met continuously through the statutory period which is 15 years in Oklahoma. Other states vary on this length of time.
Fence lines are one of the most common ways to claim ownership of parcel or strip of land but are, by no means the only way. Something as innocuous as lawn maintenance, curbs, or even hedge rows can also indicate to others that you are claiming some portion of a parcel of land.
One of the best ways to avoid possible future adverse claims against your land is to have it surveyed and fenced for all to see what lands you are claiming. This won't guarantee that a claim can't be made against your lands but it is a really good start. Don't assume that you know where you property line is, regardless of what your grandpa or the person you bought it from told you.
If you think you may have an adverse claim to lands or if your neighbor is claiming adverse possession against your lands, there are two things you need to do right away. Find a qualified real estate attorney and have your lands surveyed by a Licensed Land Surveyor.