Get Off of my Lawn! - Trespassing in Maine 

I recently read Ken Ilguna's new book This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back. In an extremely oversimplified nutshell, the book argues for public rights to recreate on private open land because some European countries do it and it's great. I don't necessarily agree with all the author's conclusions. However, it does present interesting questions to think about in the context of Maine law. First, what rights do Mainers have to recreate on privately owned land? Second, what rights do landowners have to enforce their rights to exclude? Lastly, what rights to landowners have in the event of damage or invasions of privacy?  

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Real Estate - Back to Basics: Conservation Easements

If you have ever gone for a walk in the woods on a public trail in Maine, it is very likely you have enjoyed the benefits of a conservation easement.  Looking back to my post about easements from last year, we know that an easement is a right of use on another's real estate. An easement can provide right of way access for you and your vehicles, or more limited access for a single utility. Easements can also provide rights by prohibiting the fee owner from using his or her property in a certain way. For example, a view easement may limit the height allowed on a piece of property.  Conservations are like the above examples; however, they do have some specific requirements provided by Maine statute.  

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Real Estate - Back to Basics: Title Insurance

Real estate isn't cheap. Whenever investing significant sums of money into an asset, you want to protect your investment. This why car purchasers often buy extended warranties. They want to be sure their vehicle will last long enough to make their purchase a worth it. Just like warranties and other types of insurance policies that provide protection when the item is damaged or destroyed, title insurance protects your ownership of the land. 

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Real Estate - Back to Basics: Deeds

"How do I change the name on the deed of my house?" and "How do I take someone’s name off the deed?” These are two questions I hear a lot. What they really mean to ask is, "how do I transfer my land to someone else?" A deed is a written document that transfers title of real estate from one person (or legal entity) to another. In order to transfer the property to someone else, a new written deed needs to be prepared.  

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Partition Actions in Maine

Sharing ownership of real estate can be difficult. Owning real estate comes with benefits, such as use or income, and burdens, such as expenses and maintenance. It can be all too common that joint owners of real estate do not see eye to eye on the allocation of the benefits and burdens of property ownership. Therefore, a common recommendation of attorneys is to use some form of trust or limited liability company to provide a set of guidelines for shared ownership. Often, when multiple people inherit one plot of land the issues of shared use and management never get fully considered.  

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Nonconformity in Land Use

Nonconformity is an issue that has come up quite a bit in my time practicing land use law in Maine. It is also a concept that commonly leads to a lot of confusion. Nonconformity refers to a condition on property that does not comply with the land use regulations in place. Nonconformity is important because, generally, nonconforming conditions are allowed to continue after an ordinance is enacted rendering the use, lot, or structuring nonconforming. This is commonly referred to as “grandfathering”.

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Maine's Current Use Property Tax Programs

If you live in Maine you know it is a state with massive amounts of undeveloped, forested, or otherwise wild space. Often this type of land has been held in a family for several generations. The  property tax burden of sitting on open land can continue to grow as municipalities require more revenue. If the burden of continuing to hold undeveloped land gets excessive, landowners are encouraged to either develop the land or sell it to someone who will.  Maine has a tax program that allows landowners to designate undeveloped land and receive a reduction in property taxes.  While this program is not for everyone, it definitely can provide tax relief to people who wish to keep their land undeveloped.  

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Municipal Land Use Permitting

If you are thinking of making a change to how you are using a piece of real estate, you need to ask yourself, “do I need a permit for this change?”  Whether it’s building a home or accessory structure, converting a home to business use, or dividing a larger lot into multiple lots, you will likely need one or more permits from some governmental entity. The tricky question that you need to answer, which permits do you need?

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Variances: Maine's Undue Hardship Test Explained

So your family has been holding on to a small, vacant piece of real estate for decades. You never really got around to building anything on it and have decided now is the time to develop.  Surprise, your lot is smaller than your town’s minimum lot size for single family homes. Further, even a small house would be in violation of the town's setback requirements.  Are you completely out of luck and stuck with a useless piece of property? Not necessarily.  Some lots will be eligible for variances, which will relax zoning requirements in some circumstances.  

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Maine’s Regulation of Tiny Houses

Land use is frequently a challenging and complicated area when new housing developments arise.  New land uses often leave municipal and state regulators unsure of how to regulate. For example, some cities were initially unsure how to handle the rise of short term rentals through Air BNB, leading to new regulations. Alternatively, the growing number of people looking to operate food trucks has also led to regulatory adaptation. The tiny house movement is another such development that currently needs attention. 

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An Introduction to Trusts

Some of my prior posts have references to trusts. However, I have yet to give a basic explanation of how they work. Hopefully, this post will give those without experience with trusts some basic knowledge. One key feature of a trust is the division of the benefits and burdens property ownership. For example, trusts are often used when children inherit large sums of money and someone thinks it's unwise to allow a 13 year old to immediately use the money as they deem fit.

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Use Caution When Clearing Vegetation in a Shoreland Zone

Now that spring is here, it is time to start preparing your family camp for summer. This may lead you to get the urge to clear out some vegetation around your property.  Maybe you have some trees that you think may be dying or safety hazards and you believe it’s about time to bring them down. This is not something you should do without being sure whether you need a permit. In many cases, even dead and dying trees need to be replanted and a Code Enforcement Officer should be consulted. Further, unpermitted cutting of vegetation on waterfront property can lead to civil penalties and expensive replanting projects. 

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Business Agreements: Yes, they really should be in writing

When engaging in business transactions with friends, it can be very tempting to try to save the time and money involved with formalizing the arrangement. Everyone knows that lawyers are expensive. You know and trust the person you're dealing with, so why not just trust them to keep their word now? Maybe you’re worried that making a friend sign a written agreement will make them think you don't trust them. Who really wants to talk about how a deal could go wrong when you and your partner are so pumped about your great business idea? I would suggest having this conversation early is much better than skipping it and having the deal go south after you've both invested time and money. Despite your excitement about your new venture, things can, and often do, go wrong and you need a plan in place for that possibility. 

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