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A Better Partnership
October 17, 2016

COA holds that mere enforcement delay does not create a vested right to use property in violation of zoning regulations

Even after acquiescing to the unlawful commercial uses in a residential zone for several decades, the township can still shut down the business  for violating the zoning ordinance, according to the Court of Appeals decision in Charter Township of Lyon v. Petty and Charter Township of Lyon v. Hoskins, Case Nos. 327685 and 327686.
 
The defendants, the Petty and Hoskins families, each owned property in Lyon Township, which they used as their primary residences and from which they operated their family-owned businesses. It was undisputed that the Hoskins and Petty families had operated their businesses without township interference for several decades. Defendants claimed that township officials had visited their property several times over the years and never raised any concerns. Moreover, each presented commercial personal property tax bills connected with their addresses.  It was only after neighbors complained about noise and early morning activity that the township attempted to enforce the zoning violation.  The trial court upheld the township’s belated zoning enforcement.
 
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.  It held that townships have statutory authority to enact and enforce zoning ordinances for the orderly planning of their communities. See MCL 125.3101 et seq.  Whether and when to enforce zoning ordinances is within a township’s discretion, and absent extraordinary circumstances, courts will not interfere with such decisions.
 
Defendants argued that the township’s decades-long pattern of ignoring their zoning violations, and the investments they made in their businesses as a result, excluded the township from taking enforcement action now. The Court rejected these arguments, holding that a mere delay in failing to enforce a particular zoning ordinance, standing alone, is insufficient to preclude enforcement in the present. The complaining party must establish prejudice as a result of the delay and the prejudice cannot be a de-minimis harm.
 
While the enforcement of the township’s zoning ordinance was an “inconvenience” to Defendants, that inconvenience did not overcome the township’s statutory authority to enforce zoning ordinances.  Therefore, the trial court properly determined that Lyon Township could enforce its zoning ordinance. 

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