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Michigan Court Rules that Recreational Use of a Camper Violates Deed Restrictions

In Vansteenhouse v Winslow, issued June 28, 2016 (Docket No. 326224) (Unpublished Opinion) the Michigan Court of Appeals was required to determine whether a property owner violated deed restrictions by having a camper on their property. The deed restrictions indicated, “All lots sold within said Subdivision are to be used for residential purposes only….” The restrictions also stated that “[a]ll buildings shall be of a permanent nature….” The restrictions did not make any mention of campers, recreational vehicles, or trailers.

The court relied Bloomfield Estates Improvement Ass’n, Inc v City of Birmingham, 479 Mich. 206, 215; 737 NW2d 670 (2007), which held that the phrase “strictly residential purposes only” in a restrictive covenant meant that the use of land was restricted to “homes where people reside.” The Court held that parking a camper on a lot for four months and using it for periodic camping activities is not consistent with the “usual, ordinary and incidental use of property as a place of abode….” Wood v Blancke, 304 Mich. 283, 288–289; 8 NW2d 67 (1943). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court was correct in determining that the defendant violated the deed restrictions.

While the trial court was affirmed in holding that the use of a recreational camper violated the deed restrictions regarding residential use, the Court of Appeals indicated that the trial court incorrectly ruled that the use of the camper violated the deed restriction that required all buildings to be of a permanent nature. Specifically, the Court held that a term not defined by a deed restriction is defined by “its commonly used meaning.” Bloomfield Estates, 479 Mich. at 215. The Court indicated that a “building” was defined as a “‘relatively permanent, essentially boxlike construction having a roof and used for any of a wide variety of activities, as living, entertaining, or manufacturing,’ ” and a ” ‘structure designed for habitation, shelter, storage, trade, manufacturing, religion, business, education and the like. A structure or edifice enclosing a space within its walls, and usually, but not necessarily covered with a roof.’”

The Court held that Defendant’s camper is a motor vehicle registered with the Secretary of State. While the camper may have a geometric design much like a box, the court reasoned that it was not designed for permanent use. Accordingly, the court held that the restriction was not violated by having a camper on the property because a camper was a vehicle and not a building. Accordingly, a homeowner’s association should carefully review its deed restrictions to ensure that terms are carefully defined and update the deed restrictions when necessary.

 Kevin Hirzel is the Managing Member of Hirzel Law, PLC and concentrates his practice on commercial litigation, community association law, condominium law, Fair Housing Act compliance, homeowners association and real estate law. Mr. Hirzel is a fellow in the College of Community Association Lawyers, a prestigious designation given to less than 175 attorneys in the country.  He has been a Michigan Super Lawyer’s Rising Star in Real Estate Law from 2013-2018, an award given to only 2.5% of the attorneys in Michigan each year. Mr. Hirzel was named an Up & Coming Lawyer by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly in 2015, an award given to only 30 attorneys in Michigan each year. He represents community associations, condominium associations, cooperatives, homeowners associations, property owners and property managers throughout Michigan. He may be reached at (248) 480-8758 or kevin@hirzellaw.com.

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kevin@hirzellaw.com

Kevin Hirzel is the Managing Member of Hirzel Law, PLC. Hirzel Law has offices in Farmington, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City and services clients throughout the State of Michigan. Mr. Hirzel focuses his practice on condominium law, homeowners association law, and real estate law. He is a fellow in the College of Community Association Lawyers (“CCAL”), a prestigious designation given to less than 175 attorneys in the country. Mr. Hirzel formerly served on the CCAL National Board of Governors and is a former member of the Community Associations Institute’s (“CAI”) Board of Trustees, an international organization with over 40,000 members worldwide that is dedicated to improving community associations. Mr. Hirzel has been recognized as a Leading Lawyer in Michigan by Leading Lawyers, a distinction earned by fewer than 5% of all lawyers licensed in Michigan. He has been named a Michigan “Rising Star” in real estate law by Super Lawyers Magazine, a designation is given to no more than 2.5% of the attorneys in Michigan each year. Mr. Hirzel was also named as a “Go-To-Lawyer” in condominium and real estate law by Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly. Hirzel Law was also voted the best law firm in Metro Detroit in the Detroit Free Press Best of the Best awards. He is the Co-Chairman of the State Bar of Michigan’s Real Property Law Section Committee for Condominiums, PUDs & Cooperatives. Mr. Hirzel has authored numerous articles on community association law for publications such as the Michigan Community Association News, Michigan Real Property Review, Macomb County Bar Briefs and the Washington Post. He is also the author of “Hirzel’s Handbook: How to operate a Michigan Condo or HOA”, which is available for purchase on amazon.com. Mr. Hirzel has been interviewed on community association legal issues by various media outlets throughout the country, such as CBS, CNBC, Common Ground Magazine, Community Association Management Insider, the Dan Abrams Show on SiriusXM Radio, the Detroit News, Dr. Drew Midday Live on KABC Radio, Fox Business News, Fox News, HOALeader.com, the Law & Crime Network, Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly, NPR, WWJ News Radio and WXYZ. Mr. Hirzel is a dynamic speaker and frequently lectures on community association law throughout Michigan, as well as nationally at the CAI National Law Seminar, and is a two-time winner of the best manuscript award at the CAI National Law Seminar.

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