Tear down your 9,000 sq. ft. mansion (and Happy Valentines Day!)

by Gary Taylor

Thom and Lockwood Hills HOA v. Palushaj
(Michigan Court of Appeals, February 14, 2012)

The Thoms live in the Lockwood Hills development in Macomb County. The Palushajs purchased the parcel of land adjacent to the Thoms. Several deed restrictions apply to the lots in Lockwood Hills. The relevant restrictions provide that any home built must be a minimum of 100 feet from any adjacent homes, and that any home built must be a minimum of 40 feet from the side lot line.
During construction of the Palushaj’s 9,000 square foot mansion, the Thoms approached them with concerns that the new home potentially violated these deed restrictions.  The Palushajs apparently sought the advice of counsel and concluded that the restrictions were no longer valid and did not apply to their planned construction. They proceeded with construction of their home as planned, which ended up located 80 feet from the Thom’s home and approximately 28 feet from the side lot line.  After litigation spanning years, the Court of Appeals in this case was faced with the question of the appropriate remedy for the violation of the deed restriction.  The court observed that

[D]eed restrictions are a form of a contractual agreement and create a valuable property right. If a deed restriction is unambiguous, we will enforce that deed restriction as written unless the restriction contravenes law or public policy, or has been waived by acquiescence to prior violations, because enforcement of such restrictions grants the people of Michigan the freedom ‘freely to arrange their affairs’ by the formation of contracts to determine the use of land.

The court emphasized that it was “not faced with a situation where by innocent mistake a house was built that slightly encroached into the setback zone. Rather, we have a substantial,
intentional and flagrant violation of the setback requirements…”  In light of this, the court determined that demolition of all or part of the home to bring it into compliance with the deed restrictions was the only adequate remedy available to be imposed by the courts.

OBSERVATION:  This is a case involving violation of home owners association covenants.  Would the court have been as merciless if it were a zoning violation?

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