Beyond Atlanta

The Time Paddy’s Pub Nearly Fell Victim to Zoning

It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, unless you’re being evicted from your property by your new neighbor. This is the premise for season two, episode two, that leads the gang on a wild goose chase in search of legal, and non-legal, recourse to save their pub from neighborly annexation.

The episode begins with the gang meeting their new neighbor for the first time and promptly receiving a notice to vacate due to a property line discrepancy. According to the city’s “zoning grid,” the neighbor’s adjacent property actually extends 100 feet north, meaning that half of Paddy’s Pub is now the property of the new neighbor. As comical as the situation is when it’s happening within the consequence-free universe inside your entertainment box, property line conflicts are a real problem. They could happen anywhere, even in your own backyard.

When the gang visits an attorney, he informs them that they have no legal recourse (“legal” recourse) since they had the opportunity to purchase the 100-foot swath of land when they originally bought the property.

its-always-sunny

The gang receiving the bad news. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX Networks

Had the gang initially gotten their ducks in a row, and while not specifically addressed in bird law doctrine, the principle of adverse possession may have foiled their neighbor’s plan. The general concept of adverse possession is that land should be utilized; if land is being ignored by its owner then someone else should have the ability to gain title to the land if they put it to use. Most states, if not all, have adopted a system of adverse possession. While we colloquially refer to this principle as “squatters’ rights,” the law in Georgia is not meant to benefit those “squatting” on vacant land and rarely operates in such a fashion. That is to say, it doesn’t benefit those who are occupying a property that they know belongs to someone else.[1]

 

Had the gang not been made aware of the boundary issue at the time they purchased the property, they may have a pretty good adverse possession argument. Under Georgia law, and most states employ similar principles, the gang would have to occupy the 100 feet claimed by the neighbor in a “public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, and peaceable manner” for a specific period of time.[2] When a property is sold, ownership of that property (‘title’) is conveyed through a deed. A deed, though, is just a document that serves to evidence the transfer of title. So someone who has no ownership of a property can still execute a deed, though no real ownership will have been conveyed. However, this is where adverse possession can come into play.

In a scenario where the gang received a deed to the property which purported to also convey the 100 feet, despite the seller of the property not actually owning those 100 feet, then they would need to occupy the 100-foot area for 7 years to gain title through adverse possession. Even if they received no deed, or if the deed they received did not include the 100 feet, they could gain title by occupying the 100 feet for 20 years. Since Dennis, Mac, Charlie, and Dee are supposed to be in their late 20’s to early 30’s, it’s unlikely they would have occupied the property for 20 years; however, if the previous owner was occupying their property under the same  assumption that the 100-feet were part of their property then that owner’s time of occupancy could be tacked onto the gang’s time of occupancy to help them reach the 20 year threshold.[3]

The key issues are whether they actually occupied the property and whether they did it in a “public, continuous, exclusive, uninterrupted, and peaceable manner.” The general idea is that you must occupy the property in an “open and notorious” way so as to put others on notice that you are claiming the property. Basically, your occupation must be obvious and the rightful owner must have taken no actions related to removing you or allowing you to remain on the land. Constructing improvements on the property (such as a bar), acting like you own the land (putting your business name on it), and actively enforcing trespassing laws easily satisfies the “occupation in an open and notorious way” requirements. While mistaking land to be your own generally does not result in acquiring title via adverse possession if the gang mistakenly believed they owned the 100 feet and the actual owner also mistakenly believed they owned the 100 feet then adverse possession could apply.[4]

paddys-pub

Paddy’s Pub via Fictional Companies Wiki

Had the gang known the 100 feet didn’t belong to them at the time of the purchase, their prospects would be much dimmer. Well, they would be if they were living in Georgia. Adverse possession law in Georgia, unlike in other states, does not allow one to gain title if they are knowingly trespassing on land; they must have a good-faith claim of right to the land. This is why squatting on vacant land that has fences and no trespassing signs would likely never result in the squatter gaining title. If the gang actually had been presented with the opportunity to purchase the additional 100 feet and they declined, then this probably suffices to prove that they were aware that they didn’t own the land. However, a good faith claim to the property is presumed until the contrary is shown, so the burden would be on the new neighbor to show that the gang was unreasonable in believing that they owned the 100 feet.

Since they chose not to purchase the additional 100 feet, they could theoretically have entered a lease agreement for that land. This means the adjacent property owner would have given them permission to occupy that property. If permission was given, adverse possession could not apply; the gang could not acquire title without the adjacent property owner conveying it to them. However, the burden would once again be on the new neighbor to prove that the gang had received permission in order to defeat their adverse possession claim.[5]

If they couldn’t gain title through adverse possession then the gang could call upon any lease agreement they had executed with the previous owner. If they signed a lease with the old neighbor then the new neighbor would be obligated to honor that lease until its termination so long as the new neighbor had notice of the lease.[6] In the end, though, the gang devises their own solution for the property line conflict. But we don’t recommend it.


[1] Hinkel, Daniel F. Pindar’s Georgia Real Estate Law and Procedure. Volume 2. §12:1-7. Pages 185-190.

[2] Ga. Code. §44-5-161(a)(3)

[3] Hinkel, Daniel F. Pindar’s Georgia Real Estate Law and Procedure. Volume 2. §12:4. Pages 186-187.

[4] Hinkel, Daniel F. Pindar’s Georgia Real Estate Law and Procedure. Volume 2. §12:16. Pages 196-197.

[5] Hinkel, Daniel F. Pindar’s Georgia Real Estate Law and Procedure. Volume 2. §12:17-19. Pages 197-199.

[6] Hinkel, Daniel F. Pindar’s Georgia Real Estate Law and Procedure. Volume 2. §11:28. Pages 49-50.

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