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Idaho Supreme Court Clarifies Adverse Possession Time Restriction

By: T.J. Budge

Idaho law recognizes the doctrine of adverse possession, whereby a person can acquire ownership of real property by occupying it for an extended period of time to the exclusion of others. This is sometimes referred to as a “squatter’s right.”

A person claiming ownership by adverse possession must prove, by clear and satisfactory evidence, that they have had exclusive and continuous possession of the property for the time period required by statute. Idaho Code 5-210 required a five year period of possession up until 2006 when the statute was amended to extend the time requirement to twenty years.

A person who met the requirements of adverse possession for 5 years prior to 2006 could bring a lawsuit to prove their title to the property even after the 2006 amendment. However, there has been an unanswered question of whether a person is subject to the five year rule or the 20 year if they began occupying the property prior to 2006 but did not complete five years of exclusive possession until after 2006.

On February 2, 2017, in the case of Schoorl v. Lankford, the Idaho Supreme Court answered this question. The plaintiff in that case claimed ownership by adverse possession to a small strip of land in Canyon County. The plaintiff argued that because they had begun occupying the property prior to 2006, they needed only to meet the 5 year requirement. However, the Court disagreed, explaining that a person must occupy the property for at least 5 years prior to the statutory change that occurred in 2006. Since the plaintiff had occupied the property for only 4 years and 8 months prior to the statutory change in 2006 they were subject to the 20 year time requirement. Consequently, the plaintiff lost their claim of ownership by adverse possession.


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