George Milliken paid $97,000 in 1997 for a 19th century church in Clackamas County, Oregon, to renovate as a house for his daughter, son-in-law and their child. One day he found a county notice on the building ordering him to cease all work. The county said his property had been illegally subdivided nearly 20 years ago, barring him from doing anything with the property.
For several years, the Evergreen Community Church owned the .6 acre parcel of land that later became Milliken's land. Then the church purchased a house on a .3 acre parcel adjoining this plot for use as a parsonage. In 1978, the church sold the parcel with the church building to a new owner and sold the parsonage to another owner. What no one knew at the time was that this was an illegal subdivision. Milliken explains that under a state law enacted in the 1970s, whenever two contiguous properties are joined they become one property. Because the church property was not a legal residence, county regulations prohibited the combined properties from being resold separately. Both the parsonage property and the church had to be sold in one parcel. Yet the county never made this known to the church and the many successive owners of both of the properties.
There were three different owners of the .6 acre church parcel prior to Milliken purchasing the land. The house next door, the former parsonage, also had three different owners. All transactions, it turns out, were illegal. But it was impossible for anyone to know this as the properties were classified as two distinct tax lots with the respective owners paying different taxes. Nor would the properties' status show up in a title search because the state, when it passed the law, never informed local officials that the affected properties in their jurisdictions had been reclassified. Milliken says, for that reason, title insurance companies disclaim any responsibility for properties that are in dispute. It wasn't until Milliken bought the church property that the county finally decided there was a problem.
Milliken, who is an experienced realtor, hired a lawyer but was unable to persuade the county to change its position. Says Milliken, "I'm stuck with a piece of property I can do nothing with. I can't renovate it. I can't sell it." He sees no rationale in the county's position. The property doesn't belong to the current owner of the former parsonage next door nor does it belong to the county. It is Milliken's. The church is just sitting there unoccupied. Concludes Milliken, "Basically, I'm out $100,000."
Source: George Milliken