In Michigan, as in most states, the state authority has significantly limited access to public places, stores, restaurants, movie theaters, offices, and other businesses through the issuance of executive orders prohibiting such access. For businesses whose viability depends on the public’s ability to access that business’ physical location, the issuance of such orders has resulted in a loss of use of the property and a severe interruption in business. For some, their insurance policies may appear to insure against loss of use of the insured property when a civil authority prohibits the insured from using the insured property, such as through issuance of an executive prohibiting such access, or there is damage to the property resulting in its loss of use. While it may seem as though the business climate created by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is unique to our generation, this is not the first time a Governor’s executive order has impacted businesses in Michigan and there are several cases from the Michigan Court of Appeals which can provide guidance.
On February 12, 2020, the Ottawa County Circuit Court issued a decision in the consolidated cases Duke, et al v Wittenbach, et al, Case No 19-5989-CH and Wittenbach v Duke, et al, Case No 19-5995-CH. The Duke cases are interesting because at first glance they appear to arise out of the intersection of riparian rights and property owner rights but are ultimately resolved through the application of the ordinary easement principles described in more detail below. Nonetheless, given the increase in Great Lakes water levels, the issues presented in the Duke cases may resurface in future cases, and the Court’s means of resolving the dispute could be applied in any such future cases.
There are several ways in which property can be held by multiple owners. For married couples, one of the most commonly used estates is the tenancy by the entireties. It provides a right of survivorship that enables a surviving spouse to hold property without having to proceed with probate. In Michigan, this estate is only available to married couples. In some instances, parties may seek to mimic the right of survivorship contained in a tenancy by the entirety by holding property as joint tenants with a full right of survivorship. Similar to a tenancy by the entireties, this estate cannot be unilaterally severed by the act of one of the parties, and it provides an indestructible right of survivorship to the surviving joint tenants. This may make it appear to be a more attractive option, in some circumstances, to a tenancy in common which is the presumptive estate for unmarried individuals in Michigan. However, parties seeking to utilize a joint tenancy with full right of survivorship should be aware of the risks that come with such an estate.
Restrictive covenants in Michigan are valuable property rights and have been effectively used to assist in the orderly development of Michigan communities. The rights contained in restrictive covenants are used by developers to implement their community visions and by property owners to protect and enhance the value of their homes. Once adopted these provisions often require unanimous consent to change or modify by default, however, in many cases the original declarant includes an amendment provision to permit a stated percentage of lot owners (or other interested parties), less than all, to adopt an amendment. The effective date of an amendment, even if validly adopted, may be subject to interpretation if the restrictive covenant creates successive terms. Any party seeking to adopt an amendment to its declaration should be aware of these risks and the potential impact of the expiration of a period of time contained in their declaration. Read more
“Necessary” Farm Operations under the Right to Farm Act: Township of Williamston v. Sandalwood Ranch, LLC
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently provided clarity regarding interpretation of the term “farm operations” under the Michigan Right to Farm Act, (“RTFA”), MCL 286.741, et seq., in Williamston Twp v Sandalwood Ranch, LLC, ___ Mich App __; ___ NW2d ___ (2018) (Docket No. 337469). In its decision, the Court of Appeals held that in order for a use to be protected under the RTFA that use must be “necessary” for farm operations under the RTFA, and while “absolute necessity” was not required, such a use must be more than just a matter of convenience to warrant protection.
In Michigan the governmental regulation of land use is largely achieved through the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, (“MZEA”), MCL 125.3101, et seq. The MZEA allows local municipalities to adopt zoning ordinances which regulate the physical appearance and use of property within their jurisdiction. For decades zoning ordinances adopted pursuant to the MZEA or its predecessors focused primarily on regulating the use of property, and not necessarily on the physical form of the property and its buildings. Over the past two decades there has been a slow and gradual shift from use-based zoning to zoning based on the physical form of property, especially in downtown areas.
The relationship between municipalities and land developers is often one of compromise, with each attempting to find some middle-ground in order to move forward on a particular project. In many instances, however, the municipality and developer are unable to reach such a compromise and the parties find that their positions are irreconcilable. In such instances the developer may believe that their only next viable option is to seek redress in the court system. But before doing so, it is important that a developer recognize the limitations on judicial review of land use decisions by a municipality. Specifically, if a developer does not satisfy the “rule of finality,” the developer may find that they have no right to seek a judicial remedy at all. The rule of finality helps to ensure that a municipality is given an opportunity to make a final decision on the matter before it. Without such a final opportunity, judicial review is not available.
Zoning is the regulation of the use of land. It is the exercise of police power intended to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare. Zoning does not create divisions of land nor does it guarantee development. Zoning constitutes an effort on the part of the designated governmental body to avoid land use conflicts between neighbors by ensuring that uses and structures are generally compatible with other uses and structures in the area. It is a means to promote the welfare of the community by guiding orderly growth.
The Michigan Zoning Enabling Act
In Michigan zoning is implemented and statutorily authorized under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, MCL 125.3101, et seq. (“MZEA”). The MZEA was enacted in 2006 and consolidated several prior zoning enabling acts Read more