Lakefront Association Case Creates Waves Regarding Modification Requests

Every community association is its own animal, and that may be especially true for associations built along the water or in areas with special attractions. But, if you look past the superficialities, their disputes often have lessons for more “mundane” associations. That was the case with a Michigan dispute over dock rights.

If they’re not careful, your clients could find themselves in similar waters as the association here — with the architectural review committee’s oral (and unrecorded) approval of a modification inadvertently creating a permanent easement. Haan v. Lake Doster Lake Association (Mich. App. 2020).

Several homeowners in a Michigan lakefront homeowners association filed the lawsuit. A developer created the lake and subdivision in the 1960s and recorded restrictive covenants.

Under the covenants, owners without lake frontage on their properties could obtain approval from the architectural review committee to install a dock adjacent to a parcel dedicated for the use of these “backlot owners.” The plaintiffs obtained such approval and maintained their docks over the years. When backlot owners bought and sold their properties, their respective docks were included in the conveyances.

The association formed in 2005 and used a unique admission process. Where homeowners typically are admitted to an association upon their purchase of a unit, this association required owners to submit applications. The plaintiffs submitted their applications, which the association accepted and recorded.

The application stated that, upon acceptance, the association agreed to allow the applicant and all future owners of the property to continue “all past permitted rights” of the association property. Title to association property would remain with the association “subject to the rights of use and enjoyment” provided in the application and “granted elsewhere to other members.”

In 2015, the association informed the plaintiffs that certain docks needed to be removed, added, adjusted, and realigned. The plaintiffs sued to prevent implementation of the association’s dock plan, arguing they had vested rights in the docks and boat moorings.

To learn why the Michigan Court of Appeals came down on the owners’ side, and how your clients can avoid a similar fate, read our new article, Court Blocks Association’s Dock Reorganization Plan.

Best regards,
Matt Humphrey

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