Forest Hill Cemetery Company sues 797 lot owners to reclaim unoccupied lots
Forest Hill Cemetery Company of Ann Arbor is suing 797 lot owners who owe more than $1.7 million in required annual assessment fees.
Some of the lots were purchased decades ago, and the cemetery long ago lost contact with those who bought them. The company filed suit to either force those owners to pay dues or allow the cemetery to reclaim the lots and sell them to others.
“The problem is we’re running out of land, as a lot of cemeteries do,” which is why the cemetery is petitioning the court to reclaim the lots, said attorney Richard T. Graham, who is handling the litigation.
Some of the lot owners owe several thousand dollars to the cemetery, Graham said.
Some of the lots with past due assessments were purchased in the 19th century. In many cases, the cemetery hasn't had contact with the owner or family members of the owner in decades, Graham said.
He said he expects many of the nearly 800 lot owners involved in the litigation — people the cemetery hasn't been able to make contact with — have either moved away or died.
The complete list of lot owners with past due assessments has been published in the Washtenaw County Legal News. Graham said the list is to be published every week for 12 weeks, after which point the Washtenaw County Circuit Court will determine whether the cemetery gets the lots back.
An additional 10 lot owners who owe a collective $6,444 were contacted directly by the cemetery, Graham said.
The annual assessments help pay for general maintenance of the cemetery. Every few years, the lot owners have the opportunity to vote on whether to keep the annual assessment, which is currently $16 annually per lot, said Dana Hoelzer, cemetery office manager. The assessment applies to occupied and unoccupied graves, but only unoccupied graves with past due assessments are at risk of being reclaimed by the cemetery, she said.
The 65-acre cemetery at 415 Observatory St. contains thousands of lots, Hoelzer said. A lot is a single gravesite, and a plot may consist of multiple lots.
Graham described the cemetery as being “one of the oldest, most pristine cemeteries in Ann Arbor.”
Since publishing the list, Graham said, the cemetery has only had contact with two of the lot owners — one agreed to pay the past due assessments, and the other no longer wants the lot and has reconveyed it to the cemetery.
Next week will mark the 12th consecutive week of the list’s publication in the Legal Journal, Graham said.
“We don’t really anticipate hearing from very many of these people,” said Bob Foster, a lawyer on the cemetery board and a cemetery trustee. “We’ve had almost no contest Most of them either pay or we get the lots back.”
If the court determines the cemetery can reclaim the lots, Graham said, there is still a two-year period during which the previous owners of those lots can come forward and agree to pay the late assessments and reclaim the lots from the cemetery.
Graham said the cemetery took similar action in 2003 and “everything went very, very smoothly.”