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BILL AS INTRODUCED 2007-2008

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S.184

Introduced by Senator Illuzzi of Essex-Orleans District, Senator Carris of Rutland District, Senator Condos of Chittenden District, Senator Miller of Chittenden District, and Senator Racine of Chittenden District

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  Conservation; Uniform Environmental Covenants Act

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to adopt the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act, which establishes a process to be used when contaminated real property is to be remedied to a level that is consistent with the potential environmental risks posed by a particular use.  The covenant manages the potential risks presented by the residual contamination, and it assures that controls designed to manage the potential environmental risk of residual contamination will be reflected on the land records and effectively enforced over time as a valid real property servitude.

AN ACT RELATING TO THE UNIFORM ENVIRONMENTAL COVENANTS ACT

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:


Sec. 1.  LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS

The Uniform Environmental Covenants Act allows for the long-term enforcement of remediation measures to be contained in a statutorily defined agreement known as an “environmental covenant,” which will be binding on subsequent purchasers of the property and be listed in the local land records. The fundamental purpose of this act is to remove various legal impediments to the use of such restrictions and to thereby lessen liability concerns of sellers and lenders associated with the redevelopment and sale of contaminated property while at the same time requiring state approval of the remediation and control plan as well as notice to surrounding landowners, local governments, and other parties in interest.  By ensuring these “institutional controls” are maintained and enforced, the act helps fulfill the dual purposes of such restrictions:  the protection of human health and the economically viable reuse of the property in question.   Specifically, the act:

(1)  helps to return previously contaminated property to the stream of commerce, by allowing the owners of that property to engage in responsible risk-based remediation and then transfer or sell the property subject to

state-approved controls on its use.

(2)  gives a broad array of interested parties the ability to enforce the use and activity restrictions contained in an environmental covenant, thereby helping to ensure those controls will remain in place and prevent secondary harms.

(3)  protects valid environmental covenants from being inadvertently extinguished by application of various common law doctrines, adverse possession, tax lien foreclosures, less-restrictive zoning changes, and marketable title statutes.

(4)  requires the agency of natural resources to be a signatory to the covenant, thereby ensuring that risk assessments and control mechanisms are based on sound science and adequately protect human health and surrounding properties, and that notice of the covenant and associated controls is provided to affected third parties.

(5)  does not supplant or impose substantive cleanup standards or liability; rather it validates approved site-specific controls resulting from an environmental response project, and makes sure those controls are maintained as long as necessary to meet the objective for which they were approved.

Sec. 2.  10 V.S.A. chapter 166 is added to read:

Chapter 166.  Uniform Environmental Covenants Act

§ 7201.   SHORT TITLE

This chapter may be cited as the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act.

§ 7202.  DEFINITIONS

In this chapter:

(1)  “Activity and use limitations” means restrictions or obligations created under this chapter with respect to real property.

(2)  “Agency” means the agency of natural resources or any other  federal agency that determines or approves the environmental response project pursuant to which the environmental covenant is created.

(3)  “Common interest community” means a condominium, cooperative, or other real property with respect to which a person, by virtue of the person’s ownership of a parcel of real property, is obligated to pay property taxes or insurance premiums, or for maintenance, or improvement of other real property described in a recorded covenant that creates the common interest community.

(4)  “Environmental covenant” means a servitude arising under an environmental response project that imposes activity and use limitations.

(5)  “Environmental response project” means a plan or work performed for environmental remediation of real property and conducted:

(A)  under a federal or state program governing environmental remediation of real property, including that under chapter 159 of this title;

(B)  incident to closure or post-closure of a solid or hazardous waste management unit, if the closure is conducted with approval of an agency; or

(C)  by a person voluntarily complying with requirements to remediate a site under this title.

(6)  “Holder” means the grantee of an environmental covenant as specified in subsection 7203(a) of this title.

(7)  “Person” means an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, limited liability company, association, joint venture, public corporation, government, governmental subdivision, agency, or instrumentality, or any other legal or commercial entity.

(8)  “Record,” used as a noun, means information that is inscribed on a tangible medium or that is stored in an electronic or other medium and is retrievable in perceivable form.

