Mark Zuckerberg is suing hundreds of people in Hawaii in his effort to create a secluded island.
The billionaire spent $100 million purchasing 700 acres of land in the island of Kauai back in 2014 and is still dealing with the fact that he doesn’t actually have the exclusive rights to all of it.
Sounds nasty, right?
The lawsuits, filed in Hawaii’s state Circuit Court on Dec. 30, are looking to identify local people’s claims to land within the area he owns — the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday — to force a sale of those properties.
Zuckerberg is leveraging Hawaii’s “quiet title” law, which allows rightful ownership of land to be decided before a judge. If co-owners do not agree to terms, the land can be auctioned.
News of the lawsuit came out shortly after reports indicated the CEO added about $5 billion to his fortune in the first two weeks of this year, so you can take a quick guess at who would win in an auction.
Hawaiian law = not so breezy
As Hawaii was once a kingdom, laws over land ownership are quite complicated. In 1850, the Hawaiian monarchy allowed private ownership of land, called kuleana land, where parcels could be bought and then would be passed along to future generations.
Therefore, one acre of land can be part-owned by hundreds of Hawaiians.
— Brian Vastag (@brianvastag) 18 janvier 2017
“It is common in Hawaii to have small parcels of land within the boundaries of a larger tract, and for the title to these smaller parcels to have become broken or clouded over time,” Keoni Shultz, partner at Cades Schutte LLP and a lawyer on behalf of Zuckerberg, wrote in a statement emailed to Mashable.
“Quiet title actions are the standard and prescribed process to identify all potential co-owners, determine ownership, and ensure that, if there are other co-owners, each receives appropriate value for their ownership share,” the statement continued.
The process is fair, by Hawaiian law, but it isn’t easy for native owners. If a judge decides on an auction, it’s clear who will win out.
“The person being sued is ultimately on the defensive,” Donald Eby, a real estate attorney and partner in the Colorado law firm Robinson & Henry, told Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Zuckerberg’s 700 acres includes about a dozen small parcels, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. These families have a right to live in and traverse the property. Given the lawsuits, Zuckerberg clearly doesn’t want it that way.
He does however want people to be compensated. Zuckerberg has no intent to contest the owners who can prove their interest and wants to make sure that the property owners are duly compensated, according to a Mashable source familiar with the matter.
Only one person — Carlos Andrade, a retired University of Hawaii professor of Hawaiian studies — is actively using his parcel within Zuckerberg’s estate, according to the source. But presumably, hundreds of others could if they so chose.
So if Zuckerberg bought this land in 2014, why are we talking about this in 2017? Turns out the CEO wasn’t sitting idly.
His team conducted genealogical research, in part with the help of Andrade, to identify part-owners of the land and therefore provide a list of hundreds of names in these lawsuits.
The next step in the legal process grants those people and anyone else not identified, but able justify their own rights, to agree on the use of the property.
These individuals have 20 days to respond.