Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Yourik v. Mallonee (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Decision Filed May 1, 2007--Opinion by Judge Sally D. Adkins.

Yourik is the son of Mallonee. In 1964, shortly after Yourik married, Mallonee and her now deceased husband selected a house for the newlyweds. Mallonee made the downpayment and paid all settlement fees and recording costs; the balance of the purchase price was obtained by mortgaging the property. The deed to the property was titled in the name of Yourik and his wife Leonora, as tenants by the entireties.

Within a year, however, the Youriks had not only separated, but also had become delinquent in their mortgage, resulting in foreclosure proceedings being initiated. With Yourik’s blessing, Mallonee and her husband “took over” the house and its mortgage. They paid the arrearage and continued making mortgage payments until that debt was paid in full. Meanwhile, Yourik moved to Baltimore City, never again living in the house, paying anything toward it, or receiving any income from it. At most, Yourik returned to the house for occasional holiday visits with the Mallonees.

Thus, beginning in late 1965 and continuing until trial in 2006, Mallonee either lived in the house or rented it out to others. She made all rental decisions without informing Yourik and kept all rental income. She and her husband paid all the taxes and utilities, and made all expenditures for upkeep, improvements, and repairs. Mr. Mallonee died two years before trial; Ms. Mallonee now lives in the property by herself.

After a bench trial, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County held that Mallonee had established all the elements of adverse possession, including the requirement that the possession be "hostile," even though she has always acknowledged that Yourik has held a recorded deed to the property since 1964. Yourik appealed, raising a single issue for review:
May a person acquire title to property by adverse possession if she acknowledges that when she first took possession, and at all times thereafter, she has had actual knowledge that the legal title is in the name of her son?
The Court held that a person who acknowledges legal title in a family member who abandoned the disputed property to foreclosure may occupy the property "hostilely" for purposes of acquiring that title by adverse possession. The Court noted that:
Mallonee did not occupy [the property] in the belief that her son owned it, or under the terms of a contract that required her to earn her interest over time. . . . . [A]ny agreement by which Yourik would "sign over" the deed did not signify that Mallonee considered her possession to be permissive, because Yourik had relinquished his ownership rights in the face of foreclosure. Instead, Mallonee made all mortgage payments, tax payments, repairs, and occupancy decisions on her own behalf, while keeping all rental income for the property for herself.
The Court therefore affirmed the lower court's determination that title had passed to Mallonee under the doctrine of adverse possession.

A copy of the opinion is available in PDF.

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