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The controversial doctrine of "adverse possession" strikes again!

A remnant of the feudal era, this questionably relevant area of law continues to permit a party to assert an ownership claim to property not purchased or otherwise paid for. [To view our prior blog posts on this topic, please click on the following links: Young Israel Loses Adverse-Possession Claim , Adverse Possession: "License to Steal" , and You Can't Title to This! ]

Just days ago, on November 9, 2006, a Sullivan County landowner lost a part of his property to an adjoining "seasonal canoe rental and camping business." Apparently, over the course of a decade, the neighboring enterprise actively utilized the disputed piece of land and acted more like an owner than did the actual fee- or title-holder. According to the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Robinson v. Robinson, plaintiffs Julius Robinson (and others), exercised a level of dominion and control which justified the Sullivan County Supreme Court's decision to award plaintiffs the property. As the appellate court observed:

During the approximately five-month season each year, plaintiffs placed moveable signage on the property, mowed the grass, cleared debris, and planted grass if it was washed out by spring flooding, transported boats to the property, kept incidents of the business on the site throughout the season, and blocked the use of the property by trespassers. Buses dropped off customers during the season, at the peak of which up to 50 rafts, canoes and boats disembarked or landed on the property. In addition, plaintiffs installed a road and made rock fire-ring supports at two permanent campsites, which, along with several other sites on an adjacent lot, were used and maintained on the property throughout the summer. Given the nature of the property, we agree with plaintiffs that this use was open, notorious and hostile and, therefore, sufficient to convey notice of their adverse claim to the record owner of the property during the disputed time period....
Interestingly, the seasonal nature of the business; the actual landowner's occasional use of the adverse-possessor's facilities; the events which occurred after the ten-year vesting period; the failure to pay taxes on the piece of land in question; and, the possessor's knowledge or belief as to who the "rightful owner" of the property might have been, did nothing to negate the claim or mandate the award's reversal.

In an e-mail we received on the same day the Appellate Division's decision was released, Denise Przybylo, one of the defendants in the Walling v. Przybylo case, [ Adverse Possession: "License to Steal" ], sent us the following comment in response to Robinson's outcome:

This decision renews my quest to do away with this arcane law. I will continue to contact all members of the press and meet with those political leaders who will lend an ear.
Onward, Ms. Przybylo! (Don't forget to bring a paddle!)

For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision in Robinson v. Robinson, please click on the following link: