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Open and notorious occupancy or possession is an essential element of adverse possession because the openness and notoriety of the occupancy or possession gives the owner cause to know that an adverse claim of ownership is being made by another. The determination of openness and notoriety centers on whether the particular acts in question are acts of ownership and are sufficient to give the existing owner notice of the claim being made. Thus, the element of open and notorious is satisfied by a showing that the occupancy or possession manifested a claim of ownership and was conspicuous, widely recognized and commonly known.
Several months after defendants purchased a parcel of land, plaintiffs purchased land that adjoined and bordered defendants' land on the east and south. The parcel in dispute was within the property described in the deed of conveyance to defendants, but was not described in plaintiffs' deed. The previous owners of plaintiffs' property built and graveled a turnaround roadway on the disputed parcel, which they believed they owned. Prior to the purchase of their tract of land, defendants had the property surveyed and discovered that the turnaround was within the property lines described in their deed. The trial court quieted title to the parcel of land in plaintiffs. Defendant appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the title vest in the plaintiffs because of adverse possession?
The court found that title vested in plaintiffs because it first vested in the previous owners by adverse possession. According to the court, Open and notorious occupancy or possession was an essential element of adverse possession because the openness and notoriety of the occupancy or possession gives the owner cause to know that an adverse claim of ownership was being made by another. The element of open and notorious is satisfied by a showing that the occupancy or possession manifested a claim of ownership and was conspicuous, widely recognized and commonly known. In this case, the plaintiffs entered the disputed tract with a bulldozer, cleared the land, built the turnaround, then maintained it and the land surrounding it. The family also played volleyball and parked on this land. In addition, a neighbor testified that he believed the plaintiffs to be the owners of this tract of land because they were the only ones who maintained it and used it with any regularity for a period of 18 years. Changing the physical structure of the land by clearing it, building a turnaround and then using and maintaining the turnaround and the land surrounding the turnaround was sufficient evidence to support the court's finding that the plaintiffs’ acts were acts of ownership, sufficient to give the then existing owner notice of this claim and were commonly known so as to constitute open and notorious occupancy or possession. The court thus held that the plaintiffs satisfied all of the elements of adverse possession, which extinguished the title to the tract held by defendants' predecessors in title. The court found that title to the disputed tract was successfully transferred to plaintiffs.