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Village of Valatie v. Smith

    Brief Fact Summary. Smith (Defendant) inherited a nonconforming mobile home in 1989 from her father. The Village of Valatie (Plaintiff) sued Defendant to enforce a 1968 law to have the mobile home removed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An amortization period is presumed valid and the burden is on the challenging owner to overcome the presumption by showing that the loss suffered is so substantial that it outweighs the public benefit to be gained by the exercise of the police power.

    Facts. The Plaintiff sought to enforce a law under which mobile homes were to be restricted to mobile home parks as of 1968, but that any mobile homes which were not in mobile home parks at that time were allowed to continue being used until the land or the mobile home was sold or transferred. When both parties moved for summary judgment in the trial court, the court granted the Defendant’s motion and denied the Plaintiff’s motion, reasoning that the right to continue a nonconforming use was a right, which ran with the land. The trial court held that the portion of the ordinance which set the termination of nonconforming use at the time of transfer to be unconstitutional. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the trial court, and acknowledged that while a municipality had the authority to phase out nonconforming uses with an “amortization period,” the particular law in question was unreasonable and unconstitutional because the period of time bears no relationship to the use of la
    nd or the investment in that use. The Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. Was the 1968 ordinance unreasonable in that it established an amortization period, which terminated upon transfer of ownership of the nonconforming use?

    Held. No. The appellate court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the Defendant was in error.
    There has been a policy of allowing nonconforming uses to continue. This policy originated due to concerns that the application of land use regulations to uses, which existed prior to the regulations’ enactment might be construed as a taking in nature and unconstitutional. The elimination of the nonconforming uses has most often been effected by an amortization period, the end of which terminates the nonconforming use.
    The amortization period, in this context, simply designates a period of time granted to owners of nonconforming uses during which they may phase out their operations as they see fit and make other arrangements. It is a grace period, which puts owners on notice of the law and gives them an opportunity to recoup their investment.
    The validity of an amortization period depends on its reasonableness. An amortization period is presumed valid and the burden is on the challenging owner to overcome the presumption by showing that the loss suffered is so substantial that it outweighs the public benefit to be gained by the exercise of the police power.
    This Defendant claims that the length of an amortization period must be related to land use objectives or to the financial recoupment needs of the owner. She also claims that the local law violates the principle that zoning is to regulate land use and not land ownership.
    The court noted that the length of an amortization period is not required to be related to a municipality’s land use objectives. The court held that recoupment is not at issue because the amortization period terminated according to the local law, and the scheme of amortization was not unreasonable.

    Discussion. In this case, Defendant’s challenge was to the facial validity of the 1968 law. The Defendant did not meet her burden of showing that her loss outweighed the benefit to the public. Since the Defendant did not previously attempt to overcome that burden, the case had to be remanded for an evidentiary hearing.


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