Fourteen-year land dispute leaves property owner cash-strapped
More than one year since Guardian Business first published the story of a land owner who has been waiting to occupy her property for 13 years, Joann Moss, despite a court order dated August 3, 2017, still cannot, by herself or through the legal system, have occupiers removed from her land.
And after a 14-year legal battle to oust the occupiers from her property, Moss said she and her cash are exhausted.
In August the court issued a ruling to the defendants that they “deliver no later than the 31st, August A.D., 2017 possession of the land to the plaintiff (Joann Moss).” The court also issued a “penal notice” that warned if the judgment was not obeyed by the defendants in the specified time, “you will be liable to process of execution to compel you to obey it”.
But if the penal notice is to be served, Moss will have to go back to court, and that is something she is not financially able to do as a new mother looking for work.
Moss said the defendants have refused for years to follow the court’s orders. What’s more, she has not been able to get the police or the office of the provost marshal to help her uphold the rulings.
“I just want the order to be upheld,” she said.
Moss holds all the proper documents for the property – proper title and a lien from CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank – but has yet to be able to remove the occupiers from her property.
Moss has endured two court cases. The first she lost because the court upheld “squatters’ rights”. But on appeal, she was successful in proving that she had clear title to the land on Grant Street, off Bernard Road, for which she has been making monthly payments to the bank for years.
The occupiers of her land, relatives of the former owners, were found during the appeal to be tenants and not squatters, according to the court judgment.
The court then ordered a writ of possession so that Moss could obtain vacant possession of her property. The writ, issued on April 8, 2016, informed the provost marshal that the court “entered judgment for the plaintiff (Moss) and granted possession of all that piece, parcel or lot of land”.
The writ continued: “Therefore we command you that you enter the said land without delay and cause Joann Marie Moss to have possession of the said land.”
The latest court order now rules that the defendants pay for the structure on the property to be demolished. That should have been done by August 31, 2017, but has not.
The court order further notes that: “The costs of and occasioned by this application be paid by the defendants to the plaintiff to be taxed if not agreed.”
In 2016 Moss made a downpayment to have a bailiff carry out the eviction. Moss said she then went with a police officer to the property, but the officer failed to carry out the eviction.
“If they don’t do it, where am I supposed to turn as a citizen?” Moss said.
Effective title to property and the blurred lines of squatters’ rights have historically been a problem for land purchasers in The Bahamas. But Moss said she and the bank, by way of lien, have full rights to the property on which stand three structures. Moss said one of those structures is metered, meaning Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) would have required the proper documentation to connect the structure. But Moss has the documentation for the land, and never contacted BPL to install anything on her property.
Moss had BPL disconnect the structure after presenting her ownership papers. The occupiers were then successful in having it reconnected.
The assistant general manager of customer service at BPL wrote to Moss: “In these circumstances where court rulings are involved, while we wish to assist customers with their requests, the corporation needs to act with clarity.”
In Moss’ case the court ruling is clear. She has clear title to her land. And those with clear title have the right to connect and disconnect utilities to their properties as they see fit.