The Coronavirus and the State of Emergency
On March 10, 2020, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services identified the first two presumptive cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the State of Michigan. On March 16, 2020 Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-9 which closed restaurants, bars, cigar lounges, movie theaters, casinos, libraries, and gyms from the public. On March 23, 2020, Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-21 which imposed a temporary stay-at-home order for non-essential matters, which was later extended and expanded through Executive Orders 2020-42, 2020-59, 2020-70, 2020-77, and 2020-92, and is currently in effect for the majority of the State through at least May 28, 2020.
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.
At some point in their lives, most adults have signed a lease agreement, whether it be the leasing of an automobile, an apartment on campus while attending college or renting a home. Since most of these leases are standard forms offered on a “take it or leave it” basis by the lessor or landlord, negotiating the base rent and term of the lease is typically the main and only focus for the lessee.