John M. Brickman Wins Adverse Possession Case Involving Valuable Manhattan Real Estate
John M. Brickman, head of litigation at the Firm’s Long Island office, won an important case involving the law of adverse possession. The origins of Golobe v. Altchek go back decades, to when Henry Golobe died. Henry had three children, Dorothy, Zangwill, and Yale. Henry left his estate, including a valuable building in midtown Manhattan, to Dorothy. Dorothy died without a Will in 1992, so her estate went to her siblings. Zangwill subsequently gave his share to John, his son, and Yale could not be found and was reportedly dead. As a result, the entirety of Dorothy’s estate went to John.
Twenty-six years later, in 2018, John learned that Yale had survived Dorothy by several months, and was alive when Dorothy died in 1992. Yale would have received half her estate had he surfaced decades earlier. In the meantime, John had taken out a mortgage on the property, made substantial improvements to the building financed by the mortgage loan that he obtained, signed leases and retained rent payments, and otherwise treated it as his own property. When Yale’s heirs discovered this, they complained that half of Dorothy’s estate should have gone to them, not John.
Yale’s heirs would not yield, so John — represented by the Firm — sued to retain control of the property, based on the administrator’s deed issued in 1992 after Dorothy’s death. The defendant — a trust representing Yale’s heirs — counterclaimed, saying Yale did not receive appropriate notice of the proceedings and that Yale (and then the trust) had a co-tenancy in the property with John. The primary legal question involved whether John satisfied the requirements for retaining the property under the doctrine of adverse possession, which provides that upon meeting certain strict conditions, someone who holds another’s property for more than a decade, and treats it as his own in full public view, wins full title to the property. If John did, then he would be the sole owner of the property outright, regardless of whether Yale should originally have obtained half ownership.
In response to the Firm’s suit, the New York Supreme Court ruled that John satisfied the requirements for adverse possession, allowing him to win summarily, without the need for a trial. The trust appealed and the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed. The appellate court wrote that John, in addition to being the sole and exclusive owner of the property for more than twenty years (the length of time required under New York’s adverse possession statute for asserting adverse possession over a property owned by co-tenants), held the property “openly and notoriously” by building a deck and making other improvements on the property. Accordingly, John retained ownership of the property.
John Brickman handled the case in the lower court and Appellate Division. If you wish to speak to him, you can reach him at 516-829-6900, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.