Georgia Adverse Possession Laws

Updated May 3, 2024
5 min read
Title "Georgia Adverse Possession Laws"; police car, house, handcuffs

Georgia adverse possession law provides a unique way for individuals to gain legal ownership of property. In this guide, we delve into the specifics of adverse possession in GA, essential criteria to stake a claim, and potential legal challenges. Adverse possession laws in Georgia are not a carte blanche for squatters to usurp property. They are a set of well-defined regulations that require the possessor to meet stringent requirements over a specified period.

History of Adverse Possession in Georgia

Adverse possession in Georgia began in the early frontier days of America when pioneers and settlers would occupy a piece of land, build on it, make a home, and eventually claim property ownership.

The legal philosophy behind squatters rights Georgia is that fallow land should not deteriorate when it could be maintained and enhanced by eager people. Since neglected property can harm nearby communities, the statutes promote the concept of adverse possession in Georgia, legally benefiting those who actively use and cultivate these lands. Furthermore, these laws are rooted in land acquisition during early colonization in North America and Europe.

At that time, settlement equated to ownership. Settlers would occupy a tract of land, build a life for themselves and their kin, reside unchallenged for extended periods, and ultimately gain the right to formally own the property.

Georgia Adverse Possession Laws

Adverse possession laws in Georgia do not make it easy for someone to simply sneak into an abandoned home and become the owner. Georgia state law requires that the person who is trespassing (i.e. the person who is not the property owner) must:

  • Live publicly on a piece of land. This indicates that the public knows that they live there. The individual cannot break in or sneak in and hide on a piece of land for twenty years without anyone knowing and gain possession of the land.

  • Live on this piece of land or property on a regular basis. An individual cannot just claim that the land is theirs and then move out of state.

  • Be the sole person living on the property, with their family. A group of unrelated individuals cannot claim possession of a piece of land.

  • Live on the land for a statutory period of 20 years, or 7 if they have what is called “title of color”.

  • Make continual improvements to the property as they would their rightful property.

If a trespasser is currently in a legal proceeding, they may need a document confirming their place of living. For these matters, they should use an affidavit of residency.

Georgia Adverse Possession Statute

The statutory period for adverse possession is 20 years or seven with a “title of color”. Color of title Georgia is a legal term which dictates that the statutory period can be cut down to seven years if the trespasser has legally documented their ownership of the property. The title of color is specific to situations where an individual’s ownership is questioned despite their belief that they are the property owner. They must then go to the courts and prove that they were on the property in a lawful fashion.

One of the documents needed for a lawful claim are tax payment records. They help to prove that the trespasser in question has been making regular property tax payments for the land or even a deed to the land. In some cases, that deed might be faulty or fake, but it is still grounds for the trespasser truly believing that they were the rightful owner of the property.

The case of Childs v. Simmons dictated that a person who is claiming possession of a property must have some degree of legal sense of ownership. As outlined above, in order to meet the definition of state law, the trespasser must publicly and regularly make improvements in good faith to this property, the same way they would if they owned the deed to the property. 

Moreover, it’s up to the trespasser to prove to state courts that they cultivated or used this land in a public way. This means that improvements were made in such a way that everyone in the town or the nearby properties knew that the person lived there and could confirm it on demand.

Proving Adverse Possession Georgia

Abandoned property laws Georgia suggest that the rightful owner or property owner be made aware that someone else has been squatting on a part of their land. Therefore, it is up to the trespasser, once the 20 years or 7 years has passed, to prove to the court that they own the land. They must provide legal documentation for a Color of Title or that they have made public improvements to the land and lived there regularly by paying property taxes.

The burden of proof for the individual claiming ownership is quite high and the courts will not grant the legal title to the land until such time as the burden of proof has been met.

There are cases where the trespasser has taken over a piece of land and live there for the designated length of time, publicly making improvements and trying to prove adverse possession in GA, but the legal landowner can counter with claims such as:

  • Being the legal landowner but not being of age to live there on their own. This situation occurs when a young child inherits a piece of property and is technically the legal land owner but is unable to move to that property until they turn 18.

  • Having mental instability. The legal landowner’s family and attorney would be more adept at proving the property’s owner’s mental state on behalf of the property owner who, regardless of their mental state, is the legal property owner. 

  • Imprisonment. When a legal property owner is serving time in prison, they are unable to care for their property. However, during that time, they are still the legal land owner.

As the legal land owner, you do have recourse to stop someone from proving that they have a claim to your property.

Recourse to Georgia Adverse Possession

If you are a landowner and you notice that people are very publicly taking up part of your land without your permission, you can stop the adverse possession claim by following these steps:

  1. Speak to the trespasser and ask them to refrain from entering your property, and to remove their belongings from your property. If this was truly a mistake, people are likely to do as you ask and leave your property.

  2. If they do not leave, the second legal method is to bring about legal action to evict the trespassers. After proving that you are the legal owner, you can submit an eviction notice required by Georgia state court. This document declares that you hold the title to the land, and you legall demand the trespassers vacate the property immediately.

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Overall, protecting your property from squatters requires action, vigilance, and in some cases, legal intervention. Should direct communication fail, pursuing an eviction through the Georgia State Court system may be necessary. Remember to solidify your status as the rightful owner by having all legal documents prepared. 

Final Thoughts

Georgia adverse possession laws do not make it possible for squatters to come in like a thief in the night and take over a piece of property. However, these laws are in place for long-term scenarios where someone has lived on a parcel of land they believed to be theirs, made improvements to the property, and established themselves for decades in an unchallenged fashion.

Adverse possession Georgia has implemented laws that require property improvements and continuous public living to give legitimate owners the time to come up with legal recourse and counter any adverse possession claim. If you are in either situation as the trespasser or the property owner, consider reaching out to an attorney to learn more about your rights.

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