When there is a boundary line dispute between neighboring properties, many people learn first of the doctrine of adverse possession, a legal principle derived from common law under which ownership of a parcel of property (or a portion thereof) can change without payment and against the will of the owner. However, it is not always necessary to resolve a boundary dispute through a claim of adverse possession, and its requirement of a "hostile" taking. Alternative relief may be available under the doctrine of acquiescence.
The law of acquiescence is concerned with adjoining property owners, both of whom are mistaken about where the line between their property is. Adjoining property owners may treat a boundary line, often a fence, as the property line. If the boundary line is not the recorded property line, this results in one property owner possessing what is actually the other property owner's land. Regardless of the innocent nature of this mistake, the property owner whose land is being possessed by another would ordinarily have a cause of action against the other property owner to recover possession of the land. However, if the doctrine of acquiescence applies, the property owner of record is no longer be able to enforce his title, and the other property owner will gain title.
Please note that real estate laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions. The following presentation introduces the concept of acquiescence, but the availability and application of this remedy will be governed by the laws of your jurisdiction, which may be different.
Under typical state law, acquiescence to a boundary line between properties can result in a change of ownership in three ways:
Dispute and Agreement - The neighboring landowners have an actual disagreement as to the location of the boundary line, and ultimately agree upon a boundary line which is not consistent with that set forth in their deeds.
Acquiescence for the Statutory Period - The neighboring landowners treat a particular boundary line as the dividing line between their properties for the statutory period, even though it differs from the boundary line defined by their deeds. The statutory period ("statute of limitations") for acquiescence can be quite long, and is often fifteen years or longer in duration.
Acquiescence Arising from Intention to Deed to a Marked Boundary - A grantor intends to deed property to a physical boundary but mistakenly uses an incorrect legal description in the actual deed.
In contrast with acquiescence for the statutory period, the new boundary line becomes lawfully enforceable immediately upon dispute and agreement, or acquiescence arising from intention to deed to a marked boundary.
In adverse possession cases, the taking of land must be "hostile" to the title landowner's interest. The term "hostile" means that a person possesses the land of another intending to hold to a particular recognizable boundary regardless of the true boundary line. In acquiescence cases, neither neighbor intends to take property from the other, but there is a mutual mistake as to the location of the actual boundary line. A claim in an acquiescence case cannot be "hostile" - if both neighbors believe they are observing the true boundary line, they cannot simultaneously claim that they are holding the property of another without regard to the true boundary line.