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Guinzy v. Kratz

MAY 7, 1975.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. ROBERT GAGEN, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff-Appellant, Cornelia Guinzy, filed a complaint seeking a partition of property allegedly owned with the defendants-appellees as tenants in common and asking for rent for the defendants-appellees' occupancy of the property. The defendants were Virginia Kratz, individually and as administrator of the state of Oswald Kratz, deceased, and Oswald P. Kratz, Jr., a minor. Defendants answered and counterclaimed to quiet title. The trial court entered a decree for the defendants on the plaintiff's complaint and for the defendants on their counterclaim.

The evidence shows that John Kratz died intestate in 1937, leaving as his sole heirs Oswald Kratz, Sr., a son, and the plaintiff Cornelia Guinzy, a daughter. He owned four lots in Marissa, Illinois, on which was a home in which Oswald Kratz, Sr., lived continuously with his family from the death of his father in 1937 until his own death in 1970. Since the death of Oswald Kratz, Sr. his widow, defendant Virginia Kratz, and his son, defendant Oswald P. Kratz, Jr., have lived on the property. Oswald Kratz, Sr., paid all taxes, maintained the property and made substantial improvements to the residence which approximately doubled its size, and constructed a workshop and a garage.

The plaintiff visited in her brother's home from time to time through the years, knew about the improvements and maintenance, and that her brother paid all the taxes. In 1942 Oswald informed plaintiff that the property was in danger of being sold for back taxes and asked her to contribute to their payment. She refused but indicated an intention to reimburse him later, but this was never done. During the lifetime of her brother the plaintiff never made any demand for rent or otherwise asserted any claim or interest in the property. In July 1971, approximately 9 months after Oswald's death, plaintiff filed her complaint asking for partition and payment of back rent.

In their answer to the complaint defendants asserted that any rights which the plaintiff might have had were barred by laches. In two subsequent amendments to defendants' answer additional defenses were included — one, that any rent due before 5 years prior to filing the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations, and another, that defendants had acquired title to the real estate through adverse possession.

Attached to defendants' answer was a handwritten document which read:

"I, the undersigned, have agreed to Oswald Kratz that I will never hold or file any claim against the John Kratz property."

This was signed "Mrs. Cornelia Kromer (nee Kratz)." The instrument was not dated, but it was notarized on April 19, 1946, by E.O. Albert, a notary public. Defendants maintained that this document constituted a waiver of any rights plaintiff might claim in the real estate. The document was admitted into evidence over objection by the plaintiff who claimed that she had not executed or signed it. The notary public involved testified that plaintiff had signed the document in his presence.

Attorneys for both parties submitted briefs. After hearing the evidence and considering the briefs, the trial court entered a decree in favor of the defendants on the plaintiff's complaint and quieting title in defendants upon their counterclaim. The trial court did not indicate upon which of the defendants' theories it based its decree.

We affirm.

In our opinion the instrument allegedly executed by the plaintiff is not adequate as a conveyance of property. There is no recitation of consideration, no one is named specifically as grantee, there are no words of conveyance, no description of property, and there is no date of execution, only that on which it was notarized. But while not admissible as a conveyance, it is admissible along with other evidence to show the intention of the parties. Therefore, it is not necessary to consider cases cited by the plaintiff in support of the view that the document is not admissible as a conveyance. Neither do we feel that the facts in this case meet the requirements of section 6 of the limitations statute (Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 83, par. 6), which states that one who holds property under color of title and pays taxes for a period of 7 years "* * * shall be held and adjudged to be the legal owner of said lands or tenements, to the extent and according to the purport of his or her paper title." The instrument in question is insufficient to give color of title. In Bergesen v. Clauss, 15 Ill.2d 337, 342, 155 N.E.2d 20, the court said: "* * * any instrument having a grantor, a grantee, a description of the land and words of conveyance is sufficient to give color of title of the land to the grantee." As stated, the instrument in question does not meet these requirements.

We do find, however, sufficient elements of adverse possession present here to serve as a bar to plaintiff's claim.

• 1, 2 While it is agreed that the possession of one cotenant is the possession of all cotenants (Harlan v. Douthit, 379 Ill. 15, 39 N.E.2d 345) and that ordinarily a tenant in common out of possession may at any time assert his right and request partition (Massman v. Duffy, 333 Ill. App. 30, 76 N.E.2d 547; Andrews v. Floyd, 308 Ill. 559, 139 N.E. 883), this does not preclude a tenant in common from acquiring right against other tenants in common by adverse possession. In Steele v. Steele, 220 Ill. 318, 77 N.E. 232, the court said:

"It is the general rule that statutes of limitation do not run as between tenants in common, for the reason that the possession of one tenant is, in contemplation of law, the possession of all; but if, as a matter of fact, the possession of one is adverse to the other, a right of action may be barred or title may be acquired under a statute of limitations. If one tenant in common holds exclusive possession, claiming the land as his, and his conduct and possession are of such a character as to give notice to his cotenant that his possession is adverse, the ...

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