Prescriptive title allows a person to take legal possession of a piece of land by occupying it for a set period of time. It falls under the adverse possession doctrine and is also known as squatters rights.
The specific requirements for prescriptive title vary by state. To take title of the land, the person claiming the title must have occupied the land for a set amount of time. That occupation of the land must be "open and notorious," meaning that the person claiming the title must have overtly occupied the land for the period of time required. Some states require the person claiming the title to believe that he has a right to claim the land, which is known as "Color of Title." Also, some states require the person claiming the land to pay back-taxes on the land for the period of time occupied or make improvements to the land.
The amount of time required to occupy the piece of land before applying to the county for a title is different for each state. In some states, the time period is as short as two years if no one else claims the title. In other states, the period ranges from 15 to 20 years. In New Jersey, the period is normally 30 years, but if the land is woodland, the period doubles to 60 years.
State Law Examples
In New York, the period is 10 years and the person claiming the land must do so under Color of Title. In Massachusetts the period is 20 years. In California, there is no time requirement, though the person claiming the title must have paid the taxes on the land for 5 years. In Wisconsin, the period is 20 years, reduced to 10 years if the person claims Color of Title or 7 years if the person claims Color of Title and pays the taxes on the land.