Bill to end 'squatter's rights' in Alaska

KEANI -- The Alaska Senate has passed a bill that would wipe the 800-year-old common law doctrine of adverse possession from Alaska law.

Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, repeals Alaska’s adverse possession law. The doctrine, which first was established in the Middle Ages, could allow squatters on private property to legally assume ownership of that property under certain well-defined conditions.

Wagoner said it is a doctrine the state should abandon.

"Our law, right now, allows a person who has no claim of ownership to squat on someone else’s property and, as a result of their illegal trespass, the squatter could actually secure title to the property they are squatting on," Wagoner said. "That is simply legal thievery -- to me, that is offensive and it needs to stop."

For the doctrine of adverse possession to apply in Alaska, a squatter would have to live on someone’s property for an uninterrupted period, seven to 10 years, depending on other factors. That dwelling would have to be "hostile," "notorious" and "continuous," which are legal terms with specific meanings.

According to Barron’s Law Dictionary, "hostile" does not mean ill will, but only that the use of the land is without permission of the owner coupled with a claim of ownership. "Notorious" means "open, undisguised and conspicuous to the point that such possession is generally known or recognized." "Continuous" means an uninterrupted length of time.

Wagoner said earlier in the session that some owners of Alaska property might be vulnerable to such takeovers.

"In Alaska especially, many people buy large parcels of land. Often that land is very remote and this doctrine puts undue hardships upon those landowners to police their property," he said.

The doctrine does not apply to state lands, only private property, Wagoner said.

"This bill simply accords equal dignity and protection to private land ownership, already afforded to the government," he said.

There are some exceptions in the bill. Wagoner said boundary disputes would continue to be settled through adverse possession. Also, the doctrine could apply in maintaining public services, such as highways, roads or trails in which the people of Alaska have a vested interest, as well as when, for periods of 10 years or more, the land has been used for gaining easements for utility purposes.

Senate Bill 93 now heads to the House.

05/18/2003 - 8:00pm