When engaging in real estate transactions, it is always best to draw up a contract which captures every conceivable detail of the exchange. Developing a thoroughly detailed contract will help to avoid the possibility of any legal disputes. The case of Conklin v Davi (1978) is a reminder of this.
Conklin v Davi: The Case
Conklin (the plaintiff) sold real estate to Davi (the defendant). Davi acquired a piece of the property through adverse possession. Adverse possession is when a property is obtained without any monetary exchange, such as inheritance.
Adverse possession occurs when an individual actively and openly “possesses” land for a specified period of time. The contract made no mention of partial adverse possession of the land.
The Davis wanted a “marketable” title so they could sell the land again in the future without complications. This became an issue since the contract accounted for the property sold and not the property acquired via adverse possession. Based on this belief, Davi refused to conclude the transaction. Conklin sued for specific performance and Davi counterclaimed for rescission of the contract.
What’s the law say?
The critical issue before the court was whether land acquired through adverse possession can have a marketable title when transferred via sale. The answer is actually yes. If the seller shows proof the land was acquired legally through adverse possession, then the buyer can obtain a marketable title.
Court rules in favor of Conklin
The court (the Supreme Court of New Jersey) ruled in favor of the plaintiff (Conklin). The defendants (The Davi family) could have procured a marketable title to the entire land as long as the plaintiff provided proof of ownership through adverse possession. The court ordered the plaintiff to provide such proof before suing the defendant for specific performance.
As Conklin v Davi shows, land acquired through adverse possession can yield a wholly marketable title. The issue is the plaintiff did not provide proof of ownership when the contract was formed; another issue was that the parties were unaware that adverse possession could produce a marketable title. The lesson is clear: before selling or buying real estate, be sure to conduct research and develop a sufficiently detailed contract!
Image by Paul Brennan