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Iowa Adverse Possession Laws

You own the land, and it's yours forever. That's how we generally think of property ownership, and for the most past that's correct. There are some cases, however, where a continual trespasser can gain legal title to real property if they meet certain conditions. It is called “adverse possession,” and for those with a large parcel of land, or a smaller piece they don’t visit often, this can sounds pretty scary. So how do adverse possession laws work in the Hawkeye State? This is an introduction to adverse possession laws in Iowa.

Adverse Possession Laws in General

It may be an obscure idea for most laypeople, but the idea of "adverse possession" is an old legal doctrine intended to encourage landowners to make use of their land or keep an eye on it if they aren't using it. Under adverse possession laws, if a trespasser openly inhabits and improves a property, or even a small part, for a determined amount of time, he or she may gain legal title to property. Under Iowa law, an individual must occupy property for at least 5 years before the possibility of ownership.

Adverse Possession in Iowa

The chart below lists the details of Iowa’s adverse possession statutes.

Code Section

Iowa Code 560, et seq.: Occupying Claimants

Time Period Required for Occupation

Within 1 year (after 7/1/80) and Color of Title/Payment of taxes; 5 yrs.

Time for Landowner to Challenge/Effect of Landowner's Disability

After disability lifted: 1 yr.


With occupancy, one way to possess land

Payment of Taxes


Title from Tax Assessor


Fortunately for landowners, the minimum time of occupation isn’t the only requirement for adverse possession. There are four main elements to a legitimate claim:

  • There must be a "hostile" claim: the trespasser must either
    • make an honest mistake (like relying on an incorrect deed);
    • merely occupy the land (with or without knowledge that it is private property); or
    • be aware of his or her trespassing;
  • There must be actual possession: the trespasser must be physically present on the land, treating it as his or her own;
  • There must be open and notorious possession: the act of trespassing cannot be secret; and
  • There must be exclusive and continuous possession: the trespasser cannot share possession with others, and must be in possession of the land for an uninterrupted period of time.

Iowa Adverse Possession Laws: Related Resources

Some real estate concepts like adverse possession can be confusing, and the statutes may be complicated. You can find additional articles and resources in FindLaw’s section on Adverse Possession. You can also consult with an Iowa real estate attorney if you would like legal advice regarding a real estate or adverse possession issue.

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