Cotenant’s Exclusive Possession and Payment of Taxes and Maintenance Costs, Standing Alone, Are Not Enough to Establish Adverse Possession As Against a Cotenant/Criteria for Ouster of Cotenant Not Met
The Third Department determined that the motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action was properly granted. A cotenant who had resided at the property, maintained the property, and paid the taxes for over two decades, brought an action seeking exclusive ownership based upon ouster of defendant cotenant and/or adverse possession. Neither the complaint nor plaintiff’s submissions established the statutory criteria for ouster or adverse possession (Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law [RPAPL] 541) . There was no unequivocal expression by the possessory cotenant that the property was being adversely possessed, and the inclusion of the defendant cotenant’s name on a property insurance policy belied adverse possession. The court noted that exclusive possession and payment of maintenance expenses by a cotenant, standing alone, do not establish adverse possession:
The law that would have provided … plaintiff a valid legal claim with regard to the underlying property dispute is RPAPL 541, which provides that, “[w]here the relation of tenants in common has existed, the occupancy of one tenant . . . is deemed to have been the possession of the other, notwithstanding that the tenant so occupying the premises . . . has claimed to hold adversely to the other. But this presumption shall cease after the expiration of ten years of continuous exclusive occupancy by such tenant, . . . or immediately upon an ouster by one tenant of the other and such occupying tenant may then commence to hold adversely to his [or her] cotenant.” It is well settled that, “absent ouster, the period required by RPAPL 541 is 20 years of continuous exclusive possession before a cotenant may be said to acquire full title by adverse possession” … .
We reject plaintiff’s contention that she and Lindine ever ousted defendant or defendant’s parents from the property. An ouster will not be deemed to have occurred unless the possessory cotenant, either through words or actions, unequivocally expresses to the nonpossessory cotenant that the property is being adversely possessed … . * * *
Plaintiff alternatively contends that, even if no ouster has been established, she and Lindine adversely possessed the property, given their exclusive use of it for more than two decades (see RPAPL 541). In support of this argument, plaintiff emphasizes that she and Lindine paid all taxes and expenses for the property, and made all necessary repairs to its structural improvements. Defendant never visited the property during the years that plaintiff and Lindine lived there permanently and defendant’s parents, it is claimed, only did so twice. Even accepting these allegations as true, “exclusive possession and the payment of maintenance expenses by a [possessory] cotenant are[, standing alone,] insufficient to establish a claim of right for purposes of adverse possession as against a cotenant” … . Lindine v Iasenza, 2015 NY Slip Op 06275, 3rd Dept 7-23-15