Adverse possession is a legal means by which a person without formal title to a parcel of land can acquire ownership of it. Under Hawai‘i law, an adverse possessor must occupy the land in a “continuous, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and hostile” manner for twenty years. Once the twenty-year period has elapsed, the previous owner’s rights to the land are extinguished, and the adverse possessor may go to court to obtain record title to the land.
This chapter provides background information on the origins and purpose of the doctrine of adverse possession and the doctrine’s development in Hawai‘i. It then examines the requisite elements of adverse possession in detail and explores the ways in which Hawai‘i’s courts have interpreted these requirements, both generally and in special situations.
Historically, the main beneficiaries of the doctrine of adverse possession have been large landowners, especially plantation owners, ranchers, and the heirs of konohiki (land agents; in this context, those receiving large landholdings during the mid-1800s conversion to private property). However, under the current constitutional, statutory, and procedural system, there is greater concern for the rights of the heirs of original Native Hawaiian grantees of small parcels of land. This chapter outlines various ways in which this aim might be furthered.
“Doctrine of Adverse Possession” is Chapter 8 of Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, a volume that updates and expands on the seminal work of the 1991 Native Hawaiian Rights Handbook. The publication is a collaborative effort of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law – University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and Kamehameha Publishing.