Iowa Court Says Boundary by Acquiescence was Not Established as a Matter of Law

August 11, 2021 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

On August 4, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of farmers seeking title to property through boundary by acquiescence. The court held that a reasonable fact finder could infer from the record that the farmers did not believe they owned the land.


Since 1978, Linus and Linda Voveses have farmed a 19-acre field in northeastern Iowa. A railroad right-of-way runs south of their property separating a 0.2 acre triangular section of their neighbor’s land from the rest of the parcel at 2050 Woodland.

In 2019, these neighbors, Tyler and Noelle Hansen, told the Voveses that they could no longer farm the 0.2 acres. The Voveses filed this lawsuit against the Hansens asserting claims of boundary by acquiescence, adverse possession, and trespass. The district court did not consider the plaintiff’s adverse possession claim, but nevertheless granted the Voveses’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the Voveses established the elements of boundary by acquiescence. Accordingly, because the Voveses had become the owners, the district court also held that the Hansens’ entry onto the property to dig a hole constituted trespass. The Hansens appealed.

Boundary by Acquiescence

On appeal, the court ruled that the district court improperly granted summary judgment to the Voveses. Boundary by acquiescence is the mutual recognition of a property line by two adjoining landowners for at least 10 years. Iowa Code § 650.14. The Hansens claimed that they and their predecessors allowed the Voveses to use the triangle, but that the Voveses never became the owners.

The court found that a reasonable fact finder could infer that the Voveses did not act in a manner consistent with ownership. The Voveses placed many “no trespassing signs” around their property, but did not place any of these signs around or near the triangle. Additionally, the Voveses never paid taxes on the property. From their behavior, one could infer that the Voveses simply had permission to use the property, but that the parties did not recognize the right-of-way as the boundary line. As such, a genuine matter of material fact existed, and summary judgment was not appropriate.

Adverse Possession

The Court of Appeals, noting that the Voveses raised the claim in district court and on appeal, next considered whether they established adverse possession of the triangle. To prevail on a claim for adverse possession, a party must show hostile, open, exclusive, and continuous possession of that property under claim of right or color of title for a period of at least 10 years. Once again, the Court of Appeals determined that the Voveses did not establish these elements as a matter of law.

To meet the element of hostility, the proponent must show he possessed the land as the true owner without recognition of the legal title holder’s rights. Here, the record supported the inference that the Voveses did not possess the land hostilely. Once again the court noted that the Voveses used “no trespassing signs” around their own property but not the triangle. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded the case for trial.