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.
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.
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
follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find something new
and useful every week in Real Cases in Real Estate.
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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