(9)  “State” means the state of Vermont.

§ 7203.  NATURE OF RIGHTS; SUBORDINATION OF INTERESTS

(a)  Any person, including a person that owns an interest in the real property, the agency, or a municipality or other unit of local government, may be a holder.  An environmental covenant may identify more than one holder. The interest of a holder is an interest in real property.

(b)  A right of an agency under this chapter or under an environmental covenant, other than a right as a holder, is not an interest in real property.

(c)  An agency is bound by any obligation it assumes in an environmental covenant, but an agency does not assume obligations merely by signing an environmental covenant.  Any other person that signs an environmental covenant is bound by the obligations the person assumes in the covenant, but signing the covenant does not change obligations, rights, or protections granted or imposed under law other than this chapter, except as provided in the covenant.

(d)  The following requirements apply to interests in real property in existence at the time an environmental covenant is created or amended:

(1)  An interest that has priority under other law is not affected by an environmental covenant unless the person that owns the interest subordinates that interest to the covenant.

(2)  This chapter does not require a person that owns a prior interest to subordinate that interest to an environmental covenant or to agree to be bound by the covenant.

(3)  A subordination agreement may be contained in an environmental covenant covering real property or in a separate record.  If the environmental covenant covers commonly owned property in a common interest community, the record may be signed by any person authorized by the governing board of the owners’ association.

(4)  An agreement by a person to subordinate a prior interest to an environmental covenant affects the priority of that person’s interest but does not by itself impose any affirmative obligation on the person with respect to the environmental covenant.


§ 7204.  CONTENTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL COVENANT

(a)  An environmental covenant must:

(1)  state that the instrument is an environmental covenant executed pursuant to this chapter;

(2)  contain a legally sufficient description of the real property subject to the covenant;

(3)  describe the activity and use limitations on the real property;

(4)  identify every holder;

(5)  be signed by the agency, every holder, and, unless waived by the agency, every owner of the fee simple of the real property subject to the covenant; and

(6)  identify the name and location of any administrative record for the environmental response project reflected in the environmental covenant.

(b)  In addition to the information required by subsection (a) of this section, an environmental covenant may contain other information, restrictions, and requirements agreed to by the persons who signed it, including any:

(1)  requirements for notice following transfer of a specified interest in, or concerning proposed changes in use of, applications for building permits for, or proposals for any site work affecting the contamination on, the property subject to the covenant;

(2)  requirements for periodic reporting describing compliance with the covenant;

(3)  rights of access to the property granted in connection with implementation or enforcement of the covenant;

(4)  a brief narrative description of the contamination and remedy, including the contaminants of concern, the pathways of exposure, limits on exposure, and the location and extent of the contamination;

(5)  limitation on amendment or termination of the covenant in addition to those contained in sections 7209 and 7210 of this title; and

(6)  rights of the holder in addition to its right to enforce the covenant pursuant to section 7211 of this title.

(c)  In addition to other conditions for its approval of an environmental covenant, the agency may require those persons specified by the agency who have interests in the real property to sign the covenant.

§ 7205.  VALIDITY; EFFECT ON OTHER INSTRUMENTS

(a)  An environmental covenant that complies with this chapter runs with the land.

(b)  An environmental covenant that is otherwise effective is valid and enforceable even if:

(1)  it is not appurtenant to an interest in real property;

(2)  it can be or has been assigned to a person other than the original holder;

(3)  it is not of a character that has been recognized traditionally at common law;

(4)  it imposes a negative burden;

(5)  it imposes an affirmative obligation on a person having an interest in the real property or on the holder;

(6)  the benefit or burden does not touch or concern real property;

(7)  there is no privity of estate or contract;

(8)  the holder dies, ceases to exist, resigns, or is replaced; or

(9)  the owner of an interest subject to the environmental covenant and the holder are the same person.

(c)  An instrument that creates restrictions or obligations with respect to real property that would qualify as activity and use limitations except for the fact that the instrument was recorded before the effective date of this chapter is not invalid or unenforceable because of any of the limitations on enforcement of interests described in subsection (b) of this section or because it was identified as an easement, servitude, deed restriction, or other interest.  This chapter does not apply in any other respect to such an instrument.

