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APA Statute of Limitations Passes Senate
Ten-year Limit on APA Enforcement of Violations

By Carol W. LaGrasse

The State Senate has passed legislation sponsored by Senator Elizabeth O'C. Little (R – 45th District) that would impose a ten-year statute of limitations on enforcement of violations of the Adirondack Park Agency statute. Sen. Little's bill surmounted committee hurdles and was unanimously approved with the full Senate vote of fifty-nine to zero on June 25.

"This would establish a clear limit on how far back the APA could go in pursuing alleged violations," said Sen. Little when she announced the Senate victory. "It would help address a very frustrating problem for homeowners who have bought properties only to find out at a later time that there is some sort of violation."

She said that it is a matter of fairness to not hold a property owner liable for someone else's infraction.

The legislation would establish simple, clear protection for the property owner. The executive law would require that any action to enforce violations would have to be commenced by the APA within ten years after the occurrence of the violation or within ten years after the violation should have been discovered, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, by a public servant who has the responsibility to enforce the relevant provision.

Sen. Little's spokesman Dan Mac Entee pointed out to the media that the legislation has been supported by local governments throughout the Adirondacks, including the Warren, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton County Boards of Supervisors, and that the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., and the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board have also supported enactment of the legislation.

Since the APA was established in 1973, thirty-seven years have elapsed, and properties have changed hands over the years. In the early years, many people sold part of their property to neighbors without knowing that the APA had jurisdiction. Some of these single-lot "subdivision" violations are just now being discovered, often decades later.

In addition, people have built houses over the years, and, even though recognition of the APA's power is now widespread, they still innocently construct waterfront retaining walls and docks, add porches and decks to houses, and make countless potentially jurisdictional modifications to their property without knowing that they need an APA permit. Once ten years have elapsed, the statute of limitations would put their minds to rest and relieve them of potentially expensive legal fees or fines.

The APA is flooded with requests for jurisdictional determinations. The agency's expenses would be reduced significantly if it could cut off at the ten-year mark its procedure of researching property histories.

Property sales would be facilitated by eliminating the research projects going back thirty-seven years to track down jurisdictional violations.

Furthermore, the statute of limitations would cut off at the end of ten years the waste of financial resources that began with the availability of new staff in the past few years to ferret out old violations using the APA's sophisticated computer capacity to uncover local real property assessment changes without having to personally visit local assessors' offices. Resentment at the spate of violation notices that the APA has been sending out for innocently executed old "subdivisions" could be avoided if the agency were relieved of deathless enforcement power. The APA drafts elaborate settlement agreements to deal with these discoveries, from which the APA would be significantly relieved if the ten-year limit were enacted.

Property owners in the Adirondacks would have the same security at the passage of time that rapists, robbers, and all other types of criminals except murderers experience if the APA statute of limitations legislation is enacted. A great cloud of uncertainty over people's heads would be lifted.

A parallel bill has been introduced into the Assembly by Teresa Sayward (R – 113th District).

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