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Do You Own Your Land?

Photo: Farmland in Thetford, Vermont. One of the many VT towns effected by land leases. 

Donna and Travis Jocelyn woke to a rude awakening when a title search on their property in the closing stages of their transaction revealed an enormous obstacle; The City of Burlington owned the land they had called their own for years. The couple had been looking to downsize from their New North End residence to a small condo to mitigate property taxes. After much discouragement in their selling process, finding a buyer was a blast of new hope – until the buyer’s attorney conducted a title search to make sure there weren’t any unpaid taxes on the property. A document dating back to the 1700’s created by the governors of New York and New Hampshire, still under British sovereignty, revealed the land was in fact owned by the City of Burlington for potential land leases for fundraising purposes. Provisions in these leases would allow settlers to occupy the land for “as long as grass grows and water runs,” allowing occupants to settle on, but never sell the land. Eventually the individual towns became responsible for these land leases, and over time they stopped collecting rent. The City’s claim on these deeds hasn’t been a problem until now as analysis of record is becoming much stricter. Burlington, just in time for the sale, granted a quitclaim deed releasing all claim to the property and transferring it to the Jocelyns. It’s expected that hundreds, if not thousands of Burlington residents will be effected by the land leases in the coming years. Officials are discussing a possible solution to the problem – a statewide policy that terminates the city’s three century old claim to the land. Until then, purchasing title insurance as soon as possible after the acquisition of a property will help avoid this obstacle for homeowners and investors alike. Contact Steve Lipkin and the LipVT team for more info!  

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