Defendants were attempting to obtain the various approvals required to build their new house from the City of Rye Planning Commission, and the plaintiffs commenced this action against the defendants for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that the front and rear yard setback lines, which were drawn on the Forest Harbor subdivision map approved by the Planning Commission in 1967, required the front yard setbacks to be of at least 60 feet. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that the front and rear yard setback lines drawn on the subdivision map are deed restrictions that run with the land, and an injunction permanently enjoining the defendants from performing any construction in violation of those setback lines.
The appellate court held that the trial court should have denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment since, “[T]he policy of the law is to favor free and unobstructed use of realty” (Huggins v. Castle Estates, 36 N.Y.2d 427, 430, 369 N.Y.S.2d 80, 330 N.E.2d 48). Furthermore, the court noted that purchaser takes with notice from the record only of encumbrances in his direct chain of title. In the event that actual notice before or at the time of his purchase or of other exceptional circumstances are absent, an owner of land is only bound by restrictions if they appear in some deed of record in the conveyance to himself or his direct predecessors in title. In this case, there was nothing in the defendants’ chain of title that indicated these setback lines are deed restrictions that run with the land. Since deed restrictions are strictly construed against those seeking to enforce them, it will be enforced only where their existence has been established by clear and convincing proof, the court found that the plantiffs failed to present any triable evidence in support of their argument. Accordingly, the court held that the plaintiffs failed to establish their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, and found that their motion should have been denied.
Butler v. Mathisson, 114 A.D.3d 894 (N.Y.A.D. 2d Dept. 2/26/2014)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/courts/ad2/calendar/webcal/decisions/2014/D40774.pdf