LINDENHURST, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Dozens of Long Island homeowners are learning they’ve been squatting on land they thought they owned.
It turns out a strip of their backyards belongs to their village.
So what now?
Carol Steinberg told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff she has enjoyed her yard for 25 years, but the back chunk of it isn’t really hers. Yet, for years she’s been using it.
Behind approximately 50 Lindenhurst homes is a vestige of another time — public land known to surveyors as a “paper road.” On paper only exists “Richards Lane.” It’s mapped out, but has never been paved.
A 25-foot wide dirt alley that was created for deliveries is now invisible, filled in with sheds, fences and swimming pools.
Former resident Linda Langone said she remembers coal deliveries in the 1940s.
“A lot of people like my mom and dad had coal heat at the back of the house, in the basement was a window and the truck would come down Richards Lane,” Langone said.
Back in 1974, her father bought the deed to her strip for $1, but now the Village of Lindenhurst wants to correct land records for other homeowners using the lane. It can now annex the public strip behind each home for $3 per square foot. On average, that would generate $3,000.
“I’ve been here so long, I feel they should have brought this up a very long time ago,” Steinberg said.
“I think $3 a square foot is a lot of money. I think if I still have to pay taxes on it, it should maybe be given,” resident Elmo Tarasi added.
However, officials said other residents have had to pay to annex other paper roads. Mayor Michael Lavorata denied that it’s a money grab.
“I can’t just give property away that is village property. I don’t think it would be fair to others who have had to pay in the past,” Lavorata said.
Municipal law expert Tom Wassel said villages have no choice.
“The village is not allowed to just give them the property because that would be an unconstitutional gift of publicly property. The property is owned by all of the taxpayers,” Wassel said.
Lindenhurst officials told CBS2’s Gusoff they’re not coming in with bulldozers to clear anything out on Richards Lane, unless a homeowner is thinking of selling. If so, they will then be required to clear any structures, or pay up.
Experts said it is not unusual for a municipality to have vestiges of public alleys or trails. It’s usually discovered when a home is surveyed during the sale.