A man has been ordered by a court to give up the property rights on a $100,000 beachfront property in Delaware after the neighbor invoked an obscure law.
According to Delaware Online, in February, Burton Banks tried to sell his undeveloped beach property near Ocean View, Delaware, but he was met with a rather shocking discovery.
His neighbor, Melissa Schrock, had a goat pen on the property and claimed squatters’ rights. The judge then ordered Banks to relinquish the title to Schrock since she had a claim on it, and Banks lost over $100,000.
At this point you might be wondering, how can this happen?
It is due to a very obscure and controversial law regarding property rights in Delaware.
Delaware has adverse property laws, which allow a person to claim ownership of property that is not technically theirs if they have occupied it for 20 years.
In this case, Banks had sold a portion of the land to Schrock’s mother, who left it to her daughter. In 2021, Banks tried to sell the part of the property adjacent to Schrock’s portion but found animal pens that encroached on his property.
Since this had been going on for at least 20 years, Schrock claimed adverse possession, and the court ruled in her favor, meaning that Banks lost the land.
Obviously, this was very shocking to Banks and to many people in Delaware, who had no idea that this could happen to their properties. “It can be shocking because most people don’t know about it,” Widener University law professor Serena Williams said.
Banks, meanwhile, is obviously devastated about the loss but hopes that his story will be a lesson to others. “[I’m] hoping I can at least warn others,” he said.
Frankly, this is a rather disturbing revelation, as it could potentially be a slippery slope when it comes to property rights. How many other states have laws like this that are unknown to most of their citizens?
If people are not careful, they could end up losing their property just like Banks did, and there is hardly anything that they will be able to do about it.
This is especially important when it comes to owning a vacation home or caring for the property of a loved one. We need to be very alert to what happens on our property in order to avoid something like this happening to us.
Fortunately, there are ways that we can avoid this. For instance, have your property surveyed to make sure you know what the boundaries are, clear up any uncertainty about the title, and most importantly, always know what is happening on your property.
Make sure to remove anything that you have not placed on the property because, as Professor Williams says, “that’s the beginning of adverse possession.”
So Banks’ story should serve as a warning to all of us. We need to ensure that we know what is happening on our property, and we need to be well-acquainted with our state’s property laws in order to prevent something from coming out of the blue to bite us.
If we neglect to take care of our property in the right way, we may end up like Burton Banks.
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