June 26, 2019
Realtor.com quoted me in 3 Most Mind-Boggling Housing Turf Wars Ever—and What They Can Teach Us All. It opens,
Welcome to turf wars! No, it’s not the latest reality TV show—it’s just a way to describe two (or more) parties insisting that a particular piece of property is their own.
Turf wars are as old as the hills, and the existence of people who could lay claim to them. And they’re at the center of some surprisingly fascinating stories of wealth, greed, and pettiness. It seems that no property is too small to inspire a bitter rivalry—including one about the size of a floor lamp—that could go unresolved for decades.
As proof, check out some of the strangest turf tales below, and the lessons we can all learn from them to avoid the same ugly fate.
1. The smallest land grab ever
In Manhattan on the corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue lies a 500-square-inch piece of private property in the shape of a triangle.
The backstory: In 1910, the city demolished a building owned by David Hess to build a subway, but the surveyors missed this small patch in their measurements. Later on, once this error was discovered, the city asked the Hesses to donate it, but the family refused.
For good measure, the family laid a mosaic reading, “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated for Public Purposes.”
Per the New York Times, it’s “one of the smallest pieces left in private ownership as a result of the cutting through a few years ago of the Seventh Avenue extension. It has been assessed on the tax books for $100.”
In 1938 the family sold this parcel to the cigar shop a few feet behind it for $1,000.
Lesson learned: Land survey mistakes—or not bothering with a survey at all—can cost you big-time!
“If there’s any question about who owns what, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get a good survey done,” says David Reiss, a law professor at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.
On a more human level, we can learn this: “Spite is about as powerful as an immovable object,” says Reiss. “If you try to dislodge it, you will in all likelihood lose.”| Permalink