Thursday, August 18, 2011

Open and Notorious Use

Disputed Garden Space
Twenty-six years ago, my baby sister was born. Her father needed to pay the hospital bill so he was talked into selling over a dozen acres of land at rock bottom price to a nephew. In a process that was convoluted and bewildering to a man 61 year old new father, he was left with what he thought was .86 acres with an easement over a piece of it -- over the garden spot to be exact. The nephew turned around and split the land and sold it to two other family members at a huge profit. Roughly 8 years ago, one of them sold their house and the land to an retired couple. Nothing was said or done about the easement.

Until now. Suddenly, this couple have paid for a property survey. At first, this seemed to benefit us as the lines marked by the surveyors gave us several feet more on two borders. For some reason that I don't currently understand, they have since decided to add survey markers to include almost half of the garden space. They then informed our other boundary neigbhor who's land is on the now disputed boundary line to trim a large pine whose lower branches intruded onto the garden space. If they aren't intending to claim ownership of the garden area, why are they concerned about the tree's branches?

What I also do not understand yet is why they are only questioning part of the garden space. My boss was a real estate attorney for over 20 years before becoming CEO of his family's business. He reviewed the deeds and found that our deed puts the whole garden space as not ours at all. Other deeds list it as an easement. It's true status is going to take a more thorough review to determine. I've made an appointment to see an attorney next week.

What does all that have to do with the title of this post? Well, our strongest argument that the land is ours is that of "open and notorious use". For the past 26 years, this family -- my mother and stepfather and then me -- have gardened on that land and otherwise claimed and cared for that land. Everyone knows this. No one has ever disputed it. That can establish it as our more than any deed ever could. Hopefully it won't take going to court to argue that point.

Worse case scenario: we lose the land. The retired couple who seem so determined to claim it may well wish they had not if they win. I still intend to have my chickens, my rabbits, and my goats. I still intend to have a garden and fruit trees. The difference will be that without that space, the chicken coop and goat shed will not be hidden at the back of a neat garden of raised beds, fruit trees, and trellises; rather, they will be more visible. It also means that we'll have less lawn as we convert lawn to garden space. There won't be a thing they can do about that!

Best case scenario: we gain undisputed ownership of the garden space clear of easement and I can proceed with plans to make a lovely garden space that will be appreciated by those who pass by.

Time will tell what will happen to the disputed 50'x177' garden of our little homestead. Please join me in prayer for the latter scenario. Also pray that in all things, no matter what happens, we are able to reflect the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to all involved. Because, ultimately, the most important thing is that we bring glory to our Savior.

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