Author Topic: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?  (Read 2582 times)

BlueSky45

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Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« on: October 27, 2017, 07:45:05 AM »
DH and I bought some land a few years ago and are planning to build a house on it this coming spring.  The lot is in the low rent area of a pretty pricey area because it's near Lake Michigan (we are in Michigan).  Last week we were served a summons and complaint by a neighbor (really about a block away) who doesn't want to abide by the plat restrictions when building her own house.  A couple of people that live adjacent to her property made her aware of these plat restrictions and I guess if she follows them she'll have to cut 5' off the front of her proposed close to 11,000 square foot house. (She is obviously not Mustachian!)  She seems to have more money than she knows what to do with so instead of changing her house design to accommodate the plat restrictions she's decided to sue the entire neighborhood to make sure no one can challenge her house design after it's built.

We want nothing to do with this lady or her house.  I could care less if she builds her monstrosity but I am concerned about possibly needing to hire a lawyer to get out of this mess.  I'm assuming that she's going to win because the summons lists about 20 other properties that currently violate the plat restrictions and I talked with the local building department and they don't enforce these plat restrictions because they differ from the area building requirements.  The summons is about an inch thick but what I'm most concerned about is the statement "....prays for entry of a Judgment granting her the following relief:", I'm not including the items regarding the plat restrictions "D. Granting _____ actual attorney fees and costs sustained.  E. Granting _______ such other relief as may be appropriate".  Can she really get us to pay for her attorney fees, etc. when we (DH and I) did nothing that caused her harm?  What would you do in this situation?  Appreciate any thoughtful responses :)

$200k

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2017, 01:26:24 PM »
A complaint will always pray for those attorneys fees and other relief as a default statement.  It doesn't mean that they will recover them against you. 

Old plat restrictions generally don't include an attorneys fees clause, but you need to read them and find out.  I'm not an MI attorney so: CAVEAT.

If you were my friend, I'd wager you are fine to do nothing with high certainty. 

Laura33

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2017, 04:07:00 PM »
If you really don't care about whether she can build her monstrosity, you should be able to call her lawyer and agree to a settlement where you agree not to challenge her compliance with the setbacks and she agrees to drop you from the case.

Of course, you might then need a lawyer to review the settlement agreement for you.  ;-)

BlueSky45

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2017, 06:35:27 AM »
Thanks $200k and Laura33. Her lawyer included a document that we could sign to get dropped from the case but by signing it I would have to agree that she has rights to do what she wants regardless of certain laws. I don't agree with the statement in the document but maybe a call to her lawyer could work. 

Zamboni

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2017, 06:46:46 AM »
Ugh!

She doesn't sound neighborly at all. People are going to LOVE her and her house . . . she is an idiot who obviously doesn't understand how angry neighbors in all directions can ruin a peaceful life.

I have no legal advice to share, but you do have my sympathy.

undercover

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2017, 09:33:00 AM »
Not a lawyer. How can you sue someone for something they might do in opposition to what you're doing when the thing you're doing is technically not permitted to begin with? If that sounds stupid, it's because it is.

There's nothing her neighbors can do about the building itself except sue her since it's not a zoning issue. From what I've read, a deed restriction is usually enforced by an HOA - and if there's not one, then it becomes a civil suit. It makes no sense for her to preemptively sue when a judge could still technically side with whoever is suing her for the deed restriction. She's trying to be prudent but is just being stupid.

If you're that worried about it then you should just sign the paper. The house is not in even in sight of you and affects your life in literally no way. I wouldn't sign it simply because she sounds batshit crazy. Why sign something you have absolutely nothing to do with?

Zamboni

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2017, 09:56:57 AM »
Not a lawyer, but my inclination would be to not sign it. I would just ignore it. It's an intimidation tactic, and that kind of stuff just pisses me off. She can't show that you have caused her any damages, and so she's not going to win a judgement against you. If she does, then that's the time to hire a lawyer and appeal in my opinion.

Do you personally know any of the people who have property immediately adjacent to hers? Are they planning to fight her silliness? Let them, and stay out of it.

BlueSky45

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2017, 11:54:04 AM »
Thanks for the sympathy Zamboni, I didn't sign the document.  I agree that it's an intimidation tactic and it drives me crazy too because she probably got at least 1/2 of the neighborhood to sign it purely out of fear.  Her property will be my favorite place to walk my rather large dogs from now on!! :) 

Undercover, it's my understanding that she's suing the entire neighborhood because we would all have cause to sue her if we chose to at some point.  She's scared that someone is going to challenge  (i.e. sue) her after her ridiculously large house is built and if the challenger wins then she'll have to rip down a part of her house.  Good point about the HOA enforcing deed restrictions.  There is not an HOA in this area so it muddies the waters even more.

Either way, I do know at last three of the neighbors that are closer to her are going to fight it.  DH and I decided this morning to just write a letter to the court in response and then stay out of it.

Laura33

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Re: Any Lawyers Willing to Weigh In?
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2017, 03:30:11 PM »
How can you sue someone for something they might do in opposition to what you're doing when the thing you're doing is technically not permitted to begin with?

Usually it's called a "declaratory judgment" action -- you are asking the court to declare what your rights are before you have an actual problem.  It makes sense if you think about it (putting aside 11,000' mansions!), because there are a lot of grey areas in the law.  For ex., say you buy an old cabin, and you plan to do a $50K remodel to it.  But then you discover that there are new requirements that apply to any property built after (say) 1970 that would increase your reno costs to $300K -- and you can't be 100% sure whether your cabin was built in 1969 or 1971 (and you sure can't afford $300K if you guess wrong!).  A declaratory judgment action allows you to ask the court to decide whether those new rules apply to you, so the building department or whoever can't come after you 10 years later and say, oops, you screwed up, tear it all out.* 

Now, obviously, you'd hope the lawsuit was a last resort.  But once she decided to file it, she had to include everyone who might have an interest in it, just out of fairness -- otherwise, the people who were excluded might not even know and so would never even get the chance to object to the project.

FWIW, I would not sign a broad release like that either!  I'd want something more narrow -- e.g., you don't object to the plan as it currently exists in XYZ document that was filed on ABC date, or you won't object on the basis that the design is 5' over the setback.  I like your idea of writing the court and saying something really simple, like you don't object to the 5' issue, but her lawyer has demanded that you agree that anything she wants to do is fine, and you can't afford to hire a lawyer and are worried about being subjected to attorneys' fees if you don't agree to that demand, and so please dismiss you from the case (or at least strike the demand for attorneys' fees).