By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq.
Real Cases in Real Estate is a weekly update on real estate law, with
legal principles illustrated and explained by lawsuits from around the country.
The topics are wide-ranging for appeal to a broad spectrum of readers including
lawyers, homeowners, investors and the general public. Andrea Lee
Negroni, a Washington DC attorney and legal writer with 25 years of
experience in financial services and mortgage law, contributes the case
Followers of Real Cases in Real Estate will learn and be entertained
by lawsuits involving nuisance, trespass, zoning violations, deed restrictions,
title insurance, public utilities, mechanics liens, construction defects,
adverse possession, foreclosure and eviction, divorce and marital property
rights, tenants' rights, and more. Real Cases in Real Estate uncovers
the unpredictable, amusing, and sometimes outrageous disputes between next-door
neighbors, contractors and homeowners, condo boards and residents, real estate
brokers and homebuyers, and zoning administrators and developers.
Each fully cited case summary highlights the essential law of the case and
explains the principal legal theories and concepts relevant to the outcome.
Plain language treatment makes Real Cases in Real Estate accessible to
lawyers and laymen alike.
Whether you follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find
something new and useful every week in Real Cases in Real Estate.
Updates for week of Aug 23rd, 2010
Socially Disruptive Behavior Shouldn't be Regulated through Zoning.
The Ewing Citizens for Civil Rights Sued the Township
of Ewing (New Jersey) to overturn zoning ordinances that applied stricter
requirements to rental units than non-rental units. The Township was responding
to complaints about "college rentals," which included overcrowding, loud
parties, intoxication, bad behavior, illegal parking, traffic congestion, and
neglected property maintenance. The Township's witness testified that these
problems were worse for properties with a small number of rental units.
One of the challenged ordinances required rental
units to have more square footage devoted to non-sleeping areas than similar
properties that were not rented. Another required a street parking space for
every licensed driver occupying a rental property, regardless of whether that
driver had a car, or parked on the street. For non-rented properties, on the
other hand, the zoning established a number of parking spaces per housing
unit, not per licensed driver. The citizens prevailed, as "New Jersey law
has consistently invalidated zoning ordinances intended to cure or prevent
anti-social conduct in dwelling situations." In effect, the court said that
special zoning rules applicable to rental property create unjustifiable
restrictions on the use of private property. Without mincing words, the
challenged zoning restrictions were characterized as "sweepingly excessive."
The Township should have addressed the problem of
bad behavior by college students by enforcing general statutes, rather than by
changing its zoning rules. In other words, the right approach would have been
to use the law to tackle the unlawful conduct itself. The police could have
arrested publicly intoxicated persons, or charged the tenants with nuisance if
they made too much noise. They could also have enforced traffic laws and
parking restrictions. Instead, the ordinance required more non-sleeping space
for rental units than non-rental units which "simply, but significantly,
increased the space requirement solely for rental units."
Lexis.com subscribers can view the enhanced version of Ewing
Citizens for Civ. Rights, Inc. v. Twp. of Ewing, 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS
647 (App.Div. Mar. 26, 2010)
Non-subscribers can access State Case Law, Codes, Full Jurisdictional
Shepard's® Citations and more using lexisOne's Research Value Package.
Broker Who Handled Summer Rental is Not Liable for Injury to Tenants Who
Had Occupied the House Nine Days Before an Accident.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey reviewed the duty of
care of a real estate agent who conducts an open house. The general rule in New
Jersey is that a real estate agent has a duty to protect people who come to an
open house, but that duty is limited to alerting visitors about defects that
are "reasonably discoverable" through an ordinary inspection. The rule was
developed in the 1993 case of Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, and is
known as the Hopkins duty of care. In this case, the Hopkins duty of
care was held not to extend to a real estate agent who handled a summer
house rental. The justices on the Supreme Court split evenly on the outcome, so
the appeals court ruling was affirmed.
Columbia Reyes rented a four bedroom summer house
for two weeks from a real estate agent. She had not seen the house before
renting it. On the ninth day of the rental period, Reyes' father opened a
bedroom sliding door to step on to the balcony, but fell down when he failed to
see a drop from the bedroom floor to the deck. He tumbled down the steps, which
had no guardrail, and suffered permanent injuries.
Reyes sued the real estate broker on the theory that
he did not give fair warning of a dangerous condition. The trial court found
the real estate broker had no duty to inspect the home or warn the family of
dangerous conditions, even though the Hopkins case put real estate
agents on notice that they should examine property before an open house to
discover conditions that might put visitors at risk. The real estate agent won
the case, and avoided liability, because the Reyes family had been in the house
for nine days before the accident, and during that time, they could have
discovered for themselves the dangerous drop from the house to the deck.
Lexis.com subscribers can view the enhanced version of Reyes
v. Egner, 201 N.J. 417 (N.J. 2010)
Non-subscribers can use lexisOne's Free Case Law search to view the free,
un-enhanced version of Reyes v. Egner, 201 N.J. 417 (N.J. 2010)