(d)  This chapter does not invalidate or render unenforceable any interest, whether designated as an environmental covenant or other interest, that is otherwise enforceable under the law of this state.

§ 7206.  RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER LAND-USE LAW

This chapter does not authorize a use of real property that is otherwise prohibited by zoning, by law other than this chapter  regulating use of real property, or by a recorded instrument that has priority over the environmental covenant.  An environmental covenant may prohibit or restrict uses of real property which are authorized by zoning or by law other than this chapter.

§ 7207.  NOTICE

(a)  A copy of an environmental covenant shall be provided by the persons and in the manner required by the agency to:

(1)  each person that signed the covenant;

(2)  each person holding a recorded interest in the real property subject to the covenant;

(3)  each person in possession of the real property subject to the covenant;

(4)  each municipality or other unit of local government in which real property subject to the covenant is located; and

(5)  any other person the agency requires.

(b)  The validity of a covenant is not affected by failure to provide a copy of the covenant as required under this section.

§ 7208.  RECORDING

(a)  An environmental covenant and any amendment or termination of the covenant must be recorded in every municipality in which any portion of the real property subject to the covenant is located.  For purposes of indexing, a holder shall be treated as a grantee.

(b)  Except as otherwise provided in subsection 7209(c) of this title, an environmental covenant is subject to the laws of this state governing recording and priority of interests in real property.

§ 7209.  DURATION; AMENDMENT BY COURT ACTION

(a)  An environmental covenant is perpetual unless it is:

(1)  by its terms limited to a specific duration or terminated by the occurrence of a specific event;

(2)  terminated by consent pursuant to section 7210 of this title;

(3)  terminated pursuant to subsection (b) of this section;

(4)  terminated by foreclosure of an interest that has priority over the environmental covenant; or

(5)  terminated or modified in an eminent domain proceeding, but only if:

(A)  the agency that signed the covenant is a party to the proceeding;

(B)  all persons identified in subsections 7210(a) and (b) of this title are given notice of the pendency of the proceeding; and

(C)  the court determines, after hearing, that the termination or modification will not adversely affect human health or the environment.

(b)  If the agency that signed an environmental covenant has determined that the intended benefits of the covenant can no longer be realized, a court, under the doctrine of changed circumstances, in an action in which all persons identified in subsections 7210(a) and (b) of this title have been given notice, may terminate the covenant or reduce its burden on the real property subject to the covenant.  The agency’s determination or its failure to make a determination upon request is subject to review pursuant to chapter 220 of this title.

(c)  Except as otherwise provided in subsections (a) and (b) of this section, an environmental covenant may not be extinguished, limited, or impaired through issuance of a tax deed, foreclosure of a tax lien, or application of the doctrine of adverse possession, prescription, abandonment, waiver, lack of enforcement, or acquiescence, or a similar doctrine.

(d)  An environmental covenant may not be extinguished, limited, or impaired by application of subchapter 7 of chapter 5 of Title 27, relating to marketable record title.

§ 7210.  AMENDMENT OR TERMINATION BY CONSENT

(a)  An environmental covenant may be amended or terminated by consent only if the amendment or termination is signed by:

(1)  the agency;

(2)  unless waived by the agency, the current owner of the fee simple of the real property subject to the covenant;

(3)  each person that originally signed the covenant, unless the person waived in a signed record the right to consent or a court finds that the person no longer exists or cannot be located or identified with the exercise of reasonable diligence; and

(4)  except as otherwise provided in subdivision (d)(2) of this section, the holder.

(b)  If an interest in real property is subject to an environmental covenant, the interest is not affected by an amendment of the covenant unless the current owner of the interest consents to the amendment or has waived in a signed record the right to consent to amendments.

(c)  Except for an assignment undertaken pursuant to a governmental reorganization, assignment of an environmental covenant to a new holder is an amendment.

(d)  Except as otherwise provided in an environmental covenant:

(1)  a holder may not assign its interest without consent of the other parties;

(2)  a holder may be removed and replaced by agreement of the other parties specified in subsection (a) of this section; and

(3)  a court of competent jurisdiction may fill a vacancy in the position of holder.

