Sometimes, adjacent lawns can become a legal issue. Legal battles can arise over the exact location of a property line, one owner polluting an adjoining owner’s property. Or an adverse possession issue can arise.

Here is a hypothetical adverse possession scenario.


Two houses sit side by side in a housing subdivision. Homeowner A has a back-yard fence that he believes follows the property line to the rear edge of his house. The remainder of his lot line to the street is planted in grass.

Homeowner B, whose house is adjacent to A’s, also has a backyard fence that extends to the rear edge of his house. The remainder of his property is planted in grass.

The fence lines have never been an issue between the two. But the unfenced section holds the potential for an adverse possession issue.

Homeowner A follows the, “cut it high and let it lie” philosophy of lawn culture. Homeowner B follows the philosophy of, “mow it short and give yourself a longer break between cuttings.”

The differing philosophies are no problem, unless A looks at how short one mower-width of his lawn has become, and concludes that B is cutting a mower-wide swath of grass on about 30 feet of lawn that A believes is part of his lot. A may be angry, but reluctant to say anything to B because of fear of disturbing neighborly harmony.

Is there any reason for A to seize the proverbial bull by the horns and tell B to stop mowing on his property? There is a possible legal reason.

B may be asserting an adverse possession claim. Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows someone to gain ownership of all or part of another’s property, without buying, leasing or in any way paying for the property.

Historically, the idea of adverse possession was designed to encourage landowners to make productive use of all their property, a “use it or lose it” approach to land titles. The concept lives on in law, but there are criteria an adverse possessor wannabe must meet.

The trespasser must be physically present on the land, treating it as his own. Regular mowing is likely to qualify as physically present. The trespass must be a hostile claim. A trespasser may assert adverse possession by making a mistake such as relying on an incorrect deed, occupy land without knowing who owns it, or occupy land knowing that he is trespassing.

The trespass must be “open and notorious.” Homeowner A must have a way of knowing that B is mowing a section of lawn that A believes belongs to him. In this example, either A seeing B mow the section or noticing that a section of his lawn is shorter than the rest of the lawn on a regular basis, should qualify as open and notorious.

Adverse possession is not a speedy way to acquire property. Homeowner B cannot assert an ownership claim to the swath he has been mowing until he has met the adverse possession criteria for at least 20 years.