By Edward Eastman, executive director of the New Jersey Land Title Association
This is in response to the op-ed article that appeared on Dec. 21, 2009, “Giving Away Our Store.” Michele Byers claims the state would give away a steady source of income if a bill clarifying adverse possession claims becomes law.
This is untrue. This legislation will clarify New Jersey’s overlapping and inconsistent laws relating to adverse possession while preserving the rights of property owners and governmental bodies. It will also settle the matter of the state exercising claims over property it should not have rights to.
The state claims ownership of lands currently or formerly flowed by tidal water. However, the tidelands maps were hand-drawn in the 1800’s and not filed until a century later.
At the Senate Committee hearing on this bill, we heard the story of Mr. Green and his wife. They bought their house in Avalon about 43 years ago and just found out the state has a tidelands claim. At the time of purchase, they had no way of knowing because the state had not yet filed its maps.
These property owners have paid their mortgages and taxes, and now must purchase their property again from the state – based on current market value, not that at the time of purchase.
Also during the committee hearing, we heard the DEP knew of these claims when the maps were filed and made a conscious decision not to alert the property owners. They chose to wait until owners decided to sell their property. However, property values are now significantly higher, so the property owner’s monetary burden is drastically increased from what it would have been at the time of purchase. Another representative of DEP also admitted that the tidelands maps may not be completely accurate.
Ms. Byers’ claim the state will lose $10 million in revenue is inaccurate. The money from these claims does not go to the general fund. It is deposited into a trust fund, used as a guaranty against the local school board bonds. We know the number will be less because legislation only applies to certain properties.
All we ask is simple justice for property owners in the state – Don’t make them buy their homes twice.
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