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Because an interest in real property generally cannot be abandoned, an owner can be divested of title only through adverse possession.
Adverse possession is a means by which someone may acquire title to the land of another through certain acts over a defined period of time. Such acts must continue uninterrupted for the time period defined by state laws, which vary by state. In general, the acts of possession must be overt, hostile, exclusive, uninterrupted, and under a claim of right, etc., so as to give the owner or others claiming entitlement to possession notice and an opportunity to counter the adverse possession.
Payment of real property taxes and making improvements (such as paving or fencing) for the statutory period, which varies by state, are evidence of adverse possession but cannot be used by a land grabber with no claim to title other than possession. Those who seek to dispute a claim of adverse possession may bring an action to quiet title.
Claims of adverse possession are often hotly contested. State statutes govern the requirements for an adverse possession claim. For example, in Michigan, the duration of such possession is five (5) years if the claimant has color of title by a court deed, ten (10) years if the claimant has color of title by a tax deed, and fifteen (15) years in all other cases.