Property Law Developments

Real estate sellers cannot change their minds once a contract is signed

The Massachusetts Land Court has reaffirmed a traditional rule of law that parties to a real estate contract involving the sale of land have the right to demand specific performance. In this case, that meant that, once a land sales contract is signed by both parties, the buyer is entitled to a judgment ordering the seller to go through with the sale; the seller has no right to change their mind and refuse to sell. The court noted that this rule applies equally to buyers and sellers. Niziak v. Daniels, 2021 WL 6013961, at *7 (Mass. Land Ct. 2021).

Nearby changes do not satisfy the changed conditions doctrine so restrictive covenants remain in effect

The Alabama Supreme Court has reaffirmed the traditional rule that changes nearby but outside a restricted neighborhood are not sufficient to come within the changed conditions doctrine that would make existing restrictive covenants unenforceable. Capitol Farmers Market, Inc. v. Ingram, 2021 WL 5752352 (Ala. 2021). Covenants remain enforceable unless changes inside the neighbhorhood subject to the... Read more about Nearby changes do not satisfy the changed conditions doctrine so restrictive covenants remain in effect

Courts split on whether short term rentals are a nonresidential use

With continued disagreement among courts in the U.S., the Kentucky Supreme Court has weighed in on the side of finding short term rentals of property to be more like hotels than home ownership or residential leasing and so does not qualify as a "residential" use prohibited by a covenant that prohibits nonresidential uses of the land.. Hensley v. Gadd, 560 S.W.3d...

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Probation on discriminating against Section 8 recipients does not violate due process

The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that a state statute that prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to housing voucher (Section 8) recipients does not violate the due process or equal protection clauses of the Minnesota Constitution. Fletcher Properties, Inc. v. City of Minneapolis, 947 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 2020). While federal law does not require landlords to rent to...

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Federal court rejects claim for religious or speech exemption from state public accommodations law for wedding photographer

A federal judge for the Western District of New York has ruled that the state public accommodations statute can be applied to a wedding photographer who refused to provide services for same-sex couples. Carpenter v. James, 2021 WL 5879090 (W.D.N.Y. 2021). On the speech claim, the court assumed that the law compelled speech on the part of the photographer but held that...

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Banks are both owners and landlords when they buy tenant-occupied property at a foreclosure sale

Banks seem to have a hard time understanding that when they obtain title to property through a foreclosure sale that they not only own the property but have taken on themselves all the obligations that an owner has. If the property is occupied by tenants, the bank-owner is automatically the new landlord and the law imposes duties on landlords. The law also requires owners not to let their property become a nuisance. But this simple legal truth is repeatedly resisted by some banks. This rule extends to any entity that is the legal owner of the property and that includes the trustee of...

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Eviction moratorium does not violate contract clause

The Ninth Circuit upheld a city eviction moratorium against a contracts clause challenge. Apartment Ass'n of Los Angeles County, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 2021 WL 3745777 (9th Cir. 2021). While the law did affect contract rights, it was reasonable and appropriate and did not constitute retroactive deprivation of vested rights as required for the clause to apply. The court cited Home Building...

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Sexual harassment of tenant by property manager violates Fair Housing Act

The Eleventh Circuit joins other courts that have held that sexual harassment by a landlord (or an agent of the landlord) can constitute sex discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §3601 to §3613 if the behavior would not have occurred but for the tenant's sex.

This formulation has been adopted by other courts, see United States v. Hurt, 676 F.3d 649 (9th Cir. 2012), Quigley v. Winter, 598 F.3d 938 (8th Cir. 2010), and suggests that a landlord that sexually harasses both men and women would not be liable for engaging in sex discrimination — a result that...

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Kansas "ag gag" law unconstitutional infringement on free speech

A Kansas statute (Kansas Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, Kan. Stat. §47-1825 to §47-1828) criminalized entry into an agricultural facility "without the effective consent of the owner" if the intent is to "damage the enterprise." Animal Leg. Defense Fund v. Kelly, 2021 WL 3671122 (10th Cir. 2021). The Tenth Circuit struck down...

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