"Stolen property is stolen property."
|Posted: 04 June 2023 at 4:15am | IP Logged | 8
Actually that's not true. There is a distinction between real property (land) and personal property (any other tangible goods you may own, including a car). A bona fide purchaser of real property (someone who buys without notice of a defect in the title) has legal protections that are not afforded to someone who buys a stolen car.
We are speaking of property as "stolen" because morally, that is what happened. But in many of these instances a legal transfer of title occurred, and that makes a difference.
A good example from the article JB cited is the property that was seized by the treasurer, after she claimed the family defaulted on a payment. If the treasurer took title to the property by foreclosing on a loan or a lien for unpaid property taxes, and everything was properly recorded, then anyone who bought the property from the treasurer (without notice of a dispute over the title) would be considered a bona fide purchaser, and they would get to keep the land. The family would have no recourse against the buyer, but if they could prove title should not have passed to the treasurer, they could sue the treasurer (or the state) for money damages.
Unfortunately, even that option will be unavailable to most of these families because of statutes of limitations. After all these years, it is too late for them to come forward and assert a legal claim to the property.
Some of the families probably also lost title via adverse possession. If the legitimate owner of a piece of real property neglects or abandons the property, a third party can take title by occupying the property over a period of time that is set by statute.
Every state has adverse possession laws. The law in each state says how long the adverse party (the person who occupies the land) must be there, and sets forth any other obligations. For instance, most states require that the adverse party's use of the land be "open and notorious," meaning their presence on the land is obvious and apparent to the public and the owner. Some states require the use to be exclusive, meaning that the adverse possessor prevents anyone else from using the property (by erecting a fence, for example). Many states also require that the adverse possessor pay property taxes during the years when they occupied the land.
So in an instance where a black property owner fled the area after their house, church, or business was burned down, someone came in behind them and occupied the property. If that person met the requirements for adverse possession, then they legally obtained title to the property. Anyone who bought from them would also be a bona fide purchaser, immune from having the property seized by the state and returned to a previous owner.
The fact is, in most cases where the state is being asked to pay reparations to black families who's land was "stolen" in CA, the goal is to have the state meet a moral obligation; not a legal one. That is one of the hurdles here, because the state's response to some of these families will be that legally, there is nothing California can do to get their property back.
Edited by John Wickett on 04 June 2023 at 4:35am