Open Space Restriction on Subdivision Plat Binds Future Property Owners

In a case of first impression, the New York Court of Appeals ruled today that an open space restriction which appears solely on a subdivision map but is not otherwise recorded in land records is binding upon subsequent purchasers of the property. In O’Mara v. Town of Wappinger the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had certified the following question to the New York Court of Appeals: “Is an open space restriction imposed by a subdivision plat under New York Law §276 enforceable against a subsequent purchaser, and under what circumstances?”

The New York Court of Appeals held that such an open space restriction “when filed in the Office of the County Clerk pursuant to Real Property Law §334, is enforceable against a subsequent purchaser.” The property in question had been subdivided in 1963 and the plat had a notation indicating there was an open space restriction. It was then purchased by the Plaintiffs in 2000 at a tax sale. At the time of acquiring title, a title insurance policy was issued which did not disclose the open space restriction, which was only on the plat and not part of a separately recorded instrument. A survey was performed after purchase in order to obtain approvals for construction. Although the surveyor apparently observed the open space notation on the original subdivision plat he did not note it on the survey. Permits were issued and construction nearly completed on a house when the new building inspector discovered the open space notation and stopped work.

The Plaintiffs unsuccessfully brought a number of claims in federal court which resulted in certification of the question to the Court of Appeals. Their position was that the reservation of open space to the benefit of the Town was effectively a conveyance of an interest in real property which required recording in the County Clerk’s Office under Real Property Law §291, in the same manner as a deed. Plaintiffs argued that absent such a recording they were not, as subsequent purchasers, placed on notice and should not be bound by the restriction.

The Court of Appeals held the open space reservation was not a conveyance and therefore did not meet the criteria for requiring separate recording under §291 of the Real Property Law. It further noted the purchasers “should have searched the County Clerk’s property records until it found the subdivision plat that created its parcel.” This case should serve as a warning to title companies and purchasers of real property of the need to review all filed maps for notations that may restrict the use of the property.