Posture: Trial court for Lutz, affirmed on appellate and appeals court reversed.
Facts: Lutz’s purchased lots 14 and 15 in 1912 in a wooded area of Yonkers. Lutz found it easier to travel through lands that they did not own to get to their house and cleared a traveled way on north boundary. They also built houses on their lots on 14 and 15 and partially on 19 as well and occupied the buildings. The Lutz children all grew up on this land including the one bedroom on lot 19. They moved there their whole lives. In 1946 bad blood developed between Valkenburgh and Lutz who were neighbors. There was an incident with the kids on Lutz’s garden and Lutz chasing them and got arrested.
A year later the Valkenburghs bought lot 19 and walked it with police to take possession of it. He told the Lutz to clear lot 19 and to remove all property since he owned it. A bunch of shit happened and they fought like children and Lutz joined in an action for his traveled path and Lutz argued that he owned it.
Holding: An occupant can acquire property through adverse possession when they show evidence that they hostilly occupied property and protected it or cultivated it for a continuous period.
Reasoning: The court wants the premises to either be protected by an enclosure or cultivated and improved and held for 15 years. The court then goes on to say that the land was not substantially improved, and a house was not enough. Supplying vegetables to neighbors is not enough for adverse possession. Then there is also a problem of it needing to be a hostile takeover and there was no such hostile possession. Building a garage unknowingly over the line and a small shack prove nothing. And finally, he declared that the owner had the property and that he did not own it. He voluntarily chose to concede the land.
Fuld Dissent – Argues that he did, in fact, possess it and improved the land because it was a crappy piece of land at the beginning. He also says the majority ignored the evidence that stated that the farm was substantial and that all the lots were cultivated by them. Therefore, they did possess and improve the land. The neighbors all knew (or thought they knew) that the land was owned by them. He finally states that adverse possession does not require the entire piece of land to be possessed, only a small portion of it will be enough. The statute even says that themselves.
Statute 39 – “Where there has been an actual continued occupation of premises under a claim of title, exclusive of any other right, but not founded upon a written instrument or a judgment or decree, the premises so occupied, and no others, are deemed to have been held adversely”
Statute 40 – “For the purpose of constituting an adverse possession by a person claiming title not founded upon a written instrument or a judgment or decree, the land is deemed to have been possessed and occupied in either of the following cases, and no others: 1. Where it has been protecting by a substantial enclosure or 2. Where it has been usually cultivated or improved”
My answer: Court of appeals looked at both elements and decided that neither one is met. If there was a substantial enclosure or cultivation then he would have had at least the start of a case. But they deemed that land was actually not cultivated or improved and it definitely had no enclosure.
My argument: He is entitled to the land because he meets all of the requirements of the statute and the court of appeals erroneously interpreted the statute to mean something that it did not say. He owned the land for over 15 years, well past his average lifespan and well past the ages of all of the kids. Though he did not actually build any substantial enclosure, he did cultivate AND improve the land. He built a house on the land that people could always use to live on, increasing the value of the land. He grew a farm and a lot of different vegetables that he used to sell to neighbors and to feed his family which is a substantial improvement. This will also significantly increase the value of the land. He kept the land clean and created a walking path in a convenient location which will improve the value of the land. When you take all of these and other improvements into account, he should meet part 2 of statute 40. Additionally, he has been making these improvements for over 15 years and he has taken care of the land that would be disgusting and overgrown had it had no owners. So while the court may still claim that improvements are minor, he took land that would otherwise be overgrown and would take years to fix and made it into a livable and great area.
Furthermore, the provision says nothing about him having to improve ALL of the land/property, it only says that land has to be cultivated and improved. In this case, the value of the land will go up by the changes that he made which are arguably minor but they are in fact improvements to the land.
Finally, If this case is left the way it is, we will not have any incentive to improve any land at all that we settle on, in the fear that we may not actually end up possessing it due to some technicality or narrow reading that the court wants. I would not want to own land under that situation and I know many who also would not want to. It is just bad policy.