RVer Fights City Hall…And Wins

In previous posts on Vogel Talks RVing I have reported on communities in the United States and Canada imposing restrictive rules, regulations, ordinances, and general hassles on owners of recreational vehicles.

RVer Fights City Hall...And Wins

The lakeside property at 791 Main Street in Madison Lake has been the subject of a six-year dispute between the city of Madison Lake and the property’s related owners. (Photo credit: Pat Christman/Mankato Free Press)

RV parking on private property has become a hot button issue for cities and RVers. For RVers, we’re simply looking for a place to park our RVs.

When it becomes a battle of RV owner versus the city, the city is always right, according to the law—and always wins. Until now.

In a six-year land usage dispute with Mid-Central Realty owners Scott and Patricia Mende and lakefront property owner Scott Schult, the Blue Earth County District Court recently ruled that the city of Madison Lake, Minnesota, cannot restrict Schultz’s usage of an recreational vehicle.

In law, a single word can make a big difference. The district court ruling was based on the difference of one word between two sections of the Madison Lake City Code, reports the Mankato Free Press.

The city of Madison Lake is appealing the district court ruling.

The city will present oral arguments to the Minnesota Court of Appeals on October 16. Attorneys for the Mendes and Schultz will argue in support of the district court ruling.

Madison Lake City Administrator Ari Klugman said the city believes the ruling disrupts its ability to interpret its own city code.

“The district court in this case failed to properly interpret the City’s zoning ordinance, resulting in a residential use of property that was never intended or allowed. It is important to the City that its Code be properly interpreted so that appropriate controls are in place for the benefit and protection of all its residents,” said the city in a written statement.

bureaucracyThe Mendes purchased the small lakefront property at 791 Main Street for $140,000 in May 2008. They were granted a conditional use permit by the city to build a boathouse. All of the parties in the case agree the property is too small to build a residential home based on city code requirements.

The Mendes quickly advertised the property for sale as a getaway location. Jeffery Schultz, who lives outside of Madison Lake, purchased the property and moved his RV to the location. In court documents, he said he plans to use the RV only during summer months and occasionally overnight after boating or fishing.

The city sent several messages to the Mendes and eventually to Schultz about concerns the RV usage was violating the city code. The Mendes disputed the assertion. The city sent Schultz a letter on June 2008 telling him the RV was not allowed for overnight use on the property.

The city eventually cited the Mendes and Schultz in October 2012 but declined to prosecute the citation. Schultz made several unsuccessful efforts to get a change of usage for the property.

Schultz sued the Mendes for damages in November 2011, claiming they misrepresented the allowed use of the property. The Mendes filed an answer in November 2011 and subsequently filed a third-party complaint against the city in October 2013. The Mendes claimed the city was improperly restricting the use of the property.

The city requested summary judgment in its favor in November 2013. The Mendes requested summary judgment in their favor in January 2014, including a court ruling allowing the RV usage. Schultz filed a similar request, stating his complaint would be satisfied if the Mendes received their summary judgment.

Blue Earth County District Court Judge Kurt Johnson ruled in favor of the Mendes and Schultz last March. He pointed to portion of the city code explicitly allowing RV usage as “accessory use” in R-1 properties.

The city argued Schultz still violated city code because the RV usage was not incidental, especially since he would live in the RV and use the boathouse for storage.

Johnson rejected the argument because the city code definition the city cited referred to “accessory building.” He said term was much more narrow than “accessory use.” He said the RV did not meet the narrow term’s restrictions and no other section laid out RV restrictions.

He also rejected the city’s efforts to claim the RV is a building based on its usage. He said an RV doesn’t meet common definitions of a building. He said the RV is analogous to a tent, which is allowed under the city code. He said the city’s argument would have unintended consequences if accepted, such as preventing the use of picnic tables, grills, and cars on the property.

The city’s appeal of the ruling was filed in May. The oral argument in the appeal is set for September 16.

Worth Pondering…

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

—Thomas Jefferson

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