Anderson Valley Land Trust board members Dave Hopmann and (AVLT president) Patrick Miller testified in court (when they sued me last winter) that any time there was a violation of an easement that they had to enforce the easement. They stated that if there was a violation, the AVLT could be held liable if they did not enforce the terms of an easement that had been violated.
They described in open court a violation at a property in Philo, known as “Shenoa” or “the Land.” A neighbor had come onto that property and messed up a road that could lead to damage in a rainstorm. A community member reported the situation and the AVLT went to look. They informed the owners of “Shenoa” that the road had to be fixed, even though it was a neighbor who was responsible. Shenoa got the neighbor to fix the issue. (I think this story was reported on at the time in the AVA.)
My family’s lawyer did not bring up in court Barbara Goodell’s violation of her tenants being younger than the age (55) her easement requires. Our lawyer suggested that we report Barbara’s violation to AVLT. And I did.
I have been reminding the AVLT board members of this unfortunate situation for over a year with no response or action that I am aware of.
Barbara’s easement says; “Any residential use…of any kind additional to the following is prohibited: two residences already existing…on APN 029-150-47; one new family care unit for restricted to persons fifty-five (55) or older not to exceed 1600 square feet…located within the Original Homestead Zone on APN 029-150-47.”
Barbara testified under oath in her deposition to the existence of the “two existing” residences and of the existence of the third rental. She claimed in that deposition that her easement had no restrictions on age. She stated under oath that there was no issue with the age (all under 55) of her tenants. (My personal guess is that over the years since Barbara created her AVLT easement, she forgot that she had included this restriction.) She testified that she had been renting this third residence to the current tenants for at least five years. As of the time of this writing, her rental would now be closer to 6 or 7 years.
I do not have every page of Barbara’s easement. (Barbara refused to share it when asked by my mom, Briana, many years ago before the lawsuit.) But Barbara’s easement is so identical/similar to mine and others I have seen, I feel confident I don’t need to see page 7 of her Grant Deed. Here is what it says on page 7 of my (and Barbara’s) Grant Deed:
“(f) Liquidated Damages. …the Parties agree that the money damages Grantee is entitled to recover under Civil Code Section 815.7(c) shall be the following:…ii) in respect of any use or activity prohibited by this Easement, whether or not involving the construction or maintenance of an improvement, an amount equal to any economic gain realized by the Grantor and/or any other party, commencing from the date of breach…”
Barbara was not asked during her deposition or at trial how much rent her tenants pay. I think it’s safe to assume her tenants pay at least $1,000 a month, maybe more if anything. I looked up how much her tenants make, as they work for Anderson Valley Unified School District. Combined, they make around $130,000 annually. So, $1,000 a month seems a more than fair estimate.
That’s $80,000 or more that Barbara has profited by violating her easement. That profit is owed to the AVLT in damages. I’m sure there could be a very strong desire on Barbara’s part and from some other board members to not require repayment of the $80k. Nobody likes to give back a bunch of money they already made and probably already spent. But I would be curious to know; are easement violations by AVLT board members ever enforced? It feels a bit like only non-board member easements are enforced, and mine is enforced with imaginary violations that don’t appear in my AVLT contract or in real life.
Oh and by the way, the AVLT lost their lawsuit against me. The judge ruled that there was no evidence that my AVLT easement contract had ever been violated (by me) at all, in any way. Hmmm.
(Next, Part 4; Steve Snyder.)