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Long Standing Property Dispute Resolved in Plaintiff’s Favor

In Saruta and Nafis Khan, et al. v. Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Association, Inc., 2016 VT 101, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision that certain property owners were part of a common interest community and, therefore, required to be part of a property owners’ association.

Issue: In what the Court described as a “long-running dispute” spanning more than thirty years, certain property owners argued that they were not required by their deed to be members of the Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Association. The question presented, among others, was if Plaintiffs’ properties were part of a common interest community (“CIC”), and if a “series of deeds” was sufficient to constitute a “declaration” of a CIC under the Vermont Common Interest Ownership Act. The origin of the dispute stemmed from inconsistencies in the deeds executed by the various property owners within the “community.” While certain deeds contained restrictions and covenants, Plaintiffs’ deeds contained no such language and indicated no more than the establishment of a relationship between the grantor and grantee in conveying the land. As a practical matter, Plaintiffs acknowledged an obligation to pay the reasonable cost of services provided and accepted, such as snowplowing, street lights, and garbage collection, but declined to pay special assessments and other dues and expenses collected by the Association.

Holding: The Court reversed the trial court’s decision that a “series of deeds” is sufficient to constitute a CIC, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Specifically, for a “series of deeds” to constitute a declaration of a CIC, all of the deeds must describe the grantee’s obligation to pay for certain shared services and expenses. The Plaintiffs’ deeds referenced no such obligation. Therefore, a CIC was not created by a “series of deeds” and the unilateral declaration of the Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Association that a CIC existed was not binding on Plaintiffs. The Court acknowledged, and Plaintiffs’ did not dispute, an equitable obligation to contribute to expenses associated with the road and other common services of which they availed themselves.

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