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by Gregory Allan This is a story of how the Little Guy fought city hall and won, or at least kept the wolves at bay long enough to accomplish his end game. The "Little Guy" in this case was my grandmother. All the procedure was done by Yours Truly, in the year A.D. 2000. My strategy was based on my belief that zoning laws apply only to property actually owned by the regulating municipality, and does not apply to private property at-large which happens to fall within the corporate boundaries (also known as "city limits") of such a municipality. I believe municipalities use simple procedures found within the Uniform Commercial Code to snare people into complying with their zoning ordinances-- people who would otherwise not be subject to those ordinances. Background For nearly thirty years, my grandparents lived in a ranch-style house in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. My grandfather was what I will affectionately call a packrat. As a young adult raising a family during the Great Depression, he learned to accumulate anything and everything he could, and to save it all. The house had a full basement, a full attic, and a twocar garage, all of which Grandpa had carefully packed full with various knick-knacks. There was a large back yard which he had also put to good use.
where he could be more help to them. Unfortunately Grandpa died that Christmas day. and had been trying unsuccessfully for years to get his parents to move to the more favorable climate. Worked fine. My dad lived hundreds of miles south of Detroit. which came on with the switch at the bottom of the stairs. cabinets. and found it was from the City's zoning department. Grandma gave up her hope of someday moving back into the house. He and Grandma were both in their nineties. But closed. The neighbors were spared from having to look at most of this booty by fences and hedges which shielded most of the yard. addressed to Grandpa. The City Attacks Along about February of 2000. An old 1962 Cadillac sat in the driveway. the fan broke out the glass when the switch was turned on. Finally in 1999 the furnace in Grandpa's house gave out. Apparently the last time I'd been in the house. It contained a bill for $150. We enjoyed a few months with both of them. . along with an explanation. His ample supply of stacked goodies in the basement made it difficult to even see the furnace. etc. parked facing the street so you couldn't tell it hadn't sported a license plate since 1974. and we began making plans to clean it up and sell it. He and Grandma agreed to move south to live with my mom and dad. and impossible to repair it without spending days clearing a path.Stacks of building materials such as lumber. Dad and I drove to get them. when the window was open.00. Dad opened it. were neatly stacked over much of the yard. Grandpa had a fan in the window. and their immediate necessities. I guess. a letter arrived from the city where the house was located (hereafter "City"). I had unknowingly broken a window in the attic. plugged into the overhead light. racks of storm windows.
Thus.00. of course. If the fines were not paid. No one could be reached. None of the neighbors had complained. It mentioned the car in the driveway. They'd checked the Post Office and found a change of address. A representative from the City had come by the house several times to try and find someone home. The problem. That was when Dad called on me. until a few days later when he got a second letter.Someone had noticed the broken window. anything with it before the first of June just wasn't possible for us. and it pretty much did). was completely manufactured by the City. That is. So they sent somebody out to board up the window. But even beginning something. and they assumed the house was abandoned. After thirty-days they would hire someone to haul the offending items away and charge Grandpa for the service. Not to mention that anyone who was in a position to do something with the property was hundreds of miles away. And it usually hasn't even begun to melt until well into March.00 per day until the violations were corrected. they would be converted into a lien on the property. That one wasn't nearly so friendly. The property had looked pretty much the way it did now for more than ten years. We had intended to clean the place out over the summer (we figured it would take all summer. Nothing in the yard was dangerous. and declared that Grandpa was in violation of this and that section of the City's zoning ordinance. or else the City would fine Grandpa $50. and that we'd be able to put it up for sale sometime in the fall. Southern Michigan is covered with a couple feet of snow in February. and several of the items in the backyard. or could even remotely be considered an . Dad was actually a little grateful. The letter gave him thirty days (until about the middle of March) to correct the violations. and figured he'd just pay them. the bill for $150.
the $150. What to Do? To begin. which in turn might be an admission they had the right to charge us with zoning violations. So in this first letter I approached them very gently. My main motivation at this point was to stall for time. Then. nevertheless they were trespassing. I (writing as my Grandmother) told them I had owned the house and land for thirty years.00 would amount to admitting the City had the right to fix the window. I made a few simple statements. Paying the $150. I knew if I could stall them for four or five months. I decided both letters were connected. came my response to their notice of zoning violations. But I also knew that if I simply asked for time they would smell weakness. we'd have the property cleaned up anyway. So I sent the City a bill for $200.00 to fix it. and I estimated it would take at least $200. Furthermore. I had to respond to their first letter. the nails they had driven into the window frame had caused considerable damage. I told them that although their intentions may have been good when they boarded up the window. The game would be lost. in a separate letter. Unpaid balances more than thirty-days past-due will accrue interest at a rate of seven-percent per annum.00 bill.attractive nuisance.00. So what was the emergency? The only emergency was the money the City intended to steal from Grandma. Even though Dad didn't mind paying that one. and asked a few simple but powerful questions. that I had seen an abstract of title for the land and that as far as I knew I was the only one in the chain of . Please tender payment within thirty-days.
