A Country Justice, By Kevin Denton
No, it’s not true–at least not on those facts, but what your friend is referring to is the doctrine of adverse possession whereby it is possible that mere occupancy and use of real property may result in ownership. This is a subject for frequent questions and few areas of the law are as full of misconceptions and outright myths as adverse possession and its little brother , prescriptive easement. (The principles of the two are almost identical, but in the latter, only a right to use the property may be acquired as opposed to full ownership).
Let’s start with the time period required. By statute in New York State it’s ten years and not seven, but seven years
has become such a part of legal folklore that it is difficult to erase from the common knowledge. The required time is not so much an affirmative goal by the occupant as it is a sort of statute of limitations which may bar the owner from bringing a legal action to halt the use.
Next–and most critical–is the nature of the use. It is not enough that one use or occupancy of another’s land. Adverse possession will only apply where circumstances display the correct attitude. To count, the use must exhibit five elements: It must be hostile, actual, open, and notorious, exclusive and continuous. All five elements are required to be proved so it’s no wonder successful cases of adverse possession are so rare. I recall my law school property professor telling us that while we spent a lot of time studying adverse possession he doubted any of us would ever actually see an actual example of it.
And now, a wedding story: When I became a justice I was surprised to learn that many justices don’t do marriages at all. Unlike going out on a winter’s night to arraign criminal defendants, it is not a duty and many just don’t do them as a matter of course. I didn’t mind and number some in my fondest memories.
I remember the first one. An afternoon at my Memorial Avenue office was scheduled and Lynne ordered some flowers for my office where the ceremony would take place and had a piano concerto wafting from the library. Awaiting the wedding party we suddenly said, “What’s that noise outside? Motorcycles!–a lot of them. The whole group were bikers and could not have been sweeter. The wedding couple wore fresh white t-shirts with bold black lettering: BRIDE and GROOM.
a successful first outing but next time might dispense with the flowers and music.