Can a county ordinance passed long after my house was built devalue my home?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a county ordinance passed long after my house was built devalue my home?

I own a house on a lake in Gladwin, MI. It is situated on a peninsula on the lake such that it has water on both sides and limited linear footage from one side to the other. The county enacted a Central Michigan Health Department Sanitary Code that took effect Jan 2018. Essentially it contains regulations for sewage disposal. My home has a septic and well, and does not meet the new code. The code states that it does not mean any home out of code must fix the issues, however when selling a home an inspection of the systems are required prior to transfer of ownership. We were completely unaware of this code when we listed our home for sale. We had a full price offer, and we only learned of it when the sewage disposal company the buyers had inspect the septic advised them to call the health department because the septic is not to code. The health department told the buyers that the septic could not be replaced when the current system fails. It works right now but when the time comes to replace it, they said because its impossible to put in a system that meets the codes distance from water

requirements, there were no solutions that could be implemented, thus making the home unlivable and worthless. The code speaks of the ability of the inspector to grant a variance when septics are impossible to bring to code, the code results in unnecessary hardship on the owners, a proposed

variance would provide equivalent protection in the public interest and no other statute or law would be violated by the variance. So it seems that for owners in my situation there is a possible solution and it was unacceptable for the department to tell the buyers that there was nothing that could be done. Of course the buyers backed out of their offer because who wants a home that will eventually have an irreplaceable failed septic. I am trying to get the department to work with us and contacted the director of the department asking for assistance, however they are being difficult and non responsive. Is it truly possible for an ordinance to devalue my home and

prevent me from ever being able to sell it? They have cost me one likely and one full price offer so far by telling the buyers there were no options, before

even talking to us the owners and making us aware of the situation. It just doesnt seem right to me. Can governments devalue a home like that?

Asked on November 3, 2018 under Real Estate Law, Michigan


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Yes, this is legal. The government has substantial power (called the "police power," though most of it has to do with health, safety, and quality of life generally, not policing per se) to pass ordinances and laws for the public good, such as in regards to sanitation and health, and is NOT required to take account of the effect on current homeowners--and the effect on current homeowners (e.g. devaluing their land) is not grounds to invalidate or avoid the effect of the law. All you can do is pursue the variance; or spend the money for some other sewage disposal solution (e.g. running a line to the nearest public sewer, if possible; possibly composting or electric toilets, which dispose of the waste in another way); or reduce your price enough that someone else will take on the headache of dealing with the situation; or possibly look into entering into long-term leases for the property, not selling (since if ownership does not change hands, you should still be good).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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