They extended our time to July 1st. and that they had already admitted they didn't own my property. I think maybe they consulted an attorney this time. I asked them to please send me any evidence of . All mortgages had been paid off years ago.title with a claim to it. When I wrote back I was a little more pert. In my response. but extended the time before they would start assessing the fine until June 1st. Already. The gist of their response was that all "city property" was covered by the zoning ordinance. and I think they even highlighted certain passages. or interest in my property. or interest the City might have in my property. title. with a letter which made reference to the specific zoning ordinances they had cited. I asked them for the implementing regulation which made my property subject to their zoning ordinance." weren't they people who lived on city property? I told them I had been giving this a good deal of thought. or interest in me. I told them it appeared to me that "city property" was simply property which the City owned. title. Their claims made it sound as though they owned the property. The City responded within a few days. and I was only a tenant. I told them I was puzzled. I demanded that they disclose any right. and that all "city residents" were subject to the ordinance. By now it was already the first week of April. They enclosed copies of the relevant ordinances. as a person. Then they repeated their threats. I just didn't understand. we'd bought some time. As for "city residents. title. and the only way I knew of that they could claim that I. was subject to their ordinance would be if they owned some right. and thanked them for admitting by their silence that it was mine. I told them that nowhere in their letter had they claimed any right. They responded with a letter including a copy from another page of their zoning plan. Their next response didn't come so quickly.
The Uniform Commercial Code is all about being honest. and matter of fact." Dear Reader. "how much would you say this is worth?" Item by item. and making full disclosure. "Now." "Well. and we'd talk about it tomorrow. if any such evidence existed. Their patience was at an end. After we'd listed about a dozen items he looked at me with wide eyes and said. "Let's not put that last thing on there. I grabbed a pad of paper and asked Dad to try and remember everything that was in the yard. . They fired a letter straight back at me." I said. Dad was starting to suspect where I was going with this. In the end. I think by now. this is a common mistake. My dad's attitude was grim. Even I was surprised. it simply said the fines would begin on July 1st if compliance was not met. pointing at the first item. More than a hundred items. we had a list of outrageous proportion. You must resist your natural tendencies to hide. I begged his patience.their ownership in me. or even minimize the facts. This one was simple and to the point. we built a price list. it came to just short of eighteen thousand dollars. The next day I told him I had an idea for another letter. I told Dad we were going to list every single thing we could remember from the yard. "I am. and said he would start trying someone he could hire to clean up the yard before the deadline. I asked him to let me sleep on it." Dad said. and said I'd explain once the list was made. When the items were totaled. we don't want them to know about everything that's out there. It didn't address any of the issues I had raised." I said. He thanked me for buying us what time I had. "You're not going to send them that list are you?" "Yes. dealing in good faith.
My last letter to the City thanked them for their prior letter which. If any items were found missing. Maybe yes. I had a number of building materials stored on the property. and send an invoice accordingly. admitted they had no right. we would be willing to extend credit to the City on a "thirty days same as cash" policy. by its silence. Conclusion We never received another letter. Further. we would assume in good faith that the City had elected to purchase them. However. I went on to say that as they might be aware. at no more cost than a couple of stamps and the time to write a few letters. title. An inventory with price list is attached. and we would send them an invoice. They could come and get items as needed. and none of our building materials came up missing. I told them that I had plans for those materials and did not wish to sell them. I'm not suggesting this strategy will thwart the buzzards forever. if the City wanted to buy them then I would be willing to sell at certain specific prices. and listed for sale. subject to their zoning ordinance. July 1st came and went. or interest in my person and that I was not. But it accomplished what we needed. By September we had the property cleaned out anyway. . maybe no. therefore. I also sent some No Trespass Signs to a friend and asked him to post them around the backyard.
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