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A Land-Use Law You Should Know

Learn from this landowner’s cautionary tale adjudicating an adverse possession claim placed on their land in the state of Oregon.

| May/June 1984

We stood there dazed and bewildered, slowly realizing that our dream had died . . . or rather, had been killed by a stranger's hand. Adverse possession! We'd never heard of this land-use law before. But it meant that someone could call the sheriff and have the deputy who stood before us now order us off our own bought-and-paid-for property.


Looking back, I'm still amazed at how much trouble could start with just a little ad offering land for sale. When I saw it—in an issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS—I was excited, because my husband Lee and I had spent the past decade working to earn the money and learn the skills necessary to fulfill our dream: living a self-sufficient life on a homestead "somewhere in Oregon". That's where my grandparents had settled and farmed . . . where my mother was raised . . . and where my brothers and sisters and I had spent many idyllic childhood vacations.

So we called the realty company listed in the ad and learned that there were parcels of 40, 60, and 120 acres available, scattered all over southeastern Oregon. The prices were within our range, and the terms sounded good . . . so we requested property maps and descriptions, and waited for them eagerly.

A week later, a big, brown envelope arrived at our home in the Bay Area of California . . . and we all but shredded the container in our haste to get at its contents. My husband grabbed the descriptions while I snatched the maps from under the quick fingers of my two daughters, Lorelei and Edena, and we sat down to study what we hoped would lead us to our future homeplace.

At first, we were disappointed. Most of the offerings seemed to be flat land filled with sagebrush . . . not the kind of country we'd dreamed of. However, we did come across one package that looked promising: 60 acres near Burns, Oregon. Much of the property overlooked a valley from a high, southwest-facing cliff ... but the real clincher was the fact that the parcel also contained 15 acres of rich bottomland beneath that promontory. And better still, a year-round creek—headed by a small dam and a three-mile-long reservoir, just a mile away—flowed through a corner of that section. So we knew the site would provide us with plenty of water for our livestock.

In short, we figured we'd found our dream spot . . and when we traveled to Oregon a month later to inspect the property, our hopes were confirmed. We loved the place, and bought it!

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