City wins adverse possession dispute

1716 Pacific Street in Brooklyn. Image: Google Maps.

Department of Sanitation parked trucks on lot for more than ten years. In 1948, Vertley Clanton and her husband acquired a lot located at 1716 Pacific Street in the Utica area of Brooklyn, between Schenectady and Utica Avenues. Clanton’s property was across the street from a garage owned by New York City Department of Sanitation and surrounded by City-owned lots. Clanton lived in Manhattan for some time before eventually moving out of state. Clayton did not frequently visit the empty lot, but continued to pay taxes to the City throughout her life. Over time, Sanitation paved Clanton’s property, fenced it in, installed lighting and used the property as a parking lot for garbage trucks.

In 2007, the estate of Vertley Clanton sued the City to establish ownership of the property. The City responded by claiming ownership through adverse possession. The trial court ruled in favor of the original owner, holding that her estate was still the rightful owner because Clayton had paid taxes to the City which had continued to collect the money during the period in which the adverse possession allegedly occurred.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Second Department reversed and ruled in favor of the City. The court held that Sanitation had become the new owner of the lot through adverse possession because the “mere” paying of taxes by the original owner was not sufficient to outweigh the actual, open and notorious nature of the use by the City during the statutory period. The court also ruled that knowledge of the true ownership by another City agency through tax payments was not sufficient to defeat the claim of an otherwise open and hostile adverse possession.

Estate of Clanton v. City of New York, 60 N.Y.S.3d 362 (2nd Dep’t  Aug. 2017) (Attorneys: Jonathan S. Roller, for Estate; Zachary W. Carter, Claude S. Platton, Damion K.L. Stodola, for City).

By: Avra Kutcher (Avra is a student at New York Law School, Class of 2019)

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