15 land owners sued over property lines

What began as a property line dispute over a driveway has resulted in Winnsboro resident William (Bill) Haslett filing a lawsuit against 15 people who own properties in the same block as two properties owned by Haslett on the west side of N. Congress Street in downtown Winnsboro. One of Haslett’s two properties, located at 141 N. Congress Street, houses the Winnsboro House of BBQ. The other property sits directly behind it.

Some properties named in the suit do not touch Haslett’s property. Defendants include: Randy Wheeler, L. Hubert Brice and Bonnie Brice, Bernard Pauling, Bernard Pauling, Jr., Dexter Pauling, George Kemp, Lee Kemp, Nathaniel Green, James E. Branham and Norma W. Branham, Ross Burton, Robert Ford and Vanessa Hollins.

“I’m not really suing these people,” Haslett told The Voice, “I just want to be able to use the alley between my building (the barbecue restaurant) and the barber shop next door.” Haslett said the alley is rightfully his and has been part of his family’s property since the early 1900’s when the land was purchased by his grandfather. “I want to be able to at least share the use of the alley,” Haslett said.

Bernard Pauling, who is part owner of the barber shop, told The Voice he purchased his property five years ago and that his survey shows that about 12 feet  of the alley belonged to his property and about three feet belonged to Haslett.

“Recently Haslett had a survey done and the Courthouse awarded him three more feet of my alley, leaving me only nine feet,” Pauling said, now he’s suing about the property lines to get the rest of my driveway.”

Glenn Bowens, Haslett’s attorney who filed the civil action in Circuit Court in Fairfield County, said that, technically, it is a lawsuit, but he termed it a friendly lawsuit and that the only intent of the suit is to correct property lines that over the years have been shifted and are now incorrectly placed.

“In the town’s early days, most people did not have property surveys done. My property was never surveyed until recently,” Haslett said. “But I have a copy of the original layout of the town and it doesn’t match the property lines as they are today.”

The suit alleges that, over the years, as the parcels currently owned by the plaintiffs and defendant have changed ownership, errors have occurred in the plats and property descriptions in the various deeds. Haslett argues that these errors have resulted in a shift of the property lines for the parcels owned by the defendants and Haslett.

The lawsuit references a map that shows the original Town of Winnsboro property lines in yellow and the property lines as reflected in the current deeds in red.

The lawsuit is asking for a declaratory judgment to determine the legal property lines between the plaintiff’s properties and the defendants’ properties. The lawsuit states, also, that the defendants’ rights could be affected by the final resolution of the property lines.

While Bowens said that all the property lines on the street have moved over the years, some of the defendants have asked why Wells Fargo Bank, First United Methodist Church and the old Harold Building recently purchased by commercial realtor Wanda Carnes are not included in the lawsuit. Bowens said the surveyor made the determination to not include those properties, but Bowens said he doesn’t know why they were not included.

Haslett and the surveyor for Glenn Associates also say they don’t know why those properties were not included in the lawsuit.

“The surveyor gathered all the documents and current surveys of all these properties and compared them to the town’s original plat,” Bowens said. “When the property lines are shifted back to how they are supposed to be, one property line might overlap another property line, but, in the end, it will all balance out.”

While Bowens said there is no financial component to the lawsuit, that Haslett is not suing the defendants for a settlement, the suit states that the defendants are required to answer the complaint. Some defendants have told The Voice they have had to hire lawyers to answer the complaint. Should they not answer, then the lawsuit states that Haslett can “apply to the Court for the relief demanded in the complaint and judgment by default will be rendered against (property owners) for the relief demanded in the complaint.”

“He only wants his property lines straightened out, but to do that, we may have to adjust other property lines,” Bowens said. Bowens did not, however, rule out the possibility that some defendants might end up suing other defendants over any newly adjusted property lines.

“The current property lines cannot stay the way they are,” Bowens said. “Once the judge decides where the property lines should be, then the property owners will know their true property line. That’s important when they want to buy or sell their properties or take out a mortgage, etc.”

Bowens has requested the Court to appoint Ridgeway attorney Robert Hartman as special referee to try the entire action by taking testimony, ruling on any motions, issuing any interlocutory or other orders he deems prudent, receiving evidence and issuing a judgment with finality. Any appeal would have to be taken to the S.C. Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

Bowens said that in larger towns/counties, a master of equity would hear the case, but since Fairfield does not have a master of equity, a judge usually appoints a referee. He said that should happen soon and then a date will be set for the defendants to meet with the special referee.