§ 7211.  ENFORCEMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL COVENANT

(a)  A civil action for injunctive or other equitable relief for violation of an environmental covenant may be maintained by:

(1)  a party to the covenant;

(2)  the agency;

(3)  any person to whom the covenant expressly grants power to enforce;

(4)  a person whose interest in the real property or whose collateral or liability may be affected by the alleged violation of the covenant; or

(5)  a municipality or other unit of local government in which the real property subject to the covenant is located.

(b)  This chapter does not limit the regulatory authority of any state or federal agency charged with enforcement of environmental laws other than this chapter with respect to an environmental response project.

(c)  A person is not responsible for or subject to liability for environmental remediation solely because it has the right to enforce an environmental covenant.

§ 7212.  REGISTRY; SUBSTITUTE NOTICE

(a)  The agency of natural resources shall establish and maintain a registry that contains all environmental covenants and any amendment or termination of those covenants.  The registry may also contain any other information concerning environmental covenants and the real property subject to them which the agency of natural resources  considers appropriate.  The registry is a public record for purposes of subchapter 3 of chapter 5 of Title 1, pertaining to access to public records.

(b)  After an environmental covenant or an amendment or termination of a covenant is filed in the registry established pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, a notice of the covenant, amendment, or termination that complies with this section may be recorded in the land records in lieu of recording the entire covenant.  Any such notice must contain:

(1)  a legally sufficient description and any available street address of the real property subject to the covenant;

(2)  the name and address of the owner of the fee simple interest in the real property, the agency, and the holder if other than the agency;

(3)  a statement that the covenant, amendment, or termination is available in a registry at the agency of natural resources, which discloses the method of any electronic access; and

(4)  a statement that the notice is notification of an environmental covenant executed pursuant to this chapter.

(c)  A statement in substantially the following form, executed with the same formalities as a deed in this state, satisfies the requirements of subsection (b) of this section:

“1.  This notice is filed in the land records of the Town of [insert name of jurisdiction in which the real property is located] pursuant to 10 V.S.A. § 7212.

2.  This notice and the covenant, amendment, or termination to which it refers may impose significant obligations with respect to the property described below.

3.  A legal description of the property is attached as Exhibit A to this notice.  The address of the property that is subject to the environmental covenant is [insert address of property][not available].

4.  The name and address of the owner of the fee simple interest in the real property on the date of this notice is [insert name of current owner of the property and the owner’s current address as shown on the tax records of the municipality in which the property is located].

5.  The environmental covenant, amendment, or termination was signed by [insert name and address of the agency].

6.  The environmental covenant, amendment, or termination was filed in the registry on [insert date of filing].

7.  The full text of the covenant, amendment, or termination and any other information required by the agency is on file and available for inspection and copying in the registry maintained for that purpose by the agency of natural resources at [insert address and room of building in which the registry is maintained].  The covenant, amendment, or termination may be found electronically at [insert web address for covenant].”


§ 7213.  UNIFORMITY OF APPLICATION AND CONSTRUCTION

In applying and construing this uniform act, consideration must be given to the advantages of promoting uniformity of the law, where appropriate, with respect to its subject matter among states that enact it.

§ 7214.  RELATION TO ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES IN GLOBAL

              AND NATIONAL COMMERCE ACT

This chapter modifies, limits, or supersedes the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (15 U.S.C. § 7001

et seq.) but does not modify, limit, or supersede Section 101 of that act (15 U.S.C. § 7001(a)) or authorize electronic delivery of any of the notices described in Section 103 of that Act (15 U.S.C. § 7003(b)).

Sec. 3.  27 V.S.A. § 606 is amended to read:

§ 606. LIMITATION OF ACTIONS

Nothing in this subchapter shall extend the periods for the bringing of an action or suit or for the doing of any act required under existing statutes of limitation, nor affect the operation of existing statutes governing the effect of the recording of or of the failure to record instruments affecting real estate.  Nothing in this subchapter shall affect environmental covenants entered under the Uniform Environmental Covenants Act established in 10 V.S.A. chapter 166.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us