by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA

Adverse Possession

§ 7.18
Key point 7-18. Churches can lose a portion of their property to a neighboring landowner as a result of "adverse possession," if the neighbor openly and adversely occupies church property for the length of time prescribed by state law.

Churches can lose a portion of their property to a neighboring landowner as a result of "adverse possession," if the neighbor openly and adversely occupies church property for the length of time prescribed by state law.

Case studies
  • An Arkansas court ruled that a neighboring landowner had a legal right to use a roadway across church property to access a public road because he and his family had used the roadway for a sufficient length of time without objection by the church. A trial court ruled that the neighboring family had a legal right to use the driveway on the basis of an "easement by prescription." Such an easement arises by operation of law after a landowner uses a roadway across another's property for a sufficient length of time. A state appeals court agreed. It conceded that Arkansas does not have a statute specifying the length of time needed to establish an easement by prescription, but it noted that the state Supreme Court has applied the seven-year period for acquiring title to land by adverse possession. The court noted that "where there is usage of a passageway over land, whether it began by permission or otherwise, if that usage continues openly for seven years after the landowner has actual knowledge that the usage is adverse to his interest or where the usage continues for seven years after the facts and circumstances of the prior usage are such that the landowner would be presumed to know the usage was adverse, then such usage ripens into an absolute right."[233] Johnson v. Jones, 977 S.W.2d 903 (Ark. App. 1998).

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