A cautionary tale of house building

I’m a zoning administrator. I issue land-use permits. I go by the rules of the township. Individual neighborhoods have their own rules. I neither enforce nor care about them. (To be honest, there’s no way I could track all that.) Some lady just came in because some guy is building a house that doesn’t meet the conditions specified in the neighborhood’s master deed. She’s going to put a stop to it. He’s not going to be happy about it.


In a case like that, who would she go to for enforcement? If this is a “neighborhood” rule is there some kind of neighborhood association like there would be with a group of condos? Are there any legal “teeth” to this kind of a master deed, or is enforcement limited to trying to prevail in a civil suit?

It’s a private contract, so the neighborhood association would have to take it to court for a lawsuit. Whether it’s the neighborhood association who has standing to bring the suit, or whether an individual property owner has standing to do it, I cannot say.

That’s why I made sure my neighborhood didn’t have a homeowners’ association (or equivalent) before I bought. Having to look at my neighbors’ hideous lawn ornaments is a small price to pay for being allowed to plant a bush or build a deck without worrying about how it would affect the Master Plan.

Before I built an extension onto my house, I got the required permission (here in England that is from my local council planning department).

Why didn’t this guy do the same?

Even if you don’t have a neighorhood association, there still may be deed restrictions or municipal restrictions that you have to obey. With deed restrictions (in the absence of a homeowners association) I believe the standing to bring a lawsuit is usually given to the other people who own property in the subdivision.

Of course, they’re usually a lot less restrictive then the nightmare homeowners assocations we all here about.

Generally, you do want some covenants with your neighbors, otherwise there may not be anything stopping them from subdividing their land into a mobile home park or starting a small egg ranch. :slight_smile:

Correct and correct.

It would be a civil suit, but that suit might include a request for an injunction to stop the construction project or use that violates the deed restriction.

He did. The OP (an official of the American equivalent of a council planning department) looked at the plans, and determined that they were in compliance with local governmental zoning.

What the OP didn’t check for is whether there were any private (non-governmental, contractual) restrictions on the land. Not his job.

The builder (or more likely, his architect, title company or lawyer) screwed up.

Thank you - an informational post!

Yep. And it really isn’t possible for me to track all the different covenants/restrictions on every piece of land in the township. (And our township is smaller than most, because we’re cut off by Lake Michigan.) In the extreme case, there is a piece of land here and we don’t even know who owns it, let alone what restrictions are on it. (It’s an untaxed parcel that provides lake access to a small number of lots; however, I have no idea which ones and if someone has a beef, they have to take it to court to get it straightened out.)

Big time. It is fortunate that they haven’t actually started hammering nails; they’ve only dug out for the foundation. I think the owner may have been acting as his own general contracter. I have learned that it is better just to pay for a professional—I was actually forced to compel a family to move their tennis court because they decided to be general contractors and didn’t know what they were doing.

Ouch! Did they miss a building line or something?

Sometimes the professionals don’t get it right, either. The contractor who built our house, built the house next to it six feet over the property line. Of course that made the adjoining lot too narrow to be used, so he was forced to buy it, give the six feet to our neighbor and pay taxes on the rest.

Six feet over the property line? Haven’t these people heard of surveyors? My clients hate to get surveys to locate the four corners of the lot and the location of any existing structure on the lot. Surveys are expensive and time-consuming, but they really pay off when you are unsure of the location of your property line and want to build as close to it as you can.

Yep, by quite a bit. They were lucky because the firm they hired to do the paving is one I know to have an outstanding reputation/ethic. In addition, the guy in charge of the job was a guy I knew from another job when I was Traffic Guy for the nearby city. He and his firm stepped right up to the plate and took on the process of getting things taken care of, and in the end we were able to make the correction as painless as possible. Nevertheless, if they had hired him to do the job from start to finish, the circumstances would have been much less painful overall.

Yep, but I think one stands better odds when one hires a professional, since the professional makes a living out of knowing the ropes. Plus, as in your unfortunate mix-up, one has someone to point to when the correction must be paid for.

Surveys are good things! Definately worth the money for the sort of investment one is making on a property/house.


Heh, I’m proofreading the new tax maps that our County GIS is putting together. In some cases the exact same line has been surveyed twice, and the surveyors weren’t within 10% of each other. We have a long row of section corners that were surveyed from different directions and ended up being 200 feet off, when they are supposed to lie on the exact same point.


There are county zoning laws that I think would prevent either of those scenarios, but I get your point. What I was talking about are the Homeowner’s Associations that have authority above and beyond the county laws and ordinances - like being able to fine you for putting Dutch Children of the Damned statues on your front lawn, or limiting what colors you’re allowed to paint your house. Basically, the ones whose motivating factor is not property use, but property value.


It turns out that if he got signatures from 75% of the neighborhood, the one-story limit could be waived (sp?). He did get the required number of signatures. It turns out that the rule was on an amendment to the neighborhood association rules, and the previous owner did not give him the amendment itself, only the unamended rules.

Anywho, it’s apparently all cleared up—even if there are a few grumpy butts who aren’t happy about it.