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Arizona Adverse Possession Laws

The legal doctrine known as "adverse possession" allows trespassers who openly inhabit and improve an otherwise abandoned piece of property to gain title to that property after certain conditions are met. To be eligible, the person acquiring the property must do so publicly and pay property taxes or otherwise act as though he or she already has the right to possess it.

Otherwise known as "squatters' rights," adverse possession laws are frequently are invoked by squatters who inhabit land or structures otherwise left unused. The term "adverse" refers to the fact that those claiming land are doing so against the interests of the actual title holders. Seems strange, doesn't it? It is a unique area of real estate law.

Arizona makes it fairly easy for squatters to take possession of property. Unlike some states that require two decades of occupation, the Grand Canyon State will let a squatter take possession after as little as two years (under certain circumstances).

Arizona's adverse possession laws require an individual to occupy an otherwise neglected property publicly for at least 2 years. The Arizona statute (ARS 12-523) states:

  • When a party in possession claims real property by right of possession only, actions to recover possession from him shall be commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues and not afterward. In such actions defendant is not required to show title or color of title from and under the sovereignty of the soil as against the plaintiff who shows no better right.

This is specifically differentiated from "color of title" adverse possession (meaning he or she has reason to believe they have the right to possess the property). The Arizona statute sets out the three-year limitation thusly:

  • An action to recover real property from a person in peaceable and adverse possession under title or color of title shall be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not afterward.
  • "Title" means a regular chain of transfer from or under sovereignty of the soil.
  • "Color of title" means a consecutive chain of such transfer down to the person in possession without being regular, as if one or more of the memorials or muniments is not recorded or not duly recorded or is only in writing, or such like defect as does not extend to or include the want of intrinsic fairness and honesty, or when the party in possession holds the real property by a land warrant or land scrip, with a chain of transfer down to him in possession.

The following chart lists the main provisions of Arizona adverse possession laws.

Code Section 12-522 et seq.
Time Period Required for Occupation 2 yrs. (if occupied with no claim to title) and Color of Title: 3 yrs. or 5 yrs. if city lot
Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability 3 yrs. after cause of action arrives
Improvements Taxes plus cultivation: 5 yrs.; Cultivation only: 10 yrs.
Payment of Taxes 5 consecutive yrs. before suit to recover
Title from Tax Assessor -
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact an Arizona real estate attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Related Resources for Adverse Possession Laws:

Get Professional Legal Help with Your Adverse Possession Claim

Adverse possession claims can be extremely complicated, whether you're filing a claim or defending against one. Hiring an attorney will help ensure that the proper forms are filed on time, that your specific details are properly taken into account, and will generally give you a better shot at success. If you need professional help with such a claim, call an Arizona real estate attorney today.

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