Who’s land is it anyway?
A man lost his more than $100,000 property in a Delaware beachside community after his neighbor claimed squatter’s rights during a court battle over the parcel.
Burton Banks was forced to transfer to Melissa Schrock the title of the undeveloped land he inherited from his late father due to the little-known adverse possession code in the Diamond State, according to the Delaware News Journal.
Banks reportedly wanted to sell part of of the Ocean View property in 2021, worth about $125,000, when he discovered Schrock had a goat pen on it for decades. She also used about two-thirds of the acre belonging to Banks for other purposes.
She refused to leave the land and weeks later, Banks lodged a complaint to force her to scram. But Schrock then filed a counterclaim of adverse possession tied to the animal enclosure and to land that even went beyond that, the newspaper reported.
“It’s just always been my backyard since I was a little kid,” Schrock told the News Journal.
A judge agreed, finding that Banks and his spouse David Barrett mostly lived in Atlanta and “only occasionally” stayed in Ocean View. Their brief visits made it hard for them to convince the courts Schrock had not freely used the land for the last couple decades.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz titled the property to Schrock in February, according to News Journal.
Banks told the outlet he can’t afford an appeal, “but (I’m) hoping I can at least warn others.”
Oddly enough, Banks’ father left an adjacent lot to Schrock’s mother, who later died and bequeathed the property to her daughter, according to court documents.
Another neighbor also reportedly had an animal enclosure that encroached on the property, but that person agreed to remove it.
In a similar case from 2015, the Delaware Court of Chancery gave 15 acres of property to a hunter who used the land that wasn’t his for 20 years, the newspaper reported.
A law professor with Widener University, Serena Williams, said back then about the law: “It can be shocking because most people don’t know about it.”