American law governing the use, transfer, and enjoyment of real property was inherited from English common law, and its foundational principles are based in English statutes and court decisions that date back to the 1500s or even earlier.
In a city as densely packed as New York, easements are common. Black’s Law Dictionary defines an easement as “an interest in land owned by another person, consisting in the right to use or control the land, or an area above or below it, for a specific limited purpose.” Perhaps the best-known type of easement is one for ingress and egress, where the owners of the dominant estate enjoy a right to come and go across a portion of the servient estate. But an easement is not a physical piece of land; it is an intangible right, and there are many types of easements other than for ingress and egress such as to run sewers or cables over another property, to store property there, or to prevent obstruction of light and air.
Because they involve the use of one property by another, easements can cause conflicts between neighbors. The creation, extinguishment, maintenance, and hindrance of easements are subjects of frequent litigation. We have come up with creative solutions to many tricky problems involving easements.
This doctrine enables someone who occupies real property in an “open, notorious, exclusive, and hostile” fashion for a certain length of time to claim it away from the real owner. In New York State, the period for adverse possession is ten years. Whether or not the requirements for adverse possession are met in a given case is a complex, case-by-case inquiry. Our firm has represented both claimants and defenders against such claims.
Restrictive Covenants in Deeds:
Sometimes, property owners try to designate or restrict the future use of a parcel of land in a deed. These deed restrictions, which supposedly “run with the land” to successive owners, can result from agreements between neighbors, or can be self-imposed. These restrictions can include range from the innocuous (to keep trees in place) to the altruistic (to always use the property for charitable purposes, such as a clinic) to the moralistic (bans against bars or liquor stores) to the bizarre (prohibitions against certain animals). One of the most fiendishly difficult rules in all of American law, the Rule Against Perpetuities, can sometimes be used to prevent “the dead hand” from hindering property owners for all time. However, these covenants can diminish or destroy property values. Expert representation is needed to defeat or work around these covenants (or to enforce them against neighbors, if one is so inclined).
New York property owners can petition state courts to solve disputes over easements, deed covenants, boundaries, adverse possession, etc. in an action to “quiet title.” Our firm has brought and defended many such actions.
Many buildings in the City share party walls with their neighbors. A party wall can be enlarged or put to new uses by either side, as long as such use doesn’t prevent like use by the other. Disputes over one side’s abuse of the wall, or over maintenance, are common.
Trespass and Nuisance:
Trespass is the entry onto property without permission of the owner by people or things (parts of buildings, plants, vehicles, etc.) that don’t belong there. Nuisance is the substantial interference with another’s enjoyment of his or her land, usually by means of something intangible but harmful such as smoke, noise, odors, dust, vibration, vermin, etc. Trespass and nuisance are common complaints during construction operations.