Do I have any legal recourse?
The day I closed on my house someone mowed the lawn. Two weeks later it was mowed again. I have never owned a home so I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this. We weren’t sure who was doing it because there weren’t any notes left. We put signs up telling whoever it was to stay out but they showed up the next time two days before the 2 week period (they were coming on Wed every two weeks). Finally received a bill in the mail from the city and I called them to tell them not to mow the lawn. I wrote them a letter stating that I did not feel I owed this money because I was never given any notice (notice sent to the previous owners). The city wrote back and said that they would let me pay the $400+ for the mowing company and take off the charges for staff time. I was going to write back to say that I still did not think that was appropriate, then I was in and out of town, and I forgot to get in touch. I received a letter stating there would be a review by the city council and we could attend or submit in writing why we disagreed. The language of the letter made it sound like this was going to be a city ordinance or state ordinance-not that it was only for me. I received a letter stating the amount was accepted by the city council and now I own almost $900 to be paid by November 24 or it would be added to my property taxes with interest.
Do I have any legal recourse?
1 Answer from Attorneys
The city has the right to assess homeowners for things such as mowing, for ordinance violations. Most cities have a nuisance ordinance dealing with failure to maintain your lawn and/or noxious weeds.
That said, you have a couple of potential paths to pursue. First, depending on the timing of your signage in the yard, you may have an argument that the mowing was not justified. That would especially be true if you had been mowing the yard in between the city's maintenance people coming to the property. You did not know who was performing the work, and took reasonable steps to prevent future mowing. The fact that you took affirmative action to notify the contractor may help your case with the city.
More likely, you should pursue the previous homeowner. Minnesota purchase agreements often contain a representation relating to whether the previous owner is aware or has received notice of an ordinance violation. If the seller has received notice, but represented that there had been no notice, you may have a case against the seller. Because of the amount in controversy, I would recommend pursuing the previous homeowner in conciliation court.
Keep in mind that not all purchase agreements are the same, and you should either review it carefully, or have someone review it for you. As an example of how they can differ, many current sales are between foreclosing banks and new buyers. These contracts are often very one sided in favor of the bank, and disclaim representations and warranties. Depending on the contract, you may or may not have a claim. The good thing is that for a relatively small amount of money and a few hours of your time you can take a chance on conciliation court at small cost.
Please feel free to give me a call if I can answer any questions.
Cameron R. Kelly
Cameron Kelly Law, LLC