Reader Question: We have a big problem with a new fire code dictating new elevations and width measurements of the easement road which currently services eight homes. Our real estate agent discovered it answering a prospect’s question about fire codes. We requested a variance in this provision in a meeting with the city’s planning and code department, and they showed no flexibility. Our real estate agent believes this code had caused a significant reduction in the lot’s value and walked away from the listing. We cannot afford an attorney. Any opinions on how to proceed?
Monty’s Answer: You “need boots on the ground” advice to give you an informed and logical direction as to your potential options. Doing your detective work first to gather more information may inspire a plan that solves the problem without conflict. Seek the answers to questions such as these:
1. Were you notified in advance of any meetings about changing the code?
2. Obtain copies of the ordinance wording before and after the change was made.
3. If some of the other seven neighbors have built homes are their values affected?
4. Ask your agent to write a brief letter to explain the modified value.
5. Do you have a before and after appraisal of the lot?
6. How long have you owned the property?
7. Was the lot’s tax assessment reduced?
8. Ask the city for a copy of the committee meeting notes from the approval process?
9. Could the former lot owner have disclosed this change in the condition report?
1. A registered land surveyor works with easements regularly and would be a good contact for advice.
2. There are four wards in your city, each one with an alderperson. Have you explained the situation to your alderperson? They are elected to be the community voices and deal with community member issues. Many politicians at the local level genuinely want to serve and help their constituents solve problems like your lot issue. If the code is faulty and that individual recognizes it, your new advocate may take up your case.
3. If you have the last vacant lot, is it possible one of the current neighbors inspired the change? New construction has been known to agitate neighbors.
With the insights from these conversations, you may find a new solution. If the code affects the entire neighborhood, eight taxpayers protesting is better than one.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty, or find him at DearMonty.com.