Neighbors go to court

Strip of land in Middlesex doesn’t have an owner

September 12, 2015 Cranberry Local News

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Jeff Bonifate of Middlesex Township is in a property dispute with neighbors over who owns a strip of land in front of his family’s home.

MIDDLESEX TWP — A 50-by-400-foot strip of land outside the Keithwood neighborhood has no owner, has not generated a dime in taxes for more than 50 years, and has caused a legal dispute between neighbors.

The slice of property abuts the yards of the Jeff Bonifate and Craig Pracht families as well as Oakwood Drive to the south of Ferguson Lane. The large property owned by the Tisdale family abuts the land to the north.

Bonifate said the farmer who owned all of the property around the land subdivided his farm in 1959. He said the strip of land was to be a public road, but the township never adopted it.

“No one’s ever done anything with this property,” Bonifate said.

The Bonifates and Prachts attended a number of township supervisors meetings in the spring and summer of 2013 to ask supervisors to close the end of Oakwood Drive to prevent unlicensed vehicles from accessing the property and Oakwood Drive from the Tisdale property on Ferguson Lane.

Bonifate also requested that township public works employees cut the waist-high grass on the land, which he said was being used by the Tisdales as a parking lot.

Bonifate said he has cut the property in dispute for years since it abuts his front yard, but the Tisdales told him to stop cutting it because the land belongs to them. He now cuts the property again.

Township solicitor Mike Hnath told the families at a June 2013 supervisors meeting that it is not the township’s duty to decide who owns the land. Then-township manager Scot Fodi told the families that the dispute could be settled in court.

The township did not close the end of Oakwood Drive, but workers painted a white dot at the end to mark where it terminates.

George Miller of Miller Legal in Greensburg last year took on the complicated case for the Bonifates and the Prachts.

He said the Ferguson and Tisdale farms used the land without dispute for decades, without realizing a title for the land had never been recorded at the Butler County Courthouse and the township never took possession of the land.

Miller said up until the neighbor disputes started over the use of the land, the township was unaware it had lost claim to the land in 1980. At that time, Miller said, the land went to the Tisdales and the two neighbors who preceded the Bonifates and Prachts, but the title was not recorded at the courthouse.

The Prachts and Bonifates want the land divided lengthwise, with 25 feet going to the Tisdales on the north, and 25 feet divided between the Bonifates and Prachts to the south, Miller said.

He filed a lawsuit requesting the division of the land after multiple surveys proved the land has no owner, but the Tisdales are claiming the land should have gone to them according to a state code that says untitled land goes to the property owner who used it after 21 years.

But Miller said the statute requires that unowned land go to the adjoining property owners after 21 years.

He said the Tisdales have been arduous and demanding throughout the process in which county Judge Michael Yeager has tried to lead the parties to a mutual agreement without a hearing.

“This is just a classic situation of those with money wanting as much as they can possibly get from the middle class,” Miller said. “My clients do not have the funds to address this situation like the other party.”

“I’m hoping the court looks at this and rules according to the letter of the law, which we think is abundantly clear,” Miller said.

He said he expects the case to be decided by Yeager in about six months.

The Tisdale’s attorney, Kate Cleary Lennen of the Myers Law Group in Warrendale, said she would not comment on ongoing litigation.

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