Why Timing Matters in Real Estate Law

by Isaac Benmergui, Esq on February 13, 2014

We already spoke about how it really does matter what came first (the chicken or the egg?), and without a doubt, real estate law takes all of that into major consideration when dealing with statutory changes. Take note, people – this is something to keep in mind in a very serious way, because if you’re like these plaintiffs who purchased a 33K-square-foot residential lot back in 1974 when the minimum zoning code requirement was only 15K square feet. So what’s the problem?time

Apparently, the Ottawa Hills Zoning Commission had a problem, stating that the current law only allows structures to built for square footage of 35K or more. Here’s the skinny on the laws and the timing: the statute had changed from 15K to 35K back in 1978. Fair enough, and that makes sense as to why the Commission would make such a big stink about it. Here’s the slight issue, though –

The plaintiffs bought that property before that statutory amendment was made. Obviously, that wasn’t taken as a consideration by the Commission, and they denied the plaintiff’s request for variance to make the lot a “buildable” lot. The story, of course, gets better – plaintiffs had unsuccessfully appealed the case with the trial court, but then the court of appeals reversed it with the condition for remand back to the lower court. That court then determined that the plaintiffs never took any affirmative action to build a house on that lot during the remaining time before the new statute was enacted.

And, oh, yes, it gets better: The court of appeals then affirmed that, bringing our plaintiffs back to square one. However, the plaintiffs didn’t give up, approaching the Supreme Court for an additional review of the case. Guess what: they remanded it as well, reversing the decision, stating that the appropriate decision was to grant the variance. Once again – it’s another example of how timing really does matter.

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