Do I Have to Remove an Encroachment that has Existed for 20 Years in Delaware?
It is possible you may bring a quiet title claim in court to claim ownership by adverse possession of the land for 20 years. It may also be possible to enter into an agreement for an easement. A quiet title or trespass to try title action is the method of determining title to lands, including the boundaries of that land. In a quiet title action, it is possible to ask the court to issue an injunction to force another to do or refrain from doing an act, such as removing a structure. An injunction is an equitable remedy that the court may order when money damages will be inadequate to remedy the harm suffered.
In the case of an encroachment, a plaintiff may be awarded the fair value of the property rather than have the structure removed. Typically, the court will determine value of property based upon expert evidence as to the value of comparable property in the location. In order to award punitive damages for an encroachment, courts have held that the plaintiff needs to prove the defendant acted with recklessness that shows a conscious disregard of property rights. Punitive damages are designed to deter conduct that was based on wrongful intent, usually requiring some proof of fraud, malice, oppression, or other wrongful and intentional motives.
An easement may be created by agreement which grants a privilege of a specific and limited use of the land of another. A right of way is a form of an easement granted by the property owner that gives another the right to travel over and use the owner's land as long as it is not inconsistent with the owner's use and enjoyment of the land.
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 person with no claim to title other than possession. Certain public property is not subject to adverse possession. Some states require that the possession be "under color of title," or that the person must believe that he has the right to possess it and has some form of document or is relying on some fact that while not actually conveying title, appears to do so. In addition, many states require concurrent the payment of property taxes for a specified period of time, and a few states also require that improvements be made upon the land. Eventually, the possessor is required to file for title with the county recorder. The actual owner then has a limited amount of time in which to challenge the newcomer's title. Essentially, the owner's only argument is to claim some sort of disability; such as age, mental instability, or imprisonment. The owner is not required to do much in order to stop the possessor from acquiring title; merely sending the possessor a note granting permission to be there will usually suffice. Various rules exist regarding the continuousness of the possession and the ability to "tack" various periods of possession together in order to satisfy the time of possession requirement. The period for adverse possession based solely on use of the property in Delaware is 20 years.
Please see the followig DE statute:
10 Del. C. § 7902. Seisin or possession.
No person shall have, or maintain any writ of right, or action, real, personal, or mixed, for, or make any prescription, or claim, to, or in, any lands, tenements, or hereditaments, of the seisin, or possession of the person, the person's ancestor, or predecessor, and declare, or allege, in any manner whatever, any further seisin of the person, the person's ancestor, or predecessor, but only an actual seisin of the person, the person's ancestor, or predecessor, of the premises sued for, or claimed, within 20 years next before such writ, or action.