Real Cases in Real Estate By Andrea Lee Negroni, Esq. – November 5th, 2012 Update

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 summaries.

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 the Week of November 5th, 2012

Property Owners Can Keep Pet Goats in an Equestrian Subdivision.

Windrow Estates is an equestrian community in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina where property owners keep horses on their lots. The Steiners bought two Nigerian Dwarf goats as pets. The Windrow Estates board of directors advised them they were in violation of the restrictive covenants of the community.

The restrictive covenants prohibit offensive and noxious activity, nuisance, and plants or animals whose normal activity or existence is unsightly, unpleasant, or of a nature that may diminish the enjoyment of other property in the neighborhood. No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind can be kept, raised or bred on the lots, but horses, dogs, cats and other pets are allowed if they do not attack horses or horsemen. The Steiners said their goats were household pets; the board of directors claimed they were a nuisance. The restrictive covenants do not define the term "livestock," but relying on the dictionary, the court noted that the distinction between livestock and pets are that the former are for use and profit while the latter are kept for pleasure.

Mrs. Steiner testified that as a result of her cancer and asthma, she decided to buy pets to help her cope and aid in her recovery. The goats were domesticated, neutered, unable to breed, and served no commercial purpose. The board disagreed with the characterization of the goats as pets, arguing that a pet generally dwells under the same roof as the family. The Steiner's goats lived outdoors. The board also raised the issue of odors produced by the goats. Neither argument was successful, as "covenants restricting the use of property are to be strictly construed against limitation on use."  Because the board of directors did not show how the presence of the goats inhibited or contradicted the restrictive covenants, the appeals court upheld a summary judgment for the plaintiff, declaring that the goats are not livestock.

The issue of nuisance was more complicated, because the term is somewhat vague, meaning that "men of intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning." If emotional annoyance of a property owner was all that is required to establish nuisance, even loud children playing in the yard or the use of a noisy lawnmower could be prohibited. While the board considered the goats to be a nuisance, the owners thought them adorable and lovable. The restrictive covenants simply did not provide sufficient guidance or definitions to permit the board or a court to determine who is right. Vagueness in the covenants was fatal to the board's position. The Steiners may keep their pet goats.

Steiner v. Windrow Estates Home Owners Association, 713 S.E.2d 518, 2011 NC App. LEXIS 1473 (2011) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].

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