Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Plaintiff Alpine Haven Property Owners' Association, Inc. (AHPOA) appealed a trial court's decision in its collection action against defendant-homeowners Harry and Lynette Brewin. In awarding judgment to AHPOA, the court calculated what it considered a reasonable annual fee that AHPOA could charge defendants for services it provided, including garbage pickup and road maintenance. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court erred in replacing AHPOA's fee with its own given the absence of any evidence to show that AHPOA acted in bad faith or that its fee was unreasonable. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alpine Haven Property Owners Assn., Inc. v. Brewin" on Justia Law

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The Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC (Neighborhood Group) appealed an environmental court decision declining to find Act 250 jurisdiction over a firing range operated by the Laberge family (Laberge). Neighborhood Group argued the environmental court erred by: (1) allowing Laberge's untimely appeal; (2) concluding that because Laberge did not rely on donations, it was not operating for a commercial purpose; and (3) granting preclusive effect to a 1995 jurisdictional opinion. The Laberge family owned and operated a 287-acre farm, of which ten acres have been used as a shooting range since the 1950s by Laberge and the public. In November 2015, the recently formed Neighborhood Group requested a new jurisdictional opinion from the Commission. Neighborhood Group argued that since 1995, the range had begun operating with a "commercial purpose," citing the continued acceptance of donations and 2012 berm placements and bench repairs. Members complained of a sharp increase in the volume, intensity, and hours of shooting noise over the years since. In February 2016, the Commission issued a jurisdictional opinion (2016 JO), finding that, due to regular donations from municipalities, the range was now operating for a commercial purpose such that the construction of berms and shooting benches subjected the range to Act 250 jurisdiction. The environmental court declined to impose Act 250 jurisdiction, finding that Neighborhood Group had "fail[ed] to meet its burden of proof showing that cash donations are necessary for the [r]ange to operate" or that "there has been a change in donations to the [r]ange since the 1995 JO was issued that would create a commercial purpose where none existed before." The Vermont Supreme Court determined the environmental court did not abuse its discretion in finding excusable neglect and allowing Laberge's untimely appeal. Neither did it err when it concluded that Laberge, which had never charged for the use of the range and did not rely on donations for its operation, was not operating for a commercial purpose within the meaning of Act 250. "Laberge's range, consisting of a farm field with several benches and earthen berms, is not operating for a commercial purpose any more than a backyard corn maze or community garden space offered to the public free of charge. Act 250 sought to protect Vermont's unique environmental and cultural heritage at a time when the rapid proliferation of large-scale developments was dramatically altering many landscapes and communities around the nation. The text and spirit of Act 250, consistent with our prior decisions, informs our conclusion that the Act was not intended to apply to a family dairy farm that allows the community to target practice on its fields free of charge." View "In re Laberge Shooting Range (Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Bank of America appealed a trial court order confirming the sale of a foreclosed property in favor of Sandra Lockerby. The property at issue was foreclosed by judicial order in December 2015. The foreclosure order included a six-month redemption period, permitting Seamus and Jennifer O’Kelly and the Vermont Department of Taxes to redeem the property before or during June 2016. If the property was not redeemed, it would be sold to the highest bidder at a public sale. A year later, six months after the redemption period expired, Bank of America held a foreclosure sale of the property. The Bank’s representative had difficulty locating the property on the day of the foreclosure sale and did not arrive at the sale in time to enter the Bank’s bid. The auctioneer entered the Bank’s bid on behalf of the Bank. Sandra Lockerby, the only bidder who appeared in person at the foreclosure sale, entered a bid approximately one-third the amount of the Bank’s bid. The Bank subsequently filed a motion to void the foreclosure sale, noting that the Bank’s representative was not able to find the property in time for the sale and therefore could not enter the Bank’s bid. The Bank requested that the trial court grant it sixty days in which to hold a new foreclosure sale. The court issued an order after the hearing stating that the auctioneer’s bid on behalf of the Bank would not be confirmed because it was “improper.” The court further stated that it had learned during the hearing that a bidder was present at the foreclosure sale and “may be entitled to have his or her bid declared as the successful bid.” The court ordered that a second hearing be held on the Bank’s motion to void the foreclosure sale; the bidder hired by the Bank to make its bid did not appear at the hearing. The Bank focused on asking the trial court to exercise its discretion to decline confirmation of the foreclosure sale where, the Bank argued, excusable neglect in the failure to appear and the commercial reasonableness of bids received supported voiding the foreclosure sale. The court resolved the matter by confirming the sale in Lockerby's favor. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the record was not clear whether the trial court believed it had discretion with respect to the confirmation of the sale. Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion in confirming, or not confirming, the sale, including consideration of whether the foreclosure sale satisfied statutory requirements and other factors relevant to the integrity and fairness of the sale. View "Bank of America, N.A. v. O'Kelly" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought relief from the City of Rutland after suffering sewage backups in their homes. The trial court granted summary judgment to the City, concluding plaintiffs failed to adequately support their negligence, nuisance, trespass, and constitutional takings claims. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing they produced sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. Agreeing with the trial court, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "Lorman v. City of Rutland" on Justia Law

