Essex County Board of Supervisors
A long-simmering property dispute came to a head last month when lawyers for a local resident filed suit against Essex County ahead of an auction designed to sell off their tax delinquent properties.
The plaintiff, Sindy Brazee, alledges the town of North Hudson is trying “squeeze” her off the property and is using the county machine to intimidate her after their efforts, including what she perceived as “bogus code enforcement,” were thwarted.
But here’s the catch:
Brazee does not own the pair of parcels. She has never owned the land and the cabin where she lives, both of which technically belong to the county, who took possession after the former owners, North Hudson Associates LLC (and before them, Panther Mountain Water Park, Inc.), failed to pay taxes since 2007.
Welcome to the murky world of squatter’s rights.
At the center of the lawsuit is the concept of adverse possession, the doctrine under which a person other than the deed-holder can claim ownership under a certain set of conditions.
According to court documents obtained by the Valley News, Brazee has been in “continuous, uninterrupted occupation and possession” of the two parcels on 4050 Blue Ridge Road in North Hudson since August 2003, something that legal precedent dictates might be enough to shine a light in her favor.
The plaintiff, who works as a landscaper at Yogi Bear Campgrounds in North Hudson, said she had arrived at an agreement with the former owners to stay on the property in order to fulfill the mandated residency requirements as part of her former position as the town’s assessor.
After making a series of improvements to the cabin, Brazee said she lost contact with the owners.
“They fell off the face of the earth,” she said.
Brazee told the Valley News that she has tried to pay the $26,585.03 in back taxes owed on the larger parcel but the county has refused to allow her to settle up and take ownership.
“I’m prepared to pay full taxes, penalties and fees,” she said in a phone interview. “I find it baffling that the county is spending money fighting me in court when they can have all money owed. Why would they take that route?”
Brazee said she approached the county as far back as 2007 to pay the back taxes, but Treasurer Michael Diskin advised her to wait to see if the then-owners would square up.
“Sure enough, they came in to pay the taxes,” she said. “These were same people who owned it prior, but they got a new name. I went to the county clerk’s office and saw two men who were not familiar to me and I got any info I could. They all knew I was here.”
Now, Brazee alleges that North Hudson Town Supervisor Ron Moore is conspiring with the county to take ownership of the property for the amount owed on back taxes — not at the full market value, which was assessed at $247,900.
“When the county took over these properties, there were some people living there and they were issued eviction notices,” Moore told the Valley News in a phone interview. “As I understand it, Ms. Brazee obtained legal counsel and she has not vacated.”
Moore said Brazee has not, to his recollection, discussed the issue personally with him, including at a town board meeting last month.
For Brazee to emerge victorious over the county, her legal team will have to clearly demonstrate the common law requirements that have emerged over time that have set a precedent for adjudicating similar cases.
County Attorney Daniel Manning told the Valley News he was aware of the lawsuit but couldn’t comment on an ongoing legal case.
Prior to the auction on April 30, property owners were notified that they had two weeks to settle up. North Hudson Associates LLC did not respond to these official notifications, nor could they be reached for comment for this article.