A Delaware man recently discovered while trying to sell part of the property his family has owned for two generations that his neighbor had taken control of the land, and he has lost possession after the neighbor claimed squatter’s rights.
In 2021, Burton Banks tried to sell part of a property his father had left him near Ocean View, Delaware, but found that his neighbor, Melissa Schrock, had erected a goat pen on part of the property and had been using roughly two-thirds of an acre of the property for decades, Delaware Online reported.
Banks took Schrock, who claimed squatter’s rights, to court and a judge ruled against him.
The judge determined that Banks had not been a primary resident of the property for the last 20 years and only occasionally visited from where he lived in Atlanta which, according to Delaware’s adverse possession law, gives Schrock claim to the property after 20 years.
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“It can be shocking because most people don’t know about it,” Widener University law professor Serena Williams told the outlet about squatters rights in the state.
The case was further complicated by the fact that both properties were owned by individuals for much of the last 20 years who are both deceased, Burton’s father and Schrock’s mother. Schrock’s mother had also been given the land by Burton’s father before he died and passed it down to Schrock when she died.
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“It’s just always been my backyard since i was a kid,” Schrock argued in her counterclaim.
In February, Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz ruled that Schrock had met the 20-year occupation requirement and Burton had not, so Burton was forced to hand the property title to Schrock.
The value of the property Burton lost is estimated at $125,000.
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“I can’t afford the appeal,” Burton said. “But (I’m) hoping I can at least warn others.”