HGTV star Jonathan Knight is facing a bitter legal battle over his Massachusetts farmhouse. The “Farmhouse Fixer” host and former New Kids on the Block singer was sued by a land trust in 2021. He countersued later that year. A hearing in Massachusetts Land Court is scheduled for October 14, 2022, records show.
The Trustees of Reservations filed the lawsuit against King’s Court Trust, which Knight set up as the owner of his Essex farm property, and Scott Harmon, the trustee of Knight’s trust, accusing them of violating conservation restrictions on the property, court documents obtained by Heavy show. Knight has been trying to upgrade and move the single-family home on his six-acre plot since 2015, according to court documents. King’s Court Trust countersued, accusing the Trustees of targeting them while allowing neighbors to get away with violations of the conservation restrictions.
The property is part of 100 acres overseen by the Trustees since 1976 known as Bothways Farm. The conservation restrictions bar owners from constructing new buildings on the property not used for farm operations. The restrictions were put in place to preserve the coastal region’s agricultural and farming history. According to its website, The Trustees of Reservations, “For more than a century, The Trustees has been on the ground in communities across Massachusetts, working to protect special places, providing loving care of our reservations, building creative new programs to engage people, and sharing our expertise with neighbors and partners across the state.”
The Trustees website adds, “The centerpiece of the Trustees mission is protecting places of ecological, scenic, and historic importance. We search far and wide to find Massachusetts’ most potentially endangered iconic landscapes and precious cultural relics, navigate the complex and long path to bring them under our protection, and allocate land stewardship resources and expertise to maintain their integrity long into the future.” Their mission includes preserving agriculture.
Knight’s mother, Marlene Putman, also lives on