Property Law Developments

Covenants cannot be amended retroactively if this violates homeowners’ legitimate expectations

he Arizona Supreme Court has limited the powers of homeowners associations to amend covenants retroactively when those amendments would unfairly surprise buyers who were not on notice of them when they bought their properties. Kalway v. Calabria Ranch HOA, LLC, 506 P.3d 18 (Ariz. 2022). In this case, the homeowners association adopted new restrictions...

Read more about Covenants cannot be amended retroactively if this violates homeowners’ legitimate expectations

Covenants that prohibit all leasing restrictions include short-term rentals

The Texas Supreme Court has held that covenants that prohibit all restrictions on leasing cannot prohibit short term rentals, finding that a lease is still a lease if it only lasts for one day. JBrice Holdings, LLC v. Wilcrest Walk Townhomes Ass’n, Inc., 2022 WL 1194364 (Tex. 2022). In addition, short-term rentals were held not to be “commercial” or “non-residential uses.” The court noted that the covenants provided that they could be retroactively amended through a 75% vote of the owners.

Covenants can burden future interests, at least where environmental protection is concerned

A California appellate court interpreted a conveyance to include both a fee simple subject to condition subsequent with a right of entry in the grantor and a conservation easement limiting the property as “natural open space.” While it is not clear the court interpreted the conveyance correctly, it is significant that the court found that an easement (or covenant) can coexist with a right of entry. If structured correctly, such a conveyance would mean that a grantor can both require title to be forfeited to the grantor (or its assignees) if the current possessor violates a conservation... Read more about Covenants can burden future interests, at least where environmental protection is concerned

Tribal title can only be extinguished by federal, not state, law

In a reaffirmation of longstanding doctrine, a federal court in New York has applied the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790, as amended, 25 U.S.C. §177 (the “Nonintercourse Act”), to hold that the title to land of the Canadian St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians retains title to certain lands in the state of New York since the transfer of those lands from the tribe to the state of New York was never ratified by Congress as required by the Nonintercourse Act. Canadian St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians v. New York,... Read more about Tribal title can only be extinguished by federal, not state, law

No prescriptive easements for light and air

Re-affirming a longstanding common law rule, a Maryland court has held that land use that interferes with a neighbor’s desire for unobstructed light and air neither constitutes a nuisance nor can the neighbor acquire such rights by prescription. Gestamp Wind N. Am., Inc. v. All. Coal, LLC, 2021 WL 3612747 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2021). A neighbor whose wind turbines were losing effectiveness because the neighbor was piling coal remains on its property could not get a remedy for the change in wind to run... Read more about No prescriptive easements for light and air

Recorded covenants can run with lands the grantor does not own if owners of those lands ratify the covenants

The Utah Supreme Court has held that a landowner who recorded covenants on land he did not own were potentially binding on subsequent owners of that land if they engaged in acts that ratified the covenants (for example, by making payments to the homeowners association (HOA)). WDIS, LLC, as Trustee of MDMG Trust, dated Apr. 25, 2016 v. Hi-Country...

Read more about Recorded covenants can run with lands the grantor does not own if owners of those lands ratify the covenants

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...

Read more about Courts split on whether short term rentals are a nonresidential use