Home > Real Estate > Real Estate Law Update: A Discussion on Laches

Real Estate Law Update: A Discussion on Laches


A few years back I wrote a post about the legal doctrine of Laches and how laches relates to real estate disputes.  

Since then, I consistently get a lot of hits on that post – and a lot of searches for “laches in real estate.


I don’t know. Maybe because its an unfamiliar term, unless you went to law school (even then).

Maybe because it is a valid defense to some real estate related lawsuits. (which it is if you read my previous post).

An October 2016 Michigan court of appeals decision came out on the subject, so I thought I would write about it.

The case:   Charter Township of Lyons v James E. Petty, et al. (unpublished) No. 327686 (Oct. 13, 2016).

But first, as a recap…

The Equitable Doctrine of Laches:

“Laches is an equitable tool used to remedy the inconvenience resulting from the plaintiff’s delay in asserting a legal right that was practicable to assert.” Public Health Dept v. Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich. 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996).

As such, “when considering whether a plaintiff is chargeable with laches, [a court] must afford attention to prejudice occasioned by the delay.” Lothian, 414 Mich. at 168. It is the prejudice occasioned by the delay that justifies the application of laches.Dunn v. Minnema, 323 Mich. 687, 696; 36 NW2d 182 (1949) .

Therefore in deciding on the issue of Laches, a Court will ask two questions:

1. was there a delay in bringing the claim and, if so,

2. did it prejudice the Defendant?

Question: Why is laches relevant to real estate disputes?

Answer: Because many real estate claims are based in “equity” as opposed to “law”-  e.g. –an injunction, specific performance, action for quiet title…



Recent Case Discussing Laches: Charter Township of Lyon v Petty, et al.

The Lyons case emphasizes “what type of harm (or prejudice) is a party required to show in order to succeed in a laches defense.”


This case was highlight by the Michigan Small Business Association (“SBAM”), since it clarified certain restrictions of small businesses operated on residential lands.

As SBAM reported:

“Two families that operated small businesses out of their homes have to cease their activity on their land because it violated Lyon Township’s zoning ordinance, which had designated the land “residential agricultural.”


However, for our purposes, the Pettys, who were operating their businesses on the property, argued that the township’s “decades-long pattern of ignoring their zoning violations, and the investments they made in their business as a result, precluded the township from taking enforcement action…” Id. pg 4.

The Pettys claimed Laches as one of several defenses to the Township’s enforcement of its ordinance.

The Court went through the legal analysis for laches and noted:

“Prejudice is a mandatory element.” and

“The prejudice necessary to establish a laches or estoppel defense cannot be a de minimis harm…” but “…property owners must establish ‘a financial loss…so great as practically to destroy or greatly to decrease the value of the..premises…” Id. pg 5.



When utilizing a defense of Laches in real estate disputes, showing merely the passage of time is not sufficient.

Showing the presence of harm due to the passage of time is not sufficient.

Significant harm must be shown.


E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka






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