Tag: adverse possession
In a recent decision of the Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Verhulst Estate v. Denesik, 2016 ABQB 668, the Honourable Madam Justice Shelley considers whether a tenant in common can acquire another tenant in common’s interest through adverse possession.
Given the limited case law on this issue in Alberta, Madam Justice Shelley reviews the existing case law in the other Canadian provinces, including Ontario.
Mr. Denesik and Mr. Verhulst, were business associates who acquired three parcels of land as part of a joint venture in 1995. The parcels consisted of a 159 acre woodlot (the “larger parcel”), and two smaller river lots totalling 96 acres (the “river lots”). Denesik and Verhulst held title to all three parcels as tenants in common.
Denesik and Verhulst began logging the three parcels, and the proceeds from the logging operation were used to pay off the mortgage secured against the parcels. The logging operation ceased in or around 1996. Shortly thereafter, Denesik moved a mobile home onto the larger parcel. Denesik did not pay anything to Verhulst for his use and occupation of the property, however, he did pay the property taxes up until 2015. Verhulst lived in the city with his family, and held his interest in the parcels as an investment without in any way occupying the parcels.
Verhulst passed away in 2008. Verhulst’s Estate applied for an order of partition and sale in relation to the three parcels. Denesik then applied for a declaratory judgment for title to the land, based on a claim in adverse possession.
At First Instance
The matter was heard at first instance by Master Schlosser, who concluded there was no time at which Verhulst was dispossessed and Denesik ’s action of putting a trailer onto a portion of the larger parcel in 1996 was insufficient to establish a claim to the entirety of the larger parcel, much less the river lots [See, Denesik v Verhulst Estate, 2016 ABQB 36].
Denesik appealed the decision. The main issue for consideration on the appeal, not specifically addressed by the lower court, is whether a tenant in common can acquire another tenant in common’s interest through adverse possession.
Justice Shelley noted that Alberta was the only province in Canada (with the exception of Quebec) which did not have specific legislation enabling an adverse possession claim.
In Ontario, s. 11 of the Ontario Real Property Limitations Act, R.S.O. 1990 c L-15, provides a legislative scheme, which sustains adverse possession claims as between joint tenants or tenants in common [para 32]. See, Zigelstein v. Stobinski (1985) 51 O.R. (2d) 562.
In the absence of legislation enabling adverse possession in Alberta, Justice Shelley was required to consider the issue in the context of the Torrens land titles system. Ultimately, she found that given Alberta’s lack of explicit authorization for a claim between tenants in common, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible, to establish such a claim in Alberta [para 51].
Citing the Ontario decision in Zigelstein, Justice Shelley went on to say that even if an adverse possession claim is possible, for it to succeed, it is likely that the actions of one tenant in common would need to arise to the level of something akin to ouster. Not wishing to make use of the property does not equate to an intention to abandon ownership.
Justice Shelley dismissed the appeal, stating that Verhulst’s indifference arose out of his intended use of the parcels of land as an investment vehicle, and was not an indication that he had given up possession or an ownership interest.
Find this topic helpful? Please also consider these related Hull & Hull LLP Blogs:
- Joint Tenancy, Survivorship and Adverse Possession
- Severance of a Joint Tenancy by Course of Dealing
- Partition and Sale
Thank you for reading.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Post Estate (Trustee of) v Hamilton, 2015 ONSC 5252 (available on Westlaw) considered a rather unusual set of facts with respect to joint tenancy and an interesting application of the equitable remedy of adverse possession.
Edward and Heather had been common law spouses several decades ago. They purchased a home together (the “home”) in 1980, as joint tenants. Three years later, Edward and Heather ended their relationship, and Heather moved out of the home they had bought together. Edward lived in the home ever since, until his death in December 2014. Heather has not been heard from since 1983.
When Edward died last year, his Estate ran into a roadblock with the home. Edward’s family had understood that the home was in Edward’s name alone, but were surprised to find that Heather and Edward still owned the home together as joint tenants. Under the law of joint tenancy, when one of the joint owners dies, the asset passes to the surviving joint tenant, by right of survivorship. Theoretically, therefore, the home should have become Heather’s property.
The wrinkle in this case was that, despite “strenuous efforts”, Heather could not be found. Edward’s Estate Trustee then brought an Application for an Order vesting title in the home in the Estate. The issue considered by the Honourable Justice MacDougall was thus, whether one joint tenant can acquire full title to property by way of adverse possession. In order to establish title by possession, Justice MacDougall stated that a party must show three things:
- i. Actual possession for the statutory period by him/herself and those through whom s/he claims;
- ii. That such possession was with the intention of excluding from possession the owner or person entitled to possession; and
- iii. Discontinuance of possession for the statutory period by the owners and all others, if any, entitled to possession.
With respect to the first and third requirements, Edward had actual possession of the home by himself for 32 years, which is well beyond the 10 year statutory period required. With respect to the second requirement, the court found that, although Edward did not have a “clear and direct intention” to exclude Heather, the court can still infer a presumed intention to exclude and consequently find in favour of adverse possession. In this case, Justice MacDougall was able to infer such presumed intention due to the facts that Edward believed he had full ownership of the house, he paid all the expenses for the house for 32 years, and made mortgage payments and renewed the mortgage without Heather’s signature or agreement.
Thanks for reading.