Property Owner Fences Around Shed on Neighbor’s Land

Had Title to Enclosed Realty Been Acquired by Adverse Possession?.

Hongwei Guan and EZC Carolina LLC owned their two residences on adjoining parcels in the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County. In 2006, Guan became the titled owners of the western parcel and began using a shed that was fully located to the east of their boundary line. In 2021, EZC  became the titled owner of the eastern parcel and subsequently constructed a fence along the boundary line — resultantly enclosing the shed within EZC’s parcel.

Guan commenced an action seeking, among other things, to permanently enjoin EZC from maintaining the fence that prevented access to the shed, claiming to be the fee owner of the disputed area through adverse possession. After issue was joined and before the completion of discovery, Guan moved for partial summary judgment on the cause of action for a permanent injunction, which was opposed by EZC.  Supreme Court denied the motion in its entirety. Guan appealed.

In order to demonstrate ownership of the disputed area by adverse possession, Guan had the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the character of the possession was hostile and under a claim of right, actual, open and notorious, exclusive and continuous for the statutory period of 10 years.

In 2008, the Legislature enacted sweeping and material amendments to the provisions of the RPAPL governing claims of adverse possession.  As amended, a claim of right was now defined as “a reasonable basis for the belief that the property belongs to the adverse possessor or property owner, as the case may be”. Notably, the amendments also added RPAPL 543 (1), which provides that “the existence of de [minimis] non-structural encroachments including . . . sheds . . . shall be deemed to be permissive and non-adverse.” Although the 2008 amendments did not retroactively apply in matters where a party had acquired title by adverse possession prior to its enactment, such amendments apply when “the purported adverse possession could not vest prior to the enactment of the statute” .

Initially,  the 2008 amendments applied in this matter because the record failed to demonstrate any 10-year period before their enactment that could have allowed Guan’s title to vest. And applying the amended language of the RPAPL, the record also failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence whether Guan had a “reasonable basis” for the belief that the disputed area and shed belonged to him. Nor did Guan establish, as a matter of law, that the shed was not a de minimis encroachment.

Guan contended that the shed was approximately 10 feet by 20 feet and extended roughly 23 feet into EZC’s parcel–but it was also described in the record as a “moveable shed” and the record included a request to relocate the shed or pay rent if it was left in its current location. Based on the foregoing, Supreme Court properly denied Guan’s motion for partial summary judgment.

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