Canandaigua, N.Y. — An Ontario County Court judge has ruled that a couple must give up a strip of their yard to their neighbors because the neighbors have taken care of it for more than 10 years.
Ontario County Judge Frederick Reed ruled June 22 in favor of David and Karyl Hammond, meaning they satisfied all the requirements needed to take possession of part of Gordon and Esther Baker’s property under the “adverse possession” doctrine.
In his ruling, Reed agreed the Hammonds had a right to the land, a 35-by-170-foot strip that borders the Hammonds’ yard on Laura Lane in Canandaigua, because there was sufficient evidence that they maintained the land since 1985. Adverse possession allows people to obtain the title to a piece of land by using it, provided the owner of the property does not dispute the use. In New York, landowners have 10 years to claim back land from encroachment.
David Hammond referred all questions to his attorney, Toby Reh. Hammod and his wife filed a lawsuit against the Bakers in October last year.
“I’m thrilled for my client,” Reh said. “The judge did exactly the right thing, based on the evidence and the law.”
Reh said the Hammonds tried to avoid the dispute but decided to take action when the Bakers’ son, Randall Baker, who was also named in the suit, began tearing down a hedgerow on the property which was a privacy barrier against traffic on Wyffels Road.
Hammond tried to work out an agreement with his neighbors, Reh said, but was repeatedly told nothing would happen to the hedge.
Russ Kenyon, who represented the Bakers, had a different view of the ruling.
“I’m very disappointed by the ruling,” said Russ Kenyon, Gordon and Esther Baker’s attorney. “I don’t believe the evidence supports that decision.”
While Hammond may have been taking care of the land since the early 1980s, Kenyon said his clients did not buy their property until 2003, and they did raise an objection when they discovered Hammond had built a shed on the land.
Kenyon added that the work Hammond did on the land was behind the hedgerow, and not immediately noticeable by the Bakers.
Family members said the ordeal has been traumatic for the Bakers, who are both in their mid-80s.
“All of this has worn them down so much,” said daughter-in-law Addy Baker, who is married to their son, Randall.
Still, Addy Baker vowed to appear the ruling, saying that her in-laws did nothing wrong and do not deserve to bear the costs of the title transfer and remapping of the land. Should the tribe have a right to land after they abandoned it after 200 years?