The Truth About the Restrictive Covenants

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The Truth About the Restrictive Covenants

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The Truth About the Restrictive Covenants

When you visit the Library on this site, and look at the Covenants, the first thing you'll notice is these are probably not the same Covenants you read in the "Documents" pamphlet handed out by the Association (at least this is true at the time of this writing). This bears some explanation. What follows is my opinion, based on my perspective. Yours may vary.

Rose Lake Forest was developed by a couple of guys, Al and Charlie, who loved their country, and thought it was great that America offered a lot of freedoms. They had lived in cities where zoning had choked out a lot of peoples' freedom to do as they wanted with their own land, and thought it would be cool to create a place where people could go, and still be pretty much free.

They found a county in Michigan (Osceola) that had no zoning (at least in Rose Lake Township), and that's where they started Rose Lake Forest. They made up some very minimal, good-sense restrictions, and left everything else pretty much up to the property owners. Then they included language in the Covenants which made it pretty hard to change anything. Not impossible, but hard.

Al and Charlie made parks and greenbelts all throughout the Forest, and they had to create an Association to manage those common lands. They wrote it into the Covenants that the Association's main purpose was to manage the parks and greenbelts. They gave the Association the power to collect dues for the maintainance of the common lands, and that's as far as it went. They never wrote anything like "thou shalt meddle in your neighbor's private affairs," or anything like that.

Most of the people who bought land in the Forest came from other places; usually the cities. They came to the Forest because they liked the woods, the nature, and the great outdoors. Most of them liked the fact that there weren't so many rules.

Once upon a time, there were a few people who left the cities to come to the Forest, but instead of enjoying their freedom, they wanted to make the Forest just like the cities they had fled. They wanted to change the rules, so they could rule their neighbors. They were very upset and unhappy when they realized the rules were difficult to change. They became impatient, and this made them careless.

After several failed attempts to change the rules the right way, they decided to cheat. They drew up new rules, new "Covenants", and they pretended they had passed them according to the law. They started operating according to these new rules, and because the other property owners didn't know any better, no one objected.

These new rules didn't seem so bad at first, but later they got a lot worse. Before people knew what was happening, the Board was passing all kinds of "ordinances" with little more than a handfull of people voting on them. These new rules actually pretended to steal certain property rights from the legitimate land owners; for example, a $100 fine for letting paint peel on your front door.

Finally it got to the point where the Association wrote rules in which it was actually possible for a majority vote of two people out of three to pass rules that would take rights away from hundreds of unsuspecting property owners. Yes, unsuspecting-- they could do this without even giving prior notice!

As many of you know, I am the successor to the Developer. I no longer live in Michigan, but I still have land in the Forest, some of which I would like to sell. It wasn't until last winter that I read the Covenants and By-Laws as they were currently in effect for 2013. I was appalled. This was completely contrary to the original intent of the Forest.

Then I started digging deeper. I discovered it was very unlikely the Covenants had ever been lawfully changed, but at this time I still didn't know for sure. So in July of 2014 I came back to the Forest. I spent days in the courthouse researching the history of the Covenants, and I realized it was true--

The original Covenants were never lawfully changed.

Once I was sure, I drew up some paperwork to make everything as clear as possible, and then I recorded that paperwork with the Register of Deeds in Osceola County. Basically, the paperwork declares all the new Covenants to be void, and gives notice to the Association that the old Covenants are still in effect. Now that they know their new Covenants are not lawful, the Board is responsible for any damage they might cause while breaking the true rules while trying to enforce the fake ones. I've posted this paperwork in this site's Library, where you can read it for yourself.

What does this mean for you, a property owner?

I'm not a lawyer, so I can only give you my opinion. You know the old saying, "Your mileage may vary."

When I told my son about the paperwork I was going to file he said, "Dad, won't some people be mad?"

I told him, "Yes, some people will probably be really mad. And some will be really happy. Most people probably won't care one way or the other." That seems to be the nature of things.

Maybe you're one of the folks who likes to rule over your neighbors; tell them what they can and can't do, and make sure they don't have any fun? If so, you're probably mad at me right now. Your neighbors are already feeling like they have a little more elbow room. You have your work cut out for you.

I can't say what the Association may decide to do. They might ignore my paperwork, and go about business as usual. The problem with that way of thinking is it might get them into a lot of trouble.

Let's say, for instance, they decide to keep trying to enforce their noise ordinance, and they give you a ticket. What can you do?

First of all, keep in mind that anything they do is civil. They have no law-enforcement authority, so they would have to sue you in civil court.

If I found myself being sued, I would go down to the courthouse and get certified copies of the two documents in this site's Library, the Affidavit of Truth, and the Notice and Declaration of Void Covenants and Usurpation of Franchise. The recording information is right at the top of the copies in our Library. Look at the back page of the second document, and you will find the recording information for the original Covenants for your particular Plat. Get copies of those too. Then I'd countersue for damages and expenses, and wait for my day in court. On court day, I'd hand the judge the certified copies, and I'd tell him, "I claim all my rights under the original Covenants, just like Greg did."

If I'm right about this, and I think I am, the judge will say, "Case dismissed, with prejudice." The with prejudice means the judge doesn't want to see this in his courtroom again. Then he'll probably grant my suit for damages.

I don't think it will come to that. I know some of the people on the Board, and they're pretty good guys. The ones I don't know, I've heard good things about. This problem was created by people who are long gone-- they haven't been on the Board in years. I think the members of the current Board didn't even know about the old Covenants. Now that they do, I expect they'll do the right thing.

A landowner asked me yesterday, "Okay, Greg, what's your angle? What do you want out of this?"

I just want things to be done right. Sure, I personally prefer freedom, and the right to do as one pleases with his own land. If the landowners in Rose Lake Forest disagree, they can change the Covenants, but they should do it right and follow the rules that have been provided.

That's the whole story in a nutshell.

Gregory Wood
Trustee for PRTC Trust, Developer
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