Adverse possession--staking claim to a property owned by another--has been a topic addressed by prior posts and in the June 2006 issue of our firm's newsletter.
Earlier today, the New York State Court of Appeals released its decision in Walling v. Przybylo, and resolved the open question as to whether an occupier's knowledge--that someone else actually owned the property in dispute--impacted the occupier's "claim of right" to the parcel. According to today's decision, the answer is an unequivocal, no.
The Court of Appeals clarified that "conduct will prevail over knowledge," and reiterated what it viewed as the "'recognized'" law:
Defendants argue that there is no claim of right when the adverse possessor has actual knowledge of the true owner at the time of possession. However, longstanding decisional law does not support this position. The adverse possessor must act under claim of right...By definition, a claim of right is adverse to the title owner and also in opposition to the rights of the true owner. Conduct will prevail over knowledge, particularly when the true owners have acquiesced in the exercise of ownership rights by the adverse possessors...The fact that adverse possession will defeat a deed even if the adverse possessor has knowledge of the deed is not new...The issue is "actual occupation," not subjective knowledge....
Ms. Denise Przybylo [pronounced "Priz-blo"] reached out to us earlier today and reacted to the decision as follows:
This is a sad day for the people of New York. We were outlawyered by our next door neighbor, who happens to be an attorney. He had a survey. He knew this land wasn't his. So, as far as my husband and I are concerned, this decision is a "license to steal." It just opened the floodgates for more litigation, rather than less. This was an opportunity for the Judges of the Court of Appeals to say "enough is enough" and bring this 200-year old law up to date. But they refused to do it.
For a copy of the Court of Appeals's decision in Walling v. Przybylo, please click on the following link:
For a copy of our June 2006 newsletter (wherein we review the state of the Przybylo case, prior to the Court of Appeals's determination), please click on the following link: