Churches can lose a portion of their property to a neighboring landowner as a result of "adverse possession."
A neighboring landowner claimed title to 2 portions of a church's property as a result of adverse possession. The first portion of land claimed by the neighbor was land up to a boundary line that was set back several feet onto the church's property.
For at least 11 years, the church and neighboring landowner considered this line to be their actual boundary line. The second portion of land claimed by the neighbor was a tract that he maintained for more than 11 years. A New York appellate court concluded that the church had lost its right to both portions of land.
With respect to the first portion (land lost by the incorrect boundary line), the court observed: "Testimony shows the practical location of the boundary line and acquiescence thereto by the respective property owners for at least 11 years. Practical location and acquiescence for the statutory period is conclusive as to the location of the boundary line."
With respect to the second portion of property (that had been maintained by the neighboring landowner), the court observed that for 14 years the neighboring landowner "cultivated and maintained the subject parcel, mowed it, planted a garden and trees on it, and erected a garage, swimming pool, storage shed and clothes line on it. We find that these facts established that [the neighbor] possessed the parcel hostilely and under claim of right, actually, openly and notoriously, exclusively and continuously for the statutory period."
What this means for churches
This case demonstrates the potential loss of property that may result from erroneous boundary lines and fences, and the maintenance and use of a portion of a church's property by a neighbor. Chavoustie v. Stone Street Baptist Church, 569 N.Y.S.2d 528 (A.D. 4 Dept. 1991).