COA: Property owners waited too long demand house be removed

In a ruckus between neighbors started by a corner of a house and a brown shed that are both over the property line, the Court of Appeals of Indiana toppled the trial court ruling and found the homeowners had title to the disputed property through adverse possession.

Julie and Bruce Card purchased property in 2014 in Warrick County that included a house and shed. Their property, known as Lot 83, is adjacent to a 40-acre parcel classified as forest and wildland, which is owned by Alan and Lynne Sprinkle.

Prior to the Cards’ purchase, Lot 83 was owned by Kevin Kern, who bought the house and surrounding land in 2003. Based on a 1999 surveyor’s report, the Cards believed the residence and the brown shed were located within the boundaries of Lot 83.

However, in 2018, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources reinspected the Sprinkle property as required by statute to maintain the forest and wildland designation along with the accompanying property tax incentives. The inspector discovered, and a survey confirmed, that the corner of the Cards’ house was 3.8 feet over the property line and the brown shed was sitting on the Sprinkles’ land.

The Sprinkles demanded the house and shed be removed from their property. In refusing, the Cards asserted Kern had satisfied the elements of adverse possession and, therefore, had obtained title of the disputed property, which was transferred to them when they purchased Lot 83.

On April 10, 2019, the Sprinkles filed a complaint against the Cards for civil and criminal trespass. The Cards filed counterclaims claiming ownership of the disputed property via adverse possession and seeking to quiet title to the property.

After a bench trial in April 2021, the Warrick Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Sprinkles. The Cards were ordered to remove the corner of their house as well as the brown shed from the Sprinkles’ property and pay $16,680 in attorney fees.

Instead, the Cards appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed in Julie Card and Bruce Card v. Alan Sprinkle and Lynne A. Sprinkle, 21A-PL-2491.

The appellate panel found the Cards proved the property transferred to Kern because he adversely possessed the land for a 10-plus-year period. Subsequently, that title was transferred to the Cards when they purchased Lot 83.

“Kern owned, maintained, and utilized the house and brown storage shed for over ten years. It is hard to imagine a more open and notorious use of property than using and maintaining a home or storage building constructed on that property,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the court. “At any time while Kern owned Lot 83, the Sprinkles could have observed the house and brown shed on their deeded property, and Sprinkle did so in 2009 when his forty-acre property was first classified as a Forest and Wildland by the DNR.

“The fact that the Sprinkles did not realize that a corner of the house and the brown shed rested on their deeded property does not negate Kern’s adverse possession of the Sprinkles’ deeded property,” Mathias continued. “Moreover, Kern paid taxes on the home and the brown shed for the eleven years that he owned Lot 83, and the Cards have continued to pay taxes on those structures.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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