Q: I just read your article about having to adversely possess land for 21 years in order to own it.

Be mindful that in California there is an added requirement of having to pay any taxes invoiced, but the period is only five years – and you don’t have to pay any other expenses.

A: Our thanks to everyone who wrote about this topic.

Adverse possession is the legal term given to a person who takes real estate to be his own without the consent of the rightful owner. Some states do require the person who is claiming ownership to property that he or she knows might not be theirs or is not theirs, to pay the real estate taxes on that land.

While adverse possession is hard to prove in urban areas, it can happen. If a home in a city was abandoned and a stranger moved into the home, treated it as his own, paid the real estate taxes and the rightful owner never came around, that stranger would be entitled to keep the home after a certain period of time. In traditional cases that time period could be up to 21 years.

As you have indicated, some states may require a lesser period of time. The whole idea behind adverse possession is to let time work in favor of those people that are actually caring and occupying a piece of land. Just as jewelry and other items of personal property may be lost and unclaimed, the same holds true for land. A person might die owning a piece of land in some place far from where the person lived and no relatives knew of that land.

That land sits there abandoned until one day somebody makes a claim to the land. If a relative finds out about the land, the relative can claim it and kick the trespasser out. But if the trespasser stays there, there’s a chance he can keep the land for himself.

The law has incorporated the concept of adverse possession in order to clean up “lost” parcels of land and keep the record-keeping of land clean.

That doesn’t mean you can move into your neighbor’s house as they leave for vacation. That’s still a crime. But if a property is abandoned, and no one is paying the real estate taxes or taking care of it, then that property could fall within the realm of becoming lost by the rightful owner.

If you own land, you must make sure you pay any taxes that are due on it, keep a watch on it and kick any trespasser off.