CPLR § 212(a) “Under the law that existed at the time…”

CPLR § 212 Actions to be commenced within ten years
(a) Possession necessary to recover real property

Asher v Borenstein, 2010 NY Slip Op 06611 (App. Div., 2nd 2010)

In July 2008, Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law §§ 501, 522, and 543 were amended. The amendments applied solely to those actions commenced after July 7, 2008. Since the plaintiff commenced this action prior to July 7, 2008, those amendments are not applicable to this action.

Under the law as it existed at the time that the plaintiff filed her lawsuit, where a claim of adverse possession was not based upon a written document, the plaintiff had to demonstrate that she "usually cultivated, improved, or substantially enclosed the land" (Walsh v Ellis, 64 AD3d 702, 703; see former RPAPL former 522). Moreover, the plaintiff had to establish that her possession of the disputed parcel was "(1) hostile and under claim of right; (2) actual; (3) open and notorious; (4) exclusive; and (5) continuous for the required period" (Walling v Przybylo, 7 NY3d 228, 232; see Walsh v Ellis, 64 AD3d 702). We agree with the Supreme Court that the plaintiff satisfied these requirements.

Here, the defendants admitted that the fence between the two properties encroached approximately three feet onto their property and stood in the same location from the time they purchased their property in 1996 until the plaintiff brought suit, and that they were aware that the fence was not on the true property line when they took possession of their property. Nevertheless, from 1996 through 2008, the defendants took no action to eject the plaintiff. Accordingly, the defendants have conceded, through their admissions and their actions, that the plaintiff continually possessed the property for the 10-year statutory period (see Walling v Przybylo, 7 NY3d at 232; CPLR 212[a]).

The law as it existed at the time that the plaintiff filed her lawsuit made it clear that even "actual knowledge that another person is the title owner does not, in and of itself, defeat a claim of right by an adverse possessor" (Walling v Przybylo, 7 NY3d at 230; see Merget v Westbury Props., LLC, 65 AD3d 1102, 1105). Instead, "[c]onduct will prevail over knowledge, particularly when the true owners have acquiesced in the exercise of ownership rights by the adverse possessors" (Walling v Przybylo, 7 NY3d at 232-233; see Hall v Sinclaire, 35 AD3d 660, 663). Accordingly, the question of whether the plaintiff was aware that her fence encroached upon the defendants' property is immaterial to her proof of the element of hostility in this matter.

For actions commenced prior to July 7, 2008, "[t]he type of cultivation or improvement sufficient to satisfy the statute will vary with the character, condition, location and potential uses for the property" (Birnbaum v Brody, 156 AD2d 408, 408; see former RPAPL 522[1]). Here, the plaintiff's cultivation and improvement of the disputed parcel, consisting of maintaining the grass, planting shrubs, and installing a walkway, was consistent with the use to which a " thrifty owner[]'" would put comparable property (Ray v Beacon Hudson Mtn. Corp., 88 NY2d 154, 160, quoting Ramapo Mfg. Co. v Mapes, 216 NY 362, 373; see former RPAPL 522[1]; Birnbaum v Brody, 156 AD2d at 408-409; see also 2 N. St. Corp. v Getty Saugerties Corp., 68 AD3d 1392, 1394-1395; but see Giannone v Trotwood Corp., 266 AD2d 430, 431). In addition, the presence of the fence for the statutory period constituted a substantial enclosure of the disputed parcel (see former RPAPL 522[2]; Morris v DeSantis, 178 AD2d 515, 516; Birnbaum v Brody, 156 AD2d at 409).

Since the record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence, under the law existing at the time this action was commenced, that the plaintiff cultivated or improved the subject parcel, enclosed it with a fence, and satisfied the elements of adverse possession, and the defendants "acquiesce[d] . . . in the exercise of an obvious adverse or hostile ownership through the statutory period" (Walling v Przybylo, 7 NY3d at 232 [internal quotation marks omitted]), the Supreme Court properly determined that the plaintiff acquired title to the disputed parcel via adverse possession.

The bold is mine.

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