For years, multiple property owners in the state of New Hampshire purchased adjoining lots. They loved the idea that they owned two or more lots, especially if they chose to have family use one in the future or sell one. However, in recent years, problems have occurred since some of those lots were merged without the property owners’ knowledge.
Sutton v. Gilford
The New Hampshire Supreme Court issued an opinion on the Sutton v. Gilford case in 2010. The court ruled that the Gilford ordinance that requires the merger of contiguous nonconforming lots that had the same owner could be upheld. The non-conformity of the properties could only relate to frontage, dimension, and size. The mergers that were completed could only include lots that would make the merged lots conforming.
Thankfully, any lots that had houses, or other pre-existing principal uses, were exempt from these mergers. But those lots without any structures could be merged with a lot that did. Other exemptions included any lots in approved subdivisions that were protected by RSA 674:39.
Some property owners were aware of the Gilford ordinance. Those owners chose to have titles to any adjoining lots they owned that were nonconforming in different names. This was called “checker boarding” and prevented the lots from being merged.
Assessors find themselves within an interesting dynamic when assessing properties that fall under these ordinances. Two contiguous nonconforming lots are almost always going to be worth more than one larger conforming lot. Within the Sutton case, the municipal appraiser did recommend the lots stay separate.
Merging Pre-Existing Parcels
Significant changes were made to RSA 674:39 by the New Hampshire Supreme Court after the Sutton case in 2010. The legislature decided that property owners could not have their lots merged without their consent. According to the current statute, “No city, town, county, or village district may merge preexisting subdivided lots or parcels except upon the consent of the owner”. The effective date of that statute was September 18, 2010.
However, not all areas of New Hampshire are following this new statute. Many are currently only limiting mergers on properties acquired after the date mentioned above. House Bill 352 was proposed for approval shortly after the new statute.
HB 352 would have added the following to the new statute:
“Lots or parcels that were merged prior to September 18, 2010 by a city, town, county, village district, or any other municipality without the express consent of the owner, shall at the request of the owner, be restored to the premerger status and all zoning and tax maps shall be updated to identify the premerger boundaries of said lots or parcels as recorded at the appropriate registry of deeds.”
House Bill 352 did not pass and even if it had, there would still be many questions. The courts would still need to know on what date would a merger actually occur, and how a person could successfully show evidence of a merger.
We understand the struggles some property owners experience with lot consolidations. If you have any questions about property you own, contact us today to schedule a consultation.