Monday, May 30, 2011

Defending Our Territory

A few days ago, I bought this nice parcel of land at a county auction.

Some of you might look at the photo and say, "April, isn't that your own backyard?"

You have a valid point.  In fact, my husband and I brought up the same point to the county when we received a letter announcing that the county would be auctioning it off.

After extensive research, we learned that the title company made a mistake when we acquired our property four years ago and excluded a bit of our yard from our title. Oops.  The previous owner stopped paying taxes on the land because he had sold it to us, so the county appropriated the land and sold it to someone else at a county auction a few years back.

Blissfully ignorant of all of this, we went about treating our backyard as if it were our own.  In the section that legally belonged to some stranger, we installed a flagstone patio, a grape arbor, a raised herb garden, and a perennial flower bed.  It was hard work!  When I first tried to plant in this area, the ground was so compacted I couldn't get a shovel into it.  We literally had to drill holes into the ground to get plants in.  On my first try, everything I planted died.   After three years of layering manure and wood chips, I was thrilled to find worms in this soil for the first time this spring; it is finally an ecosystem capable of supporting life.  After all that effort, I was a bit peeved to learn that I technically did not own this parcel.

Lucky for us, the person who bought my backyard the last time the county auctioned it off didn't pay his/her taxes, either, so the county sent us a letter saying that if he/she hadn't paid by last Thursday, they would confiscate it and auction it off again.   They helpfully sent the letter to us because they thought we might be interested in this property, since it happens to be right behind our house, in front of our fence.

When we contacted them, the county told us that since the parcel is not accessible to a street--it is, after all, a backyard--they would only sell it to us or the owner of the property behind ours. We decided the easiest way to deal with the situation was to cross our fingers that the current owner wouldn't pay and our neighbor wouldn't show up to compete for our backyard.  Fortunately, that is how things played out and we did not have to resort to Plan B: Painful Legal Battle.  After a stressful month of waiting, we showed up at the auction and bought our backyard for $390.

On the bright side, since it was apparently not part of our title when we got our mortgage, we own our backyard free and clear.  If anything should ever happen and the bank forecloses on us, we could always set up a tent on the patio by the grape arbor and live there.

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