Family Lives on Wrong Plot of Land for 40 Years in Houston. Is there a case for adverse possession?

February 6th, 2014

ABC 13 reports on a story, where a family has lived in a house for 40 years, though part of their home actually sat to an adjacent plot of land. Now, the person who owns the other lot is trying to oust the family.

 An elderly Houston Heights couple is trying to stop the man who is developing the property next to them.

For close to 40 years, Petra and Soltero Reyes have called 730 Lawrence Street home.

“All of their life, wasted their money to buy a house for a better life for us,” said homeowner Diana Reyes.

Diana says she grew up in that home. She contacted Eyewitness News after the man developing the property right next door tore down their fence and said he wanted to rip out their air conditioning unit and water heater to relocate it elsewhere on their property.

So have the Reyes adversely possessed the plot of land? Based on the facts, it doesn’t seem if they even knew of the mistake in the boundaries.

Petruzzi showed us the plat. He says the house is on his side of the property line. He claims all the properties on Lawrence Street were built incorrectly


This is not as uncommon as you think. See Howard v. Kunto.

Without knowing more of the facts, I can’t say for certain, but it seems like they were not adversely possessing under a “claim of right.” The Texas Supreme Court has defined the “claim of right” in terms of whether a squatter was occupying the land with the intent to acquire it through adverse possession.

The court’s definition of the words is: ‘The ‘claim of right’ to which the statute refers simply means that the entry of the limitation claimant must be with the intent to claim the land as his own, to hold it for himself; and such must continue to be the nature of his possession.’ The opinion states that ‘claim of right’ is an essential element of adverse possession. And the intention of the possessor to claim the land as his own or to hold it for himself must be manifested by open or visible act or declaration showing such a purpose. Orsborn v. Deep Rock Oil Corp., 153 Tex. 281, 290, 267 S.W.2d 781, 787 (1954)

In other words, in order to adversely possess land, the squatter must know they are squatting, and make this known to the squatter. If the Reyes were on the land, not knowing about the incorrect boundaries, they cannot state a claim for adverse possession under Texas law.

The Texas Supreme Court stated this doctrine:

No matter how exclusive and hostile to the true owner the possession may be in appearance, it cannot be adverse unless accompanied by the intent on the part of the occupant to make it so. The naked possession unaccompanied with any claim of right will never constitute a bar. Orsborn v. Deep Rock Oil Corp., 153 Tex. 281, 291, 267 S.W.2d 781, 787 (1954)

The Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed this doctrine in 2006:
It is true that “hostile” use does not require an intention to dispossess the rightful owner, or even know that there is one. See Calfee v. Duke, 544 S.W.2d 640, 642 (Tex.1976). But there must be an intention to claim property as one’s own to the exclusion of all others; “[m]ere occupancy of land without any intention to appropriate it will not support the statute of limitations.” Tran v. Macha, 213 S.W.3d 913, 915 (Tex. 2006)
In other words, just living on the land for 40 years is not enough. The family would have had to make their intent to squat known. It would seem that there is no valid claim of adverse possession here.