Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Plaintiffs Johnathan Billewicz, Michael Billewicz, J & M Investment Trust, and Lillian Billewicz appealed a the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant Town of Fair Haven. Plaintiffs sought damages and a declaratory judgment that deeds purporting to convey their properties to the Town following a tax sale were void. The court found their action was foreclosed by the one-year statute of limitations at 32 V.S.A. 5294(4) for claims challenging the validity of a tax collector’s acts. Plaintiffs argued this was error because their claims were instead subject to the three-year statute of limitations for actions for the recovery of land sold at a tax sale under 32 V.S.A. 5263. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Billewicz, et al. v. Town of Fair Haven" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff David Demarest filed suit against the Town of Underhill, seeking a declaration that he had a right of vehicle access over a Town trail, and appealing the Selectboard’s decision denying his request for highway access to a proposed new subdivision on his property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town, concluding that plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief was barred by claim preclusion and that the Town acted within its discretion in denying the permit. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred in applying claim preclusion, and that the Town exceeded its authority under the statute in denying his request for access. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Demarest v. Town of Underhill" on Justia Law

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Daughter Deborah George appealed the civil division’s determination that her father, decedent Theodore George, was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was properly included in his estate. Decedent purchased the vehicle at issue, a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, in 1992. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a Certificate of Title to decedent in 1994 in his name only. The copy of the title in the record contained no assignment of ownership to daughter. In 2006, decedent submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the DMV. Decedent’s name was listed in the space provided for the owner, and daughter’s name was listed in the adjacent space provided for a co-owner. Next to daughter’s name, a handwritten annotation said, “add co-owner.” The form directed applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner was listed and provides that “if no box is checked joint tenants will be selected.” Decedent made no indication. At the bottom of the form, decedent signed the application; the line for the co-owner’s signature was left blank. No bill of sale accompanied the 2006 Registration Application. The DMV issued registration certificates naming both decedent and daughter for 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017-2018. On appeal of the civil division's determination, daughter argued that decedent’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership effectively transferred an interest in the vehicle to her. Alternatively, she argued that decedent’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was insufficient evidence that decedent transferred an interest in the vehicle to daughter under either theory and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Theodore George" on Justia Law

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In prior proceedings, the Vermont Supreme Court remanded this case involving Alpine Haven, a residential development in the Towns of Montgomery and Westfield, Vermont. The case was remanded to the trial court for a determination of the basis upon which the Alpine Haven Property Owners Association, Inc. (AHPOA) could bill plaintiffs for services that AHPOA provided. The trial court determined that those plaintiffs who owned “Chalet Lots” were required by their deeds to pay AHPOA a reasonable fee for road maintenance, snowplowing, and garbage removal; those plaintiffs who owned “Large Lots” were required by statute and equitable principles to contribute to AHPOA’s road maintenance costs. The court concluded plaintiffs failed to show any material factual dispute regarding the reasonableness or accuracy of AHPOA’s fees. It thus ordered plaintiffs to pay AHPOA’s annual assessments between 2011 and 2018. Plaintiffs challenged this decision on appeal. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Khan et al. v. v. Alpine Haven Property Owners' Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

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Homeowner Edward Deptula appealed pro se a judgment in favor of plaintiff Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Association, Inc. (AHPOA) and third-party defendants Estate of Robert Gensburg and Gensburg & Greaves, PLLC (collectively Gensburg) in a long-running dispute over homeowner fees. AHPOA’s billing was based either on voluntary membership in AHPOA, or a homeowner’s obligation by deed and/or equity to pay for certain services that AHPOA provided. AHPOA owns and maintains a 4.5-mile road network within Alpine Haven, which almost all owners need to access their properties. AHPOA is also responsible for the streetlights, snowplowing, and garbage disposal within Alpine Haven. Deptula purchased a chalet lot in 1972. He has repeatedly refused to pay AHPOA’s annual assessments and those of AHPOA’s predecessor-in-interest and assignor, Leisure Properties. This has led to numerous collection actions. On appeal of this latest challenge to the assessments, Deptula raised numerous arguments, but finding no reversible error in the judgment in favor of AHPOA, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alpine Haven Property Owners' Assn, Inc. v. Deptula" on Justia Law

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Defendant, MontChilly, Inc., appealed a trial court’s order requiring it to remove portions of a fence that interfered with plaintiff VTRE Investments, LLC's easement for ingress and egress. MontChilly also contended the trial court improperly failed to issue a ruling on its counterclaim for trespass against plaintiff for parking on MontChilly’s property without any legal right to do so. On cross-appeal, plaintiff challenged the court’s holding that it was bound by a reciprocal easement allowing a drainpipe over its property on the ground that its predecessor in interest did not sign the instrument creating the easement. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order requiring MontChilly to remove portions of its fence, and remanded for the court to enter judgment on MontChilly’s trespass counterclaim. With respect to VTRE’s cross-appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the court’s judgment. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "VTRE Investments, LLC v. MontChilly, Inc." on Justia Law

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R.L. Vallee, Inc. appealed the superior court’s denial of its motion to intervene in a state condemnation action seeking property rights for a highway project. Vallee argued: (1) it had a right to intervene under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(1) because Vermont’s highway condemnation statute conferred an unconditional right to intervene; and (2) it had a right to intervene under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) because it had an interest relating to property that was subject to the condemnation action and intervention was necessary to protect that interest. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that Vallee had an unconditional statutory right to intervene under Rule 24(a)(1), and accordingly, reversed. View "Agency of Transportation v. Timberlake Associates et al." on Justia Law

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Taxpayer Gabriel Martinez appealed a Property Valuation and Review Division (PVR) hearing officer's decision setting the fair market value of his property for purposes of the 2017 Town of Hartford grand list. Taxpayer argued the hearing officer erred in estimating fair market value based on sales of comparable properties because the value was conclusively established by the price taxpayer paid for the property in a contemporaneous arms-length transaction. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that, although the recent arms-length sale price constituted strong presumptive evidence of the fair market value of the property, the hearing officer did not commit legal error in considering other evidence of fair market value. In addition, the Court concluded the appraisal was rationally derived from the findings and evidence. View "Martinez v. Town of Hartford" on Justia Law

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Katherine Hall appealed an Environmental Division decision granting summary judgment to Chittenden Resorts, LLC and RMT Associates, d/b/a Mountain Top Inn & Resort (the Resort). The Environmental Division concluded the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit to run a rental program where, pursuant to a contractual agreement, the Resort rented out private homes near the Resort. On appeal, Hall argued that the Environmental Division erred in determining that the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit. Specifically, she argued the Resort needed an amended Act 250 permit because under 10 V.S.A. 6001(14)(A), the Resort and owners of the homes involved in the rental program were a collective "person." Alternatively, she argued the Resort exercised "control" over the rental homes within the meaning of section 6001(3)(A)(i). The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed with Hall's characterization of the Resort and home owners as a collective "person." Further, the Court found the Resort did not control the rented homes contemplated by section 6001(3)(i). Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued for quiet title to prevent defendants from using a road that passed through her property to access defendants' adjacent property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, because the route at issue was a public highway established by the town in 1800 that was never discontinued. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's order, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Bartlett v. Roberts" on Justia Law