Q: There’s a sign on the walkway that runs between Liberty Plaza and the Library Lane parking structure that says, “Private Walk/Use by permission only.” Is someone apt to apprehend me if I walk through?

A: The walkway is on property owned by First Martin Corporation; the sign lets you use it without gaining ownership. Unlikely as it sounds, that’s a real risk, thanks to an ancient legal doctrine known as “adverse possession.”

“If you look up adverse possession, it’s the use of someone else’s property in an open, continuous, and notorious–I don’t know why notorious is in there!–fashion for fifteen years,” explains First Martin founder Bill Martin. To maintain its ownership, the company closes the path one day a year. “Barton Hills does the same with their streets,” Martin points out. “They close them and allow access only for their residents.”

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