Most aspiring homeowners understand that owning property involves a great deal of responsibility. When you own property, all of the maintenance and liabilities which would otherwise be taken care of by a landlord are absorbed by you. A leaky faucet, faulty drain or unstable foundation is no longer someone else’s obligation. Usually, the responsibilities of homeownership are fairly mundane and do not place an extreme level of stress on homeowners. Every now and then, however, homeownership presents a unique problem which demands an inordinate amount of attention and energy in order to fix. The case of Mannillo v. Gorski (1969) is one example of such a problem.
Gorski (the defendant and appellant) acquired possession of a piece of land in 1946. Mannillo (the plaintiff and respondent) possessed a piece of land which was adjacent to Gorski’s land. Gorski’s son made various improvements to Gorski’s property in the summer of 1946. One of these improvements encroached upon Mannillo’s property. The encroachment was quite small and was not easily visible to the casual observer. By the time Mannillo decided to bring a suit against Gorski in order to remove the encroachment, the statutory period of time required for adverse possession had been satisfied. Gorski argued that he had lawfully gained title to the disputed land because his encroachment satisfied both the element of time as well as the other statutory requirements of adverse possession.
The question before the court was: did Gorski gain title to the disputed section of land by way of adverse possession according to the state (in this case, the state of New Jersey) statute?
In order to gain title by way of adverse possession, the possession must be exclusive, continuous, uninterrupted, visible and notorious, and it must satisfy the statutorily defined period of time.
Importantly, the court in Mannillo v. Gorski determined that there need not be an element of knowing intentional hostility on the part of the adverse possessor. Though an earlier court opinion held that such a mental state was required, the court in Mannillo v. Gorski concluded that such a state was unnecessary.
The court (the Supreme Court of New Jersey) remanded the case and ordered a new trial. Mannillo had succeeded at the trial court level because the trial court included intentional hostility as part of the requirements for adverse possession. And Gorski had actually been under the impression that the disputed section of land was within his territorial boundary, and so clearly the encroachment could not be said to be knowingly hostile. The Supreme Court threw this requirement out.
However, the court found that Gorski’s encroachment did not necessarily satisfy the requirements of adverse possession because the encroachment was so minor as to be practically unnoticeable without focused scrutiny. In cases involving a minor encroachment across adjacent properties, the true owner must have actual knowledge of the encroachment in order for the requirements of adverse possession to be met. The court ordered the new trial to utilize this updated standard.
Clearly, the facts of Mannillo v. Gorski are not likely to be replicated very often; but Mannillo v. Gorski is still something homeowners should be aware of because it illustrates the sort of bizarre difficulties which can occasionally arise during the course of homeownership. Again, if you own property, you probably will not experience what Mr. Mannillo experienced, but it is still important to be aware of even the most unlikely possibilities.
Image credit: MarkMoz12
If you’re a homeowner and you’d like to learn more about the tax benefits which arise through property ownership, view the following webcast presentation by our resident CPA Jessica Chisholm