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Man is forced to hand title for $125,000 parcel of Delaware land to neighbor who erected GOAT PEN on property, then successfully claimed squatter’s rights when he attempted to sell it

  • Burton Banks, an Atlanta-based financial advisor, inherited from his father several plots of land in Ocean View, Delaware
  • Banks wanted to sell part of the property in 2021, but learnt that his neighbor Melissa Schrock had been grazing her goats on the land
  • A judge last month ruled that Schrock had been on the property for more than 20 years and so had squatter’s rights: Banks was forced to hand over the land 

A judge in Delaware has ordered a businessman hand over a $125,000 parcel of land to his neighbor after she kept her goats on the land for over 20 years and claimed squatter’s rights.

Burton Banks, an Atlanta-based financial advisor, inherited the uninhabited plot of land in Ocean View, Delaware, from his father Ralph.

In 2021 Banks and his husband David Barrett decided they wanted to sell the plot of land, which sits empty and undeveloped.

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But he discovered that around two thirds of an acre was being used by his neighbor Melissa Schrock, who had erected a pen for her goats on the land.

‘It’s just always been my backyard since I was a little kid,’ Schrock said. 

Burton Banks inherited the plot of Delaware land from his father

Melissa Schrock had grazed her goats on the Delaware land for over 20 years, a judge ruled

Burton Banks (left) wanted to sell the land, but discovered that his neighbor Melissa Schrock was claiming squatter’s rights – thanks to a goat pen she erected on the plot 

The home of Schrock, who grazed her goats on her neighbor's land and won squatter's rights

The home of Schrock, who grazed her goats on her neighbor’s land and won squatter’s rights

Schrock's home in Ocean View, Delaware

Schrock’s home in Ocean View, Delaware

Banks took her to court to try and reclaim the land, but Schrock claimed squatter’s rights.

Explaining her counter-claim, Schrock said: ‘It’s just always been my backyard since i was a kid.’  

Superior Court Judge Craig Karsnitz ruled in February in Schrock’s favor, noting that Banks lived primarily in Atlanta and ‘only occasionally’ came to the Delaware site.

Karsnitz felt Schrock met the threshold in proving her 20-year occupation, Delaware Online reported. 

If a resident can prove they’ve occupied a plot for 20 years, they can claim ownership, which Schrock did successfully. 

Another neighbor’s plot also encroached on Banks’ property. That unnamed resident agreed to move animal enclosures they’d set up – but because Schrock refused, Banks was ultimately unable to regain control of his family’s property. 

Because Banks and his husband live in Atlanta and visit Delaware only occasionally, it made it harder for them to prove that Schrock hadn’t been openly using their land for the last 20 years.  

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Banks said he was speaking out in order to warn others to take action and make sure their property was not squatted on.

‘I can’t afford the appeal,’ said Banks. ‘But (I’m) hoping I can at least warn others.’ 

Banks submitted a map of the property, showing his claim

Banks submitted a map of the property, showing his claim

Serena Williams, a law professor at Widener University in Delaware, who specializes in housing law, said property owners needed to be vigilant.

‘Inspect it regularly,’ Williams said. 

‘If you see something you haven’t permitted – a tree you haven’t planted, objects you haven’t placed there − make sure to remove it, because that’s the beginning of adverse possession.’ 

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