A recent riparian rights decision by the Court of Appeals of Michigan shows the importance of speaking up when you believe your neighbor is encroaching on your property.
In White v. Ochalek, the parties owned adjacent waterfront properties on Hubbard Lake. Their deeds provide that they each own 100 feet of water frontage. In 2000, pursuant to an agreement among multiple neighbors, the parties installed a seawall to alleviate erosion problems.
Light Installation and Attorney Letter in Response
At some point, plaintiff installed some lights on a portion of the seawall. In response, defendants’ attorney sent a letter to plaintiff in 2010 stating that the lights were on defendants’ portion of the seawall and requesting their removal.
Acquiring Title to the Disputed Property by Acquiescence
In his lawsuit, about 8 years later, plaintiff argued that he owned the disputed portion of the seawall where the lights were installed, by virtue of acquiescence.
In Michigan, there are three theories of acquiescence, one of which is acquiescence for the statutory period. Under this theory, when “adjoining property owners acquiesce to a boundary line for at least fifteen years, that line becomes the actual boundary line.”
In rejecting plaintiff’s acquiescence claim, the Court emphasized that the letter sent by defendants’ attorney “demonstrates plaintiff’s awareness that defendants did not acquiesce to the seawall being the boundary line[.]”
One thing to learn from this case is simply this: do not sleep on your rights when you believe they are being violated.
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