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Sung-Hee Chung (neighbor) appealed the Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment to Lori and Richard Mathez (applicants). The appeal concerned whether the District Commission exceeded its authority by issuing a second notice for a final Act 250 permit when, due to applicants’ failure, neighbor did not receive notice of the permit before it became final, and neighbor failed to timely appeal. Applicants sought an Act 250 permit to build a 75’ by 100’ steel building for a commercial vehicle repair and body shop, a “minor application” under the Act. Finding that the Environmental Division had jurisdiction over the appeal, and that the District Commission had no authority to issue a second notice of a final permit, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of applicants. View "In re Mathez Act 250 LU Permit (Sung-Hee Chung, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Sung-Hee Chung (neighbor) appealed the Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment to Lori and Richard Mathez (applicants). The appeal concerned whether the District Commission exceeded its authority by issuing a second notice for a final Act 250 permit when, due to applicants’ failure, neighbor did not receive notice of the permit before it became final, and neighbor failed to timely appeal. Applicants sought an Act 250 permit to build a 75’ by 100’ steel building for a commercial vehicle repair and body shop, a “minor application” under the Act. Finding that the Environmental Division had jurisdiction over the appeal, and that the District Commission had no authority to issue a second notice of a final permit, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of applicants. View "In re Mathez Act 250 LU Permit (Sung-Hee Chung, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, Federal National Mortgage Association (“bank”) filed an eviction action against defendant Marjorie Johnston for property located at 49 Pine Street in Rutland, Vermont. Following entry of a default judgment, the court found that service had not been properly completed and bank conceded to vacating the default judgment. Because the time for service had run, the court dismissed the case without prejudice in November 2016. In March 2017, bank filed this eviction action against defendants Johnston and Kamberleigh Johnston, alleging bank had purchased the property in a foreclosure sale and that defendants were the former mortgagors and current occupants of the property. In June 2017, bank filed a notice of voluntary dismissal, seeking to dismiss the case without prejudice. At that time, defendants had not filed an answer or otherwise appeared in the case. The dismissal was entered on June 23, 2017. On July 10, 2017, Marjorie filed a notice of appearance in the case and a motion to reconsider, arguing that the case should have been dismissed with prejudice due to the dismissal of the prior eviction action. Defendant also asserted that instead of allowing a voluntary dismissal, the court should dismiss the case with prejudice on mootness grounds because bank had sold the property prior to seeking a voluntary dismissal. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. Defendants appealed. On appeal, defendants argued that because a prior eviction action filed by bank had been dismissed, this case should have been dismissed with prejudice. Defendants also contended the court erred in denying their motion to reconsider without a hearing and not dismissing the case on mootness grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the effect of the voluntary dismissal was not ripe until a third action was filed and affirmed. View "Federal National Mortgage Association v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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R.E.E. & C. Capital Management Services, Inc. (buyer) appealed a trial court order granting People’s United Bank’s motion to compel buyer to complete the purchase of a foreclosed commercial property. Buyer raised three arguments: (1) it was not a party to the foreclosure sale, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to compel it to purchase the property; (2) the trial court erred in declining to apply the statutory remedy; and, (3) the trial court erred in ordering specific performance because an adequate remedy at law exists. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined a high bidder’s successful bid in a judicial sale, and the court’s subsequent confirmation of the foreclosure sale pursuant to 12 V.S.A. 4954(a), renders a buyer a limited party such that the court is authorized to issue orders directing the buyer’s action relative to the property’s purchase. The Court found 12 V.S.A. 4954 (e) did not limit the Bank’s remedies: “the legal right to an agreement’s completion does not arise exclusively from Vermont’s foreclosure statutes.” However, the Supreme Court found that while specific performance was a permissible remedy in some instances, the trial court did not engage in the analysis of whether this case was one of those instances. Therefore, the trial court’s order of specific performance was an abuse of its discretion, leading the Supreme Court to reverse and remand this case for the trial court to perform that analysis. View "People's United Bank, NA v. Alana Provencale, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law