Standing alone, the payment of property taxes will not cause you to magically inherit title to real estate. However, in many states, a person may claim title to property through adverse possession, and one element of adverse possession is a requirement that the person claiming title must have paid property taxes for a certain number of years.
Adverse possession is a historical legal doctrine that allows one person to adversely take title and possession of property previously owned by another person. The theory behind the rule is that the person putting the property to productive use and paying for the taxes and maintenance of the property should become the owner of the property after a certain amount of time expires.
Adverse possession is a state law rule, so the details range among the various states. In general, claiming title to property through adverse possession requires exclusive and open use or possession of the property, without permission from the record owner, along with proof of payment of property taxes for a certain number of years. State laws vary regarding the amount of time during which a person must possess the property and pay property taxes for the property, with the range falling between seven and 20 years.
Open and Exclusive Use
Claiming title to property through adverse possession requires proof of exclusive use of the property, without permission from the current record owner. This means the adverse claimant must be able to prove that you were the exclusive possessor of the property during the requisite time frame. Additionally, you must show that you are the only person to pay property taxes during that same time frame. If the record title owner also paid property taxes during this time, your adverse possession claim will fail.
In order to claim title to property by adverse possession, you must file a lawsuit in state court. A judge will review your claim to determine whether you have satisfied all of the elements of adverse possession, including the requirement that you were the exclusive person paying property taxes during the required time frame. After reviewing all the evidence, the judge will have discretion whether to issue an order vesting title in your name. Without such a judicial order, you will not become the owner of the property no matter how long you pay the property taxes.