Property Rights Foundation of America®

Gov. Spitzer Vetoes Bill That Would Have Muddled Law of Adverse Possession
Real Property Section of State Bar Association & PRFA Opposed Ill-conceived Reform

With only two opposing votes, the New York State Legislature passed an emotionally driven bill directed at the law of adverse possession on June 19 that would have created problems quieting title and obtaining title insurance in New York State. Senator Elizabeth O'C. Little (R, Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R, Willsboro) gained bi-partisan support for the bill when an appeal was made to the legislature based on the victim status of the Przybylos, a couple in suburban Queensbury, after the state's highest court ruled in June 2006 in favor of the their neighbors, the Wallings, in a dispute over the boundary line between the properties of the two couples. Ms. Sayward, who also represents Queensbury, was the chief Republican sponsor in the Democrat-controlled Assembly of the ill-conceived bill.

The bill would have muddied title by drastically limiting the scope of the statute of limitations that has since the time of pre-colonial English law made it possible to settle title to land that was continuously and openly occupied without permission. The bill would have added a new test for adverse possession by requiring the court to decide whether the occupier of the property had "knowledge" of the correct boundary. If the occupier had such knowledge he could not take title. Issues of what boundary surveys existed, who knew about the boundary location generations of title earlier, and even subjective intention would have muddled the law and precipitated a host of new lawsuits.

The legislature delivered the bill to Governor Spitzer's desk on August 16. The Real Property Section of the New York State Bar Association had issued a memorandum in opposition on July 18. On August 20, the Property Rights Foundation Rights Foundation of America communicated its opposition. On August 28, Governor Spitzer vetoed the bill, citing the opposition of the Real Property Law Section of the New York State Bar Association and the Property Rights Foundation of America.

The Governor stated as part of his thorough veto message, "This bill could have significant adverse consequences for New York property owners. The addition of a 'knowledge' element to the statute of limitations would likely result in extensive litigation of virtually every adverse possession claim, and thus would undermine the certainty that the statute of limitations was established to provide."

Untouched by either the high court's or the Governor's well reasoned logic, Assemblywoman Sayward reacted to the veto by declaring the failed bill to be a Constitutional property rights measure and stating that those who lost title to a portion of their property under the statute of limitations for challenging adverse possession were "victims" of "an unjust taking."

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© 2008 Carol W. LaGrasse
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