Usucapion (adverse possession) in real estate explained

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There are several ways to acquire ownership of a real estate property under Spanish law. The best known is the transfer of the property or ‘tradition,’ which consists of the act of delivery by means of sale, a gift or some other recognised means.

TODAY’S article will focus on another way of acquiring property which consists of the so-called usucapion or usucapio of assets.

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Usucapio is an informal legal term used to refer to what in English is known as adverse possession (or colloquially ‘squatter’s rights’).

This is defined as the legal instrument that consists in the acquisition of a property by its possession, as an owner following a lapse of time or periods established in Law. Basically, it consists of the possibility of acquiring the ownership of a property, by taking it over and becoming recognised as the owner.

Recognition of inhabitancy of the property will have been public, in good faith and uninterrupted, which means no one entitled to it or with a better right has contested such possession for a certain period of time.


The usucapio can be ordinary or extraordinary.

Ordinary usucapio demands good faith and fair title. Good faith consists in the belief that you really are the owner of the property or ignorance of the fact that there may be a problem that invalidates your title of the property.


A fair title means a document that is enough to legally transfer the property: a contract of sale, a gift, a court resolution, etc.

The time that must elapse to acquire a property by ordinary usucapio is 10 years between ‘present’ people, and 20 years between those who are ‘absent’ people. The Law defines absent people as those domiciled overseas.

Unlike ordinary usucapion, extraordinary usucapion does not require a fair title, that is, having a document that legally justifies the possession, or good faith (the belief that you own the property or do not know that there is problem in your title).

In this case, there is no difference between present and absent. However, the period of time that must elapse to acquire ownership, rises, from 10 or 20 years, to 30 years.

To sum up, the important factor in the case of ordinary and extraordinary usucapio is the time involved and that possession during that time is uninterrupted.

The civil code establishes that an interruption occurs when the person in possession of the property receives a judicial notification in this regard, for example, if another person who considers himself as the owner and submits an eviction claim, etc.

Formalising the ownership of a property through usucapio is not an automatic right and must be declared by a Judge.

To do this, a claim for the declaration of ownership by acquisitive prescription must be presented, against the person or persons who may own or have title to the property.

If you believe you may be entitled to acquire a property through this method, or you already live in a property owned by another person and you wish to interrupt the term of the ‘usucapio,’ contact us to help you.

The information provided in this article is not intended to be legal advice, but is general information related to legal issues.

Carlos Baos (Lawyer)
Email  carlosbaos@white-baos.com

C/Diana 19, 2º D, 03700 Denia (Alicante) Spain
Tel. +34 966-426-185 Fax +34 965-784-471

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