ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A small slice of land in one of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods is a dusty, prime example of the mysteries that await field crews as the Bernalillo County Assessor’s Office surveys every parcel of land in the county for the first time in more than a decade.
Wedged between I-25 and the intersection of Elm St. and Hazeldine Ave. in southeast Albuquerque, the parcel is mostly dirt. But tucked up against the last property on Hazeldine is a fenced-off collection of sheds, dog houses and a carport.
Both the county and the city have no idea who owns the land it’s on.
“While it is a completely new property that has been located, identifying the ownership has been the trick here,” Deputy Bernaillo County Assessor Damian Lara said.
After KRQE News 13 began asking about the property — who owned it, whether the buildings were legal or being taxed — the assessor’s office started digging into the history of the title.
“And we’ve gone back as far back as the 1890s for the plats,” Lara said. When the assessor’s office couldn’t determine who held legal title to the land, it called the city.
A neighborhood dispute about whether or not the buildings were legal had already raised the issue at the Department of Municipal Development. The department started its own search and got the same result.
“It’s not obvious as to who actually owns title to it, how it came about to be the odd shape that it is and so forth,” Albuquerque Municipal Development Director Wilfred Gallegos said.
While the fenced-off section looks as though it’s in the middle of what was once supposed to be Elm St. — and while no one can find a deed — the city isn’t about to pass judgment.
“For all we know,” Gallegos said, “the portion with the sheds and so forth could actually belong to the adjoining property owner.”
That family told KRQE News 13 that the property already had the buildings on it when they bought the home years ago. While they’ve continued using it, family members aren’t sure who owns the land.
Ordinarily, that kind of obvious use of an adjoining property for that length of time would give the family a right to legal title through what’s called adverse possession. The assessor’s office uses the example of a fence built too far onto a neighbor’s land. Left unchallenged, it would eventually give the fence-builder the right to their neighbor’s land.
But that doesn’t apply when the land might belong to the government.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m gonna close off this street and make it my home,'” Lara said, “or ‘I’m gonna fence off two acres of the park and make it my home and as long as nobody tells me anything for the next 20 years, it’s mine.'”
It’s one of the more unique problems that will have to be solved as the assessor’s office surveys every one of the nearly 285,000 parcels of property in the county.
The survey is supposed to be done once every four to six years, Lara said, but it’s been more than a decade since Bernalillo County made certain that what’s on each parcel of land is what’s on the tax rolls.
The effort began in May, 2014 and while it’s not necessarily a money-making venture, so far some $14 million has been added to what the county collects each year. The office said almost 150 homes have been discovered that weren’t yet reported to the county.
Staff at the assessor’s office estimate the survey — which is 13.5 percent complete now — won’t be finished until late 2017.