Regaining Italian property: how long does it take for Italian adverse possession to take place?


Our association’s aim is to inform and assist the new comers from Italy and this blog meant to be a supporting tool for our purpose. However, we also used to give space at several contributions that we consider useful for the italian community in its entirety. Accordingly, we have accepted the offer of Francesca Catherine Dimunno, an Italian English speaking lawyer at the Rome based law firm Consulia, who regularly deals with cross border legal issues for foreign clients in Italy. Francesca has sent us some articles about legal problems that in her professional experience might concern Italians abroad when they find themselves dealing with the Italian legal system. The articles will be published in English to make it easier for non-Italian native speakers.


In Italy one of the ways of acquiring a property is by means of adverse possession aka “usucapione”. I have dealt many times with cases concerning Italian adverse possession. Usually the story starts when many years before, the Italian “nonni” left the country and moved off to a different nation to start a new life, perhaps even as far as  Australia! All the Italian properties were left behind and very often, close family members were left in charge, to deal with the property and provide updates and perhaps send over small amounts of money if the properties had been rented at the time. The geographic distance and subsequent cultural gap between the new generations that were born in the new foreign country and the Italian family can often lead to legal issues re the Italian properties. Adverse possession of any Italian property occurs when the person or people in charge of the property have acted  as if they were the owners for twenty years. Therefore: simply looking after the property, undertaking necessary maintenance and paying taxes to the local Municipality and/or State for twenty years may lead to adverse possession. Two aspects are essential: firstly, the person/people in charge of the property have no title to use the property (i.e. the property has not been rented or given to them on the basis of any other valid and formal agreement), secondly no act to interrupt the twenty year possession has been filed by the original owners or their heirs. Even a formal letter of notice can be enough to stop the twenty year time bar, providing there is proof that the letter was correctly delivered. Recently, the Italian Supreme Court of Justice “Corte di Cassazione” has stated that continued and undisturbed public possession must be demonstrated by those who claim to have acquired the good by adverse possession. The expression “having owned for over twenty years” is too generic and is not sufficient to prove adverse possession.


Francesca Dimunno