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I hate to give bad news but it is possible for someone to acquire a prescriptive easement by use over a period of time.
Here is the case law
To establish a prescriptive easement, the defendant must prove by the balance of the probabilities that she used the plaintiff’s driveway for twenty years and that her use was "adverse, continuous, and uninterrupted . . . in such a manner as to give notice to [the plaintiff] that an adverse claim was being made to it." Sandford v. Town of Wolfeboro, 143 N.H. 481, 484 (1999) (quotation omitted).
The plaintiff argues that the trial court’s finding that the defendant’s use was adverse was unsupported by the evidence, especially given that the plaintiff and the defendant testified that they believed that the defendant’s use was permissive.
We have held that to satisfy the adverse use requirement, "[t]he nature of the use must have been such as to show that the owner knew or ought to have known that the right was being exercised, not in reliance upon the owner’s toleration or permission, but without regard to the owner’s consent." Id. (brackets and quotation omitted). "[A]dverse use does not require hostility between the two property owners," so long as the use is "trespassory." Ellison v. Fellows, 121 N.H. 978, 981 (1981). Use is "trespassory" if it consists of "a wrong which the fee holder can prevent or for which he can obtain damages
by means of legal action." Zivic v. Place, 122 N.H. 808, 815 (1982) (quotation omitted).
To establish a prima facie case of adverse use, the defendant must first produce evidence of acts of such a character that they create an inference of non-permissive use. See Sandford, 143 N.H. at 485-86. Once the defendant satisfies this initial burden, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to produce evidence that the defendant’s use of the driveway was permitted. See id. at 486. The burden of persuasion remains at all times on the defendant.
Since the public has used the property since 1971 it appears that the twenty years requirement has been met. Your argument against the prescriptive easement would be that such use has been permissive.
For a decision, you and the association would have to actually go to court and that would be expensive for both sides. The fact that you and the previous owner did not know will not help your case since the law assumes that you and the previous owner should have known.
The decision as to what to do is up to you. There does appear to be a good case for the association to claim a prescriptive easement since the twenty years of use has been met. It does not matter that there was no residence on the property. Sorry to give you the bad news but the law is what it is. Thanks