Land dispute pits Pouch Cove mayor against aging relative

The mayor of Pouch Cove is involved in a court battle with an 81-year-old resident of the town who is alleging that she is claiming ownership of property that he never sold to her.

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The mayor of Pouch Cove is involved in a court battle with an 81-year-old resident of the town who is alleging that she is claiming ownership of property that he never sold to her.

But Sarah Patten says the land is hers, and will fight the matter in court.

Pouch Cove Mayor Sarah Patten, pictured in a file photo, is locked in a land dispute with 81-year-old Henry Jordan. (CBC)

It’s a tangly tale involving a handwritten, 40-year-old bill of sale that sat unregistered for decades, and a he-said, she-said account between an elderly man who can’t read or write and the woman who helped him with his paperwork.

At issue is ownership of a small piece of property behind the house Henry Jordan has lived in since 1960.

Last fall, he saw a surveyor on the land. According to court documents, Jordan was told that Patten had ordered the survey.

This spring, For Sale signs appeared on the property. Jordan didn’t put them there. He hired a lawyer.

That lawyer did a title search of the property, and found that Patten had registered a handwritten bill of sale the previous May.

The bill of sale itself, for $400, was dated June 11, 1971 — 40 years before it was filed in the province’s registry of deeds. Patten’s then-husband James witnessed it; he has since signed an affidavit confirming what he saw four decades ago.

In court filings seeking to declare the sale void, Jordan said he has never been asked to sign any bill of sale related to a portion of his property.

He adds that if it is his signature on the document, what he was signing wasn’t disclosed to him at the time.

Patten counters that she decided to register the sale four decades later, after hearing that Jordan was going to sell it to someone else and was telling people she had enough land already.

Even though Patten claims ownership, the Pouch Cove town council’s own assessment rolls list Jordan as paying taxes on the land.

In fact, Jordan’s niece Noelle Tobin, who is now assisting him, says her uncle got his new tax assessment for the property just last week.

‘Position of trust’ or not

Complicating the matter is the nature of the relationship between Jordan and Patten.

She is his niece by marriage.

Jordan alleges in court documents that Patten was "in a position of trust," because he routinely relied on her to assist him with personal business.

Henry Jordan of Pouch Cove has filed a lawsuit to recover ownership of property he says he never sold in the first place. (CBC)

That, according to Jordan, included the signing of documents.

But Patten disputes that in her court filings, denying that she was in a position of trust.

She did, however, acknowledge helping Jordan with personal business such as banking and paying bills over the years.

Patten declined, through her lawyer, interview requests from CBC News.

Jordan and his niece Noelle Tobin did agree to talk.

"I've seen him in tears, I've seen him exhausted from lack of sleep, his loss of appetite has made him lose weight," Tobin said.

Jordan said of Patten: "I never did trust her."

Letter to health officials

Other documents reveal yet another twist to the story.  A letter to Patten from the Department of Health and Community Services shows that she raised questions last summer about Henry Jordan's well-being.

By making those inquiries, Jordan's lawyer says that Patten raised questions about his competency.

The director of aging and seniors wrote back saying that Jordan did not have Alzheimer's, and "has been deemed to possess the capacity to make decisions regarding his financial and personal care."

Back on the market

Meanwhile, the disputed land is again up for sale.

CBC News has learned that Patten is listed as the vendor.

The disputed property is divided into two lots, each going for nearly $60,000.

The dispute remains before the courts, with a discovery hearing set for December.

But Jordan says the stress of not knowing who owns his land can't end soon enough.