Can a Neighbor Claim My Land by Mowing It?

Keeping intruders off one’s property is the right of every homeowner. Every property owner and their dog know that erecting fences and placing restrictive signs in or around one’s property make for good neighbors. 

In extreme cases, where there are repeated unlawful entries onto one’s property, a homeowner can file a restraining order against such a trespasser to prevent further illegal entries.

However, as with most laws, there’s always that exception to the rule. While it comes off as a legal abomination to claim ownership over a piece of property that is not theirs, it is permissible under the law, that is, once the person (claiming ownership) can prove the owner abandoned the property and they have cared for the abandoned property within a certain period.

Thanks to specific laws of each state in the U.S., a trespasser, or an adverse possessor, may gain legal ownership over another’s land. Although this does not happen overnight, it takes a while for an adverse possessor to own another’s property. 

It usually plays out something along the lines of this: Your “friendly” neighbor, who usually mows your lawn, now feels entitled. And yes, they now want a shot at full ownership of your land. Imagine someone mowing the lawn.

Crazy? Absolutely! That said, this throws one question in the air that will likely decide any looming tussle: Is it illegal to mow your neighbors’ lawn?

As you’ll soon find, the answer is not as straightforward as ABC. But first, the basics.

Can My Neighbor Claim My Land?

Is there a law on mowing your lawn? Is it illegal to move your neighbors lawn? Or, broadly speaking, can a neighbor take your property? Yes. Thanks to the legal principle of adverse possession, your neighbor can claim your land. 

A person can only claim the land through adverse possession. Adverse possession is a legal principle that gives the rights of ownership of a homeowner’s land to another person who is already in possession of such land for a stipulated period. 

As we’ve earlier noted, adverse possession varies in each state. So, you need to dig into your local laws regulating adverse possession. A real estate attorney can help you through this phase. 

In Michigan, you may acquire rights over another’s property by adverse possession. This possession by the party claiming ownership must be visible, exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, and actual for a statutory period of 15 consecutive years, as well as being protected by the claim of right.

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In Michigan, several successful cases of adverse possession have been due to subtle, seemingly inconsequential activities like mowing the lawn, caring for the property, etc. 

Gaining control over another’s property through mowing a lawn is not as easy and simpleas it seems. When claiming land that is not yours,you must fulfill some legal requirements.  

When looking to grant or deny a claim for ownership through adverse possession, the courts look to establish a few elements. The few elements of adverse possession are: 

  • Exclusive: Your neighbor does not include other persons in the control of the land;
  • Hostile: Your neighbor has not obtained permission to care for the land;
  • Actual: The neighbor is in actual possession;
  • Open and notorious: The neighbor is openly caring for the land; and
  • Continuous for a certain period, measured in years: Typically, the adverse possessor must have been in continuous possession for at least 10 years.
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What’s an example of adverse possession?

A very good and common example of adverse possession includes the use and maintenance of a private road for a period of at least 10 years without the actual owner’s knowledge. 

Besides private roads, other examples include fences built by trespassers over the owner’s property line, private driveways, gardens, and farmland.

Is encroachment on land a crime?

Encroachment is when a homeowner, consciously or unknowingly, violates property rights by accessing and building structures on another’s property. 

There are two broad forms of encroachment:

  • Minor encroachment; and 
  • Major encroachment. 

Minor encroachment, such as gardens and fences, happens when structures of a particular homeowner extend unlawfully into the land of another. A simple negotiation among the landowners can skillfully handle this situation. 

On the other hand, major encroachment involves problems where the homeowner’s property extension potentially causes harm or injury to the other party. Cases like these usually include engaging a real estate attorney to formalize any necessary negotiation, authorization, or legal action in response from either party. 

There are several ways to avoid encroachment on land. These include: 

Property surveys 

Engage a professional to survey your property to avoid any potential encroachment and subsequent issues that may arise from the possession of the other party’s property.

Knowledge of your property rights 

Know your property rights to avoid violating another party’s claim of ownership. In cases where it is needed to extend structures, you may do so only after receiving permission from the other party. 

Knowledge of property lines 

You must also establish a basic understanding of your property’s limits. To avoid possession of your neighbor’s property, every landowner should be aware of the exact geographical boundaries of their properties.

Can My Neighbor Claim My Land If I Don’t Look After It?

The position of the law regarding the adverse possession mowing lawn in each state varies.

According to the laws of Arizona, for instance, such a neighbor must have been the only person using the land for a period of at least 10 years. In some other jurisdictions, it’s 12 years.

The person’s occupation of the property should be hostile, open, continuous, and exclusive for at least 10 years. You may also have to prove that mere possession of the land was the plan during the period when you were taking care of the land or property. 

It’s worth going over these elements to claim ownership over another party’s land:

Hostile use: According to the Arizona courts, “hostile use” is something that must show:

— Possession or occupation of the land; 

— That the adverse possessor has a claim of exclusive rights to the ground; and

— That there is a denial of title claimed by the original owner, as a continuous use to the owner’s detriment.  

Possession: The trespasser’s control must be “actual, notorious, and visible.” This means the person claiming possession must be in actual possession of such land and additionally treat it as though they are the owner. 

Following this logic, acts of care for the land, such as mowing the lawn, can confer ownership of abandoned property. So, to bring a claim for adverse possession, there must be actual proof of physical presence on the land because a mere intention to possess would not be enough to claim ownership. 

Continuous Use: Also, the person must have exclusive and uninterrupted usage for 10 years. 

Can I stop my neighbor from mowing my lawn? 

Now that you know that as long as you’ve not been negligent about your land or property, the odds are ridiculously stacked against any neighbor in a claim for adverse possession. If anything, you can come after them with a lawsuit for trespass. 

You can order your neighbor to stop mowing your land to avoid a claim for adverse possession arising from their mowing of your lawn. There are tactful ways to keep one’s neighbor away from mowing your land before such an act cloaked in generosity can become a material fact against you before a judge. 

Holding talks with your neighbor about the issue is a good way to start. If this proves unsuccessful, you can build blocks along the lines of division, Fence your boundaries and build a beam-like structure along the lawn lines to assert your boundary and your ownership. 

If all else fails, hire a lawyer to charge your neighbor with an action for trespass. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do I stop my neighbor from mowing my lawn? 

To prevent your neighbor from mowing your lawn, install a CCTV camera to ward off your neighbors. Alternatively, post a warning sign on the lawn. If they proceed to mow your lawn, a simple conversation may do, at first. Fences and decorative bricks or a concrete wall can also do the trick if a conversation proves unsuccessful.

What if my neighbor insists on mowing my lawn? 

You should consider this to be a huge red flag signaling an intention to claim an adverse possession for your lawn at a later date. Although they are highly unlikely to find success because they’re insistent disqualifying them from bringing a claim. 

How? Insistence can mean seeking permission. So, once they insist, you are giving them legal permission, which runs afoul of one of the crucial elements of a claim for adverse possession. 

Is it possible for a neighbor to claim my land by mowing it? 

No. No law allows ownership of land via only mowing the land. However, the context differs if the two parties sign a contract. 

Conclusion

So, regarding the question “can a neighbor claim my land by mowing it?” there you have your answer. Though it can be difficult for your neighbor to claim adverse possession, it’s not impossible.

At the slightest hint that your land is on the cusp of getting “mowed away” from your hands, get a real estate attorney on speed dial. Like most real estate disputes, things can get pretty complicated — and quickly, too! 

And that’s where Lawrina’s attorneys come in. After representing clients on both sides for many years, they can offer you quality advice on the appropriate steps to assert your ownership within the confines of the law.

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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