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REAL ESTATE 21: Dispute began when defendants erected a removable, seasonal boat hoist.

Defendants, purchased a triangular shaped lot along the River in 2003. Defendants’ property is their private residence. However, the land was once part of a larger parcel that was a small rental cottage resort. In approximately 1968, the prior owner and her husband erected a fence, marked in red below, spanning only a portion of their property, to keep their dog from wandering. The fence remains in place today. The Plaintiff has owned the lot to the west of defendants since 1963. The property extends to the river’s edge, although a Road bisects the land. The larger portion, on the far side of the road, is developed as a residence. A narrow strip follows the river and the Plaintiffs have installed a dock.

In 2003, the parties split the cost of professional weed removal on the point of land. Over the years, they worked together to keep the area mowed and weeded. It appears that the dispute began when defendants erected a removable, seasonal boat hoist in the area in 2012. Plaintiff removed and hid defendants’ hoist, but returned it on police orders.

Plaintiff eventually filed a lawsuit, seeking to quiet title to the disputed piece of land and to enforce a 10-foot setback requirement for structures, such as boat hoists, under the Zoning Ordinance. The parties each presented expert witnesses to interpret the plat map of the area. These experts gave varying opinions about the boundaries and dimensions of defendants’ parcel. Plaintiff contended that regardless of the description of defendants’ property in their deed and the land records, defendants and their predecessors acquiesced in the Plaintiff family’s sole enjoyment of the area for several decades.

Following a bench trial, the circuit court ruled that the seasonal boat hoist was not a structure under the Zoning Ordinance’s definition and therefore its erection did not violate the ordinance. The court rejected Plaintiff’s claim to title by acquiescence and also based on the legal descriptions of the lots. Accordingly, the court quieted title in defendants’ favor.

The circuit court did not err in finding that defendants are the record owners of the small piece of land. Defendants’ deed describes their property’s northern border. When there is a conflict between a distance and a natural boundary, such as a body of water, the location of the boundary controls, and the boundary exists where the water actually lies. Given this state of the law, the defendant's expert witness accurately set the property’s western boundary at the water’s edge, giving defendants title to the contested 7.5 feet of waterfront property.

Also, the circuit court did not error in its assessment that Plaintiff did not gain title over the subject land through the acquiescence of defendants and their predecessors. Plaintiff asserted title under the first theory: acquiescence for a 15-year period. For this type of acquiescence, Plaintiff was not required to establish any historical dispute regarding the proper boundary line.  Proof that parties have treated a boundary as the property line for the statutory period suffices to prove acquiescence.

Plaintiff testified that she had treated defendants’ fence as the boundary between their properties. She weeded the 7.5-foot area on the west side of the fence and took care of the landscaping. However, neither defendants nor their predecessors treated the fence as the property boundary. The prior owner testified that she knew the fence was not the property boundary. Defendants similarly testified that they knew the fence was not the boundary.

Finally, the county’s zoning administrator testified that the County had never cited anyone for a zoning violation regarding a seasonal boat hoist and a boat hoist does not fall within the definition of a structure in the Zoning Ordinance.

Are you involved in a real estate dispute in Michigan? Are you seeking an efficient and effective resolution to a property litigation matter?

Aldrich Legal Services represent clients in a wide range of real estate litigation, including:

  • Boundary disputes
  • Neighbor disputes
  • Purchase and sales disputes
  • Residential real estate disputes
  • Easement and access disputes

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