• Key point. A church may lose title to some of its property in a boundary line dispute through adverse possession if an adjacent property owner openly occupies and maintains the disputed property with an intent to claim it as his or her own regardless of the actual legal boundary.
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a church lost title to a portion of its property in a boundary line dispute because an adjacent property owner acquired title to the disputed property through adverse possession by openly occupying and maintaining the disputed property with an intent to claim it as her own regardless of the actual legal boundary line. A boundary line dispute arose between a church and an adjacent homeowner. The dispute arose because the homeowner and her predecessors had used the disputed land mistakenly believing that their property ran to a line of trees at the edge of woods on the church's property. The homeowner claimed that she and her predecessors had mowed, gardened, and otherwise maintained the strip of land up to the tree line as a part of their residential property for more than 15 years, believing that it was the common boundary between their property and the church's property. The evidence also indicated that the homeowner and her predecessors intended to claim title to the land extending to that line as a part of the property they thought was conveyed to them. The homeowner claimed that this evidence was sufficient to show that she intended to claim title to a definite line on the ground, regardless of what the deed to the property stated, and as a result she should be awarded title to the disputed strip of property on the basis of adverse possession. A trial court concluded that all the elements necessary to establish title by adverse possession had been clearly established except for the requirement of an adverse or hostile possession. Because the homeowner's possession of the land was based on a mistake as to the ownership of the land, the trial court determined that the possession was not adverse since "there was no intent … to oust the true owner of the title of the property." The homeowner appealed.