When someone uses real property which they do not own, they are a trespasser, but if enough time passes that trespass can become an enforceable right. There are several flavors of rights- equitable easement, prescriptive easement, and adverse possession that are considered by the courts and real estate attorneys in analyzing these cases. In a recent decision the negligent trespasser struck out on all three.
In Eric Hansen v Sandridge Partners, LP, the Hansens were farmers. They planted their own property plus a disputed area of ten acres. They learned that the neighbors were in talks to sell their property, and Hansen remembered that there was a discrepancy in the line they had been farming, and there was “a lot line adjustment issue.” He spoke with the neighbor about it and they discussed the issue, but there was no conclusion. The Hansens went ahead and put in irrigation on the disputed property, and then planted pistachio trees. The sale closed and the parties still could not resolve anything, so Hansen sued to quiet title to a prescriptive easement. The trial court denied this claim, but did find that the Hansens had established a right to an equitable easement. The court of appeals said no, the Hansens get nothing, no easement, no adverse possession. But I’ll bet that they would have gotten a prescriptive easement if their complaint was drafted correctly.