Hazel Green couple in dispute over land with probate judge

Published: Nov. 24, 2015 at 4:52 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 22, 2015 at 7:40 PM CST
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(Source: WAFF Staff)
(Source: WAFF Staff)

HAZEL GREEN, AL (WAFF) - The old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, but that's not the case for a Hazel Green couple.
They say they picked the perfect piece of land to retire on, but recently discovered a piece of it is already occupied.
The 13 acres of dirt under the Ross' feet symbolizes years of hard work.
"For 15 years I did without just to have this ma'am. I took every penny I had to clean it off and make sure I had a good place," said property owner Joel Ross.
Eventually, this all will become a home and a farm out in Hazel Green to live out the rest of their days.
After owning it for 15 years, they just saved up enough to clear the lot.
"When we finally got to the back we said look here, there's a fence there," said Linda Ross.
The Ross' claim the neighbor's fence is cutting out more than 3,000 square feet of their property, and they say they have the land surveys to prove it.
"I wanted to make sure I wasn't running over on someone's property so I went and I had a survey done. I got two surveys, once when I bought the land and once when I started cleaning the land off," said Ross.
Their neighbor just happens to be Probate Judge Tommy Ragland, who they say at one point agreed to move the fence, but later changed his mind.
The Ross' claim he went even further.
"He said to Joel, good luck getting a lawyer you won't find one, and I hope you have a pocket full of money," added Linda Ross.
Ross even spelled out the heated exchange in a letter to Ragland, who replied through his attorneys who never made mention of it and warned any attempt to remove his fence would result in punitive damages.
We reached out to Ragland for comment, but before hanging up the phone, he said he would not comment since the couple has threatened litigation.
According to Attorney Greg Reeves, that's exactly where this situation may end up.
"It's highly emotionally charged, very upsetting and at the end of the day if they can't agree on this is where the line is should be, then their recourse is to file suit and let a judge sort it out," said Reeves.
For anyone who finds themselves in a similar property dispute, here are some factors a judge would consider.
First, who put the fence there and how long has it been there?
In the state of Alabama, under certain circumstances after 10 years a trespasser can gain legal ownership of a piece of land under a term known as "adverse possession."
According to the Ross', they have the deed and have been paying taxes on the disputed piece of land longer than 10 years and longer than Ragland has owned his property.
"I've seen it go both ways, sometimes the wire fence becomes the boundary line and sometimes what the deed says becomes the boundary line. Those things can go either way," said Reeves.
Reeves believes it will come down to how much time and money it will take to resolve this and it could be a lot.
The offer to Ragland to share his side of the story continues and should he decide to comment or if there is any additional movement in this story, we will update you further.

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