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  1. #1
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    Default Info on Promissory Estoppel

    My question involves real estate located in the State of: Alabama

    I'm not sure if this is the right forum to ask this. I asked about me building my house and it ended up on our in-laws property (about 5ft over the line). After researching to see if there is anything I can do, I found promissory estoppel doctrine and equitable easement. Yet, when I have asked for advice no one ever seems to suggest this. To me both of these fit our situation, 1) we didn't intentionally build on their property 2) he did tell us we would be able to buy the land next to us (which we ended up building on 3) it would hurt us way more than him to sell us a small portion of the property as opposed to us tearing the house down. Based on what I have read we should be able to use one of the two. I know it has to be proven in court, but I think we can. One we have pictures of him in the house when we were building it, two he lives 500 ft away from where we built. Not once did he stop us or file any suit to stop us from building it. What are we missing to prevent either of those two options?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Kramer35045
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    when I have asked for advice no one ever seems to suggest this.
    Of whom did you ask advice? Were they attorneys?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting adjusterjack
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    Of whom did you ask advice? Were they attorneys?
    It was on this site and on the site Just Answers. I've even talked to a lawyer on the phone and they didn't mention it. Again, everything I am reading about it, it seems to be a viable option.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Kramer35045
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    My question involves real estate located in the State of: Alabama
    What are we missing to prevent either of those two options?
    Can you prove that when you laid the foundation and started building the structure that he knew then that it was over the property line? And if he knew, how is it that you didn't know?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    Can you prove that when you laid the foundation and started building the structure that he knew then that it was over the property line? And if he knew, how is it that you didn't know?
    Not that it was over the line. None of us knew it was over the line until I had it surveyed about 2 weeks ago. It was supposed to be 2 ft off the property line on our side.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Kramer35045
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    Not that it was over the line. None of us knew it was over the line until I had it surveyed about 2 weeks ago. It was supposed to be 2 ft off the property line on our side.
    Let's start with the doctrine of promissory estoppel that you raised. Promissory estoppel, in general, is a situation in which someone makes a promise to you upon which you reasonably rely and that other person would have known you'd rely upon it and you then act on it to your detriment (e.g. spending money, putting your labor, or whatever) and then the other person does not come through as promised. But there are two problems with asserting promissory estoppel given the facts you presented.

    First, the in-law apparently made a promise to sell you the neighboring land and that is apparently the promise you are relying upon here. But as you stated above, the house was supposed to be built on the land you already owned and everyone thought that is what you were doing. So you weren't relying on his promise to sell you the land when building the house because you weren't planning to build that house on that land. Instead, you were going to build it on your own land, and had you done that his promise to sell you the land would not have mattered. So you didn't reasonably rely on that promise when building the house, nor did the in-law make that promise to induce you to buy the house.

    Second, in Alabama (and pretty much every other state) agreements to buy land must be in writing to be enforceable due to the statute of frauds. You didn't have any written agreement for the purchase of the land, so you'd not have an enforceable contract under the statute of frauds. The reason this matters for promissory estoppel is that the Supreme Court of Alabama has held that promissory estoppel cannot be used to get around the statute of frauds. "The appellants argue that the Nicholses cannot recover on a promissory-estoppel theory because ‘promissory estoppel [cannot] be used to enforce an oral agreement that [is] void under the Statute of Frauds.’ Appellants' brief, at 41. We agree." Branch Banking & Tr. Co. v. Nichols, 184 So. 3d 337, 347 (Ala. 2015), as modified on denial of reh'g (July 10, 2015).

    The reason I asked whether the in-laws knew that the home was being built on the property when you started building it is because another form of estoppel, known as equitable estoppel, might have helped you in that case. The Supreme Court of Alabama explains the elements of equitable estoppel as follows:

    The basic elements of equitable estoppel are stated in Dobbs, Remedies § 2.3 (1973):
    “ ‘An estoppel ... has three important elements. The actor, who usually must have knowledge of the true facts, communicates something in a misleading way, either by words, conduct or silence. The other relies upon that communication. And the other would be harmed materially if the actor is later permitted to assert any claim inconsistent with his earlier conduct.’ ”
    Mazer v. Jackson Ins. Agency, 340 So.2d 770, 772–73 (Ala.1976).

    Id. As you can see, if your in-law had knowledge of the true facts at the time the home was built but stayed silent while you built it then you'd have a potential claim to a remedy under equitable estoppel because it is unfair for him to know you are building on his property and not say anything about it and thus cause you to expend all that money and time building it and then turn around and demand you tear it down. But you say he didn't know it was on his property, and since he didn't know he could not have told you it was a problem while you were building it. That puts the problem in your hands as you were the one who had the obligation to ensure that the home was being built on your property.

    I suggest you consult an Alabama civil litigation attorney attorney, preferably one who has experience litigating real estate matters, to see if you have anything to stand on here to avoid having to remove the house (assuming you can't work something out with your in-law). Perhaps some facts you haven't mentioned would make a difference. When discussing estoppel, make sure the attorney has reviewed the Branch Banking case I cited above as it is a pretty recent case of the Alabama Supreme Court and lays out what is needed to succeed under either promissory estoppel or equitable estoppel.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Thank you for the response! My wife says he did tell us not build it there, but I don't recall that. There was also a phone call with my brother in law where he was told to call me by my father in law. The phone call was about wanting to put cows on the land our house is sitting over. My brother in law was told to call us because we were getting that land and he didn't think we wanted cows. At this point doubt that would work either, lol. We can't help but laugh about it, every angle we look at it we are screwed. Which sucks, especially when they are the ones pulling this crap. I do appreciate your detailed response though. I may have to mlook at it being moved or just letting it be foreclosed on. I can't see making a 1700$ month house payment if they won't work with us.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Kramer35045
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    My question involves real estate located in the State of: Alabama

    I'm not sure if this is the right forum to ask this. I asked about me building my house and it ended up on our in-laws property (about 5ft over the line). After researching to see if there is anything I can do, I found promissory estoppel doctrine and equitable easement. Yet, when I have asked for advice no one ever seems to suggest this. To me both of these fit our situation, 1) we didn't intentionally build on their property 2) he did tell us we would be able to buy the land next to us (which we ended up building on 3) it would hurt us way more than him to sell us a small portion of the property as opposed to us tearing the house down. Based on what I have read we should be able to use one of the two. I know it has to be proven in court, but I think we can. One we have pictures of him in the house when we were building it, two he lives 500 ft away from where we built. Not once did he stop us or file any suit to stop us from building it. What are we missing to prevent either of those two options?
    That's not exactly true. In your other post I wrote:

    The facts really do matter in this situation. Getting an equitable easement is complicated and if the neighbor knew that you were building over the property line there is a doctrine of estoppel involved where he knew what you were doing and did nothing to stop you.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting budwad
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    That's not exactly true. In your other post I wrote:
    My apologies, looking back at that post you did mention that. I stand corrected, you are the only one who has mentioned that avenue.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Info on Promissory Estoppel

    Quote Quoting Kramer35045
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    Thank you for the response! My wife says he did tell us not build it there, but I don't recall that. There was also a phone call with my brother in law where he was told to call me by my father in law. The phone call was about wanting to put cows on the land our house is sitting over. My brother in law was told to call us because we were getting that land and he didn't think we wanted cows. At this point doubt that would work either, lol. We can't help but laugh about it, every angle we look at it we are screwed. Which sucks, especially when they are the ones pulling this crap. I do appreciate your detailed response though. I may have to mlook at it being moved or just letting it be foreclosed on. I can't see making a 1700$ month house payment if they won't work with us.
    All is not lost if you can get your in-laws to at least sell you a portion of the neighboring lot. In Alabama (as in most states) this is called a minor subdivision where no new lots are formed and you are only adjusting the lot line (property boundary) between lots. In some states it's called a lot line adjustment. It is governed by statute of the state and the county and the local jurisdiction in the subdivision ordinances.

    So check your local jurisdiction's ordinances for a minor subdivision or lot line adjustment. Then offer whatever you have to as inducement for them to sell you a sliver of land so your home is entirely on your property and meets all the zoning requirements for side yard setbacks.

    And if your in-laws agree, you will have to apply for a minor subdivision, get it all surveyed, and go through the application process. It's not going to be cheap but far less than moving a home or walking away.

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