Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Boston.com has an article on an interesting dispute involving adverse possession, unbuildable lots, and more:
HOLBROOK -- In 1908, a downtown Brockton store owner offered his customers a deal: buy a men's suit and he would throw in a tiny plot of land out in the country.
Daniel W. Baker of Besse, Baker, and Co. clothiers had purchased 40 acres of open land known as Edgewood Park in then-rural Holbrook. He divided the property into lots of about 85-by-20 feet or smaller and gave away hundreds. He kept the ones left over when the promotion ended.
This unorthodox marketing ploy has today left a tangle of claims and conflict that could take another century to unravel.
Many of the approximately 500 unbuildable lots are orphans; the town does not know who owns them, and isn't collecting some $750,000 in taxes owed on the parcels.
Moreover, a local sewer contractor who does own a few of the lots is claiming squatter's rights to the entire 40-acre parcel, setting off a confrontation with Daniel Baker's surviving heirs, and some nearby residents who say he's barred them from woods that had been accessible for decades.
"As far as I'm concerned, I own it," said Wayne D. Crosby, who has operated Tri-Town sewerage and other business operations on a portion of the property since 1976.
But Baker's surviving heirs, brothers Peter and John Blatchford, own about 136 lots, according to town records, which they would like to donate to the town. But they have been deadlocked with local officials over a $130,000 bill for back taxes.
In the meantime, the Blatchfords and Crosby have locked horns over access to the property. Crosby has installed a locked gate across one entrance to the property, fences on part of the perimeter, and posted no trespassing signs on some of the disputed land. He has also threatened to call police if anyone comes onto the property, and more pointedly barred Peter Blatchford after he tried to go on the land.
"There's a squatter on the land, and he's locked everyone out," said Peter Blatchford. "I don't want to pay taxes on land I have no access to."
The intensity of the battle has some Holbrook officials leery.
"It almost reminds me of the Hatfields and the McCoys," said Selectman Richard McGaughey.
There's a lot at stake. Land values in this small community have shot up as home buyers have reached deeper into the suburbs to find available and more affordable housing stock. A typical house lot in town might sell for around $250,000, said Kimberly Allard-Moccia , former president of the Plymouth and South Shore Association of Realtors. So 40 acres of mostly undeveloped land is probably worth millions to whomever ends up controlling it.
Squatter's rights, or in legal terms "adverse possession," stem from English common law and allow an individual under certain circumstances to obtain ownership of property without a title after occupying it for a specified number of years. In Massachusetts, the requirement to claim squatter's rights is 20 years.
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