Tag: adverse possession

Quiet Title, Adverse Possession, and Color of Title

The title of this blog encompasses three differing but often overlapping areas of Georgia law. The Georgia Court of Appeals decided a case involving all three: quiet title, adverse possession, and color of title. See Brownphil, LLC v. Cudjoe, __ Ga. App. __ (March 14, 2024, A23A1762).

To understand the case, we have to quickly review the title history. The property was obtained by Earnest and Louise McClendon in 1958. They conveyed their interest to Grier Construction Company (owned by Freddie Grier). In 1997, Freddie Grier—not Grier Construction—conveyed the property to Cudjoe. Brownphil got involved when he got a quitclaim deed from Earnest and Louis McClendon’s heirs.

Brownphil filed a quiet title action to clear the title of the property, claiming that Cudjoe did not have an interest in the property because Grier Construction was not incorporated at the time it received the property from Earnest and Louise McClendon and because Freddie Grier—the party that granted the property to Cudjoe—was never on the title. Cudjoe argued that he obtained full title by adverse possession.

Interestingly, the special master appointed to the case sided with Brownphil. But, after a hearing, the trial court ruled in favor of Cudjoe.

An appeal followed in which Brownphil argued that Cudjoe had not done enough to establish adverse possession. After receiving a deed from Freddie Grier, Cudjoe paid the property taxes and mowed the lawn. Brownphil argued that paying taxes and lawn mowing are insufficient to gain title by adverse possession.

After reviewing the facts and prior cases, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Cudjoe. The Court of Appeals cited the legal doctrine of “color of title” as the main reason for favoring Cudjoe. Color of title means that someone has a writing (usually a deed) that appears to grant them title. When someone has color of title, importantly, they only have to show seven years of adverse possession and the element of “notoriety” usually required for adverse possession is waived. Notoriety means placing the world on notice that you adversely possess the property. Only having to show seven years and not having to establish notoriety makes it much easier to display adverse possession.

Based on this easier standard, the Court of Appeals found that Cudjoe had shown enough to obtain title to the property through adverse possession.

If you have any questions regarding a quiet title, adverse possession, or color of title, please call us at 404-382-9994.   

Private Ways in Georgia Require Seven Years of Adverse Use

Private ways in Georgia are a type of easement that permit individuals to travel to and from their property and places of business. These ways cannot be wider than 20 feet, and the person claiming the private way is responsible for keeping it open and in good condition. This information is based on OCGA 44-9-40.

Thus, if you use a path through someone’s land for seven years straight, you may have the right to use it even if it’s not yours. This is called a private way by prescription, based on OCGA § 44-9-1. If the owner of the land obstructs your path, you can take them to court under OCGA § 44-9-59(a) to have the obstruction removed. However, if the owner gave you permission to use the path , you cannot acquire the right to use the path by prescription. The owner must be informed that you are making a hostile claim to their property and must be given actual notice of your adverse use. See Douglas v. Knox, 232 Ga. App. 551, 552 (2) (1998).

If your neighbor gives you permission to use their driveway, it’s important to remember that they have the right to revoke that permission at any time. In legal terms, this means that using your neighbor’s driveway with permission does not create a private way. A recent court case, Pineda v. Lewis (__ Ga. App. __, October 4, 2023, A23A0909), reaffirmed this principle.

To create an private way, you must give your neighbor notice that your use is adverse. This is true even if you make repairs to the driveway with your neighbor’s consent.

The bottom line is that traveling over a neighbor’s property with permission does not create a private way by prescription. If you have questions regarding your property rights concerning a neighbor, please call us at 404-382-9994 to discuss.

Easements and the Atlanta Beltline

A recent legal case regarding the Atlanta Beltline provides insightful reading for those interested in easements. In 2017, the Ansley Walk Condominium Association sued the Atlanta Development Authority, also known as Invest Atlanta, claiming ownership of three properties adjacent to the Beltline.

The case is complex, as the Norfolk Southern Railway Company initially operated the properties as a railway. However, in 2004, Norfolk relinquished its interests in the properties, which then became part of the Beltline. At the time of the transfer, Norfolk reserved an easement to cross over the properties.

In 2017, Norfolk signed an agreement to terminate its easement rights over the properties. However, the agreement was vague, so Norfolk signed a corrective agreement in 2020 to address the issue. Ansley Walk sued, alleging that when Norfolk relinquished its easement rights, Ansley Walk gained unrestricted ownership of the properties.

Ansley Walk claimed damages for inverse condemnation, trespass, attorneys’ fees, and litigation expenses. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, meaning they each sought a ruling in their favor without a trial. A summary judgment aims to expedite litigation and avoid the expense of a jury trial. However, a summary judgment can only be granted when there are “no genuine issues as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law” OCGA § 9-11-56(c); Pfeiffer v. Ga. Dept. of Transp., 275 Ga. 827, 828 (2002).

After considering the arguments and the law, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Beltline and denied summary judgment to Ansley Walk. This means that, for now, the Beltline has won the case. However, Ansley Walk plans to appeal the decision and ask the Georgia Court of Appeals to review the trial court’s ruling.

In granting summary judgment, the trial court found that Ansley Walk failed to prove ownership of the three properties and that the 2020 corrective agreement properly canceled Norfolk’s easement rights. As a result, the Norfolk agreements about the easements did not transfer any property rights to Ansley Walk.

Although this case’s factual scenario is unlikely in most easement disputes, it is still an interesting example of how such disputes never go out of fashion. If you have a dispute regarding an easement, please contact us at 404-382-9994 to discuss your legal rights.

Adverse Possession and Property Disputes Clarified

The Georgia Court of Appeals issued a decision that provides some guidance to the often-unintuitive law known as adverse possession. In Houston v. James, A20A1689 (February 3, 2021), three siblings involved in a property dispute sued each other over a 28-acre parcel owned by their deceased father. One sibling lived on and took care of the 28 acres for more than 20 years. But his father left most of the property to the other two siblings. The sibling left out argued he owned the 28 acres by adverse possession. He claimed he had had publicly, continuously, uninterruptedly, and peaceably possessed the property for more than 20 years. His two siblings disagreed, arguing that the possession was without a “claim of right.”

To be adverse, possession must be for more than 20 years and must be public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, peaceable, accompanied by a claim of right, and not originate in fraud. OCGA § 44-5-161(a). Also, and quite importantly, the party adversely possessing must have a “claim of right” to the property.

A claim of right means the possessor claims the property as his own. Under Georgia law, a claim of right, or adverse possession, will be presumed from the assertion of dominion, particularly where the possessor has made valuable improvements. See Childs v. Sammons, 272 Ga. 737, 739 (2) (534 SE2d 409) (2000). Georgia courts have held that there does not need to be direct evidence of the state of mind of the possessor concerning claim of title; however, there must be evidence of some claim of title in the sense that the possessor claims the property as his own. Walker v. Sapelo Island Heritage Authority, 285 Ga. 194, 674 S.E.2d 925 (2009).

In Houston, the Court of Appeals concluded that a jury must decide whether the sibling claiming the property by adverse possession did so with a claim of right. If you have a property dispute concerning adverse possession, please call us at 404-382-9994 to discuss your options.

Easements by Adverse Possession or Prescription

Georgia law allows a party to obtain a private way, also known as an easement, over the land of another through a process known as prescription (also sometimes called adverse possession). See OCGA Section 49-4-40 et seq. This requires seven years of uninterrupted use through improved lands. To show prescription, however, the party seeking an easement must show (1) uninterrupted use of the alleged private way, (2) that the private way is no more than twenty feet wide, (3) that they have kept the private way in repair, (4) and that the use was public, continuous, exclusive, peaceable, and accompanied by a claim of right. Finally, the use of the alleged easement must be adverse. This means that there cannot be adverse possession if the owner gives permission to use the property.

To obtain an easement over another’s land, the party seeking an easement must prove each of the above elements. All things being equal, the courts will favor the property owner over the party claiming an easement. This makes sense. Obtaining a legal right to go over someone else’s property should not be easy. On the other hand, a property owner has some responsibility to know how his or her property is being used by another and to prevent unauthorized use.

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case decided this issue. In Wilkes 581 Farms, LLC v. McAvoy, A20A1225 (September 18, 2020), a party claimed an easement over a road belonging to another party. The court ruled against an easement over the road because the property owner had permitted the party claiming the easement to use the road. Thus, the claim was not “adverse.” In other words, if a property owner gives permission, there cannot be adverse possession or prescription.

Secondarily, the court ruled that the party seeking an easement lost because he could not show that the use of the road was exclusive. Instead, the evidence showed that others used the road. Finally, the court ruled that the alleged use was not adverse because the party claiming the easement had not notified the other property owner that he was claiming an ownership interest in the property owner’s property. The court explained that merely using a road for seven years is not enough to create adverse use. Instead, the party claiming an easement must make repairs or take other action to notify the property owner that someone else was claiming an ownership interest in his land.

If you have an easement question or dispute, please call us at 404-382-9994.