Encroachment Initiative Resolution to protect state public lands

A DNR official checks a newly-planted property marker.

A DNR official checks a newly-planted property marker.

GENESEE COUNTY — The people of Michigan own more than 4.5 million acres of land that is managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This land is open and available to the public for recreational purposes, such as hunting, fishing and camping. Michigan’s public land base contributes significantly to the state’s economy, in recreation opportunities, as well as mineral and timber production.

For decades, there have been encroachments on the public’s land across Michigan. These encroachments, or trespasses, hinder the DNR’s ability to properly protect, manage and maintain the public’s land. Encroachments also remove the land from public use.

Encroachments range from structural trespasses—entire barns, garages, or homes or portions of structures built on public land—to non-structural—signs, gardens, fencing—and historic, in place since before 1973, trespasses. In the past, extensive staff time and resources has been spent dealing with encroachment issues, and often the cases ended up in court.

On May 1, 2012, the DNR will launch an Encroachment Resolution Initiative (ERI), aimed at resolving many of these encroachment cases without fear of penalties. By resolving these cases, DNR staff can re-focus their efforts and resources on properly managing the public’s land and the state’s natural resources.

The application period for the ERI will be May 1 to Dec. 31, 2012. During that time, an individual may make an application to the DNR to resolve their encroachment case on public land. There is no fee to file an application.

The ERI is intended to offer individuals with structural or historic encroachments a limited time to legally resolve their encroachments on public land at a minimum cost and without fear of penalties.

Once an individual makes an application, their case will be reviewed by DNR staff. If the encroachment is historic, meaning it can be documented to be in existence prior to March 1, 1973, the DNR staff will file a “quit claim” deed to transfer the property to the individual after a new survey and boundaries are determined.

Individuals with a structural encroachment involving a permanent structure on public land erected after March 1, 1973 will be able to purchase the land in dispute once the property research is complete and proof has been established. To speed up the resolution process during the ERI, the DNR will waive application fees and streamline its land sale process for the individuals seeking a resolution to their encroachment.

Individuals with non-structural encroachments, such as fences, gardens or other non-permanent structures, should remove the item(s) from public land.

After the application period closes on Dec. 31, any existing or new cases of encroachment that were not brought forward will be dealt with through DNR enforcement procedures. The ERI is meant to be an incentive program for property owners encroaching on public land to provide a streamlined and legal process to resolve their trespass issue.

Individuals with questions on the ERI should contact Lori Burford, the DNR’s encroachment specialist, at 989-275-5151, ext. 2100 or via email at burfordl@michigan. gov.

Rodney Stokes, director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), created the Encroachment Resolution Initiative to resolve longstanding encroachments on DNR-managed public land. This opportunity runs through 2012. Addressing historical and structural encroachments on state-managed lands will help reduce management problems associated with encroachments, or trespasses, and, in some cases, will restore land to public use and enjoyment.

If you believe that your structure is encroaching on state property and you have not been notified by the DNR, the DNR will accept the required paperwork that you submit—including a boundary survey—and sell you the property. The cost of the property will be determined using a fee schedule based on the State Equalized Value of your property. You will be required to obtain a survey of the new boundary and mark the new boundaries. The DNR will file the necessary paperwork with the Register of Deeds in your county to confirm a change in your property ownership. You will be responsible for recording fees associated with the deed recording, approximately $20.

Information needed to resolve structural encroachment during the “grace period” established under the Encroachment Resolution Initiative can be found at www.michigan.gov/dnr-encroachment. In cases where the DNR is already aware of the encroachment, the case should be resolved within a year. If a case is being newly brought to the DNR’s attention, it will take longer because of the need for documents to be compiled and researched, and a survey completed by the property owner.

For those unwilling to resolve encroachment, the DNR will be implementing an aggressive enforcement initiative utilizing all of the powers contained within the law targeted at land owners who fail to resolve their encroachments during this “grace period.”

The DNR will seek proof that you own the property and when the encroachment occurred. If you believe that the encroachment occurred prior to March 1, 1973, the DNR will accept any of the following: Building permits, appraisals, surveys, dated photographs, aerial photography, tax assessment, or property cards from the tax assessor.

Some will question how can the DNR give away state-acquired land. The DNR states that the courts have determined what constitutes “adverse possession” and have found that for encroachments that occurred prior to 1973, the state probably does not actually own the land upon which the encroachment occurs. Therefore, the state is not “giving away” land, it is documenting appropriate ownership.

The DNR will start accepting the paperwork to resolve structural encroachments on May 1, 2012 and will continue to accept applications until December 31, 2012. Owners of structural encroachments who do not file the required paperwork during this period should expect the DNR to utilize its enforcement tools to resolve the encroachment. Under the law (Act 451 of 1994, MCL 324.2157) a person who is found in trespass may be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable for imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500 or three times the aggregate value of the land upon which they are trespassing. If the value of the land is worth more than $200, then the person may be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or a fine of not more than $2,000 or three times the value of the property upon which they are trespassing. In addition, Section 552 of the Michigan Penal Code indicates that a person who trespasses may be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 30 days or by a fine of not more than $250.00, or both. The Department will not only seek penalties, but also full restoration of the property including removal of all encroaching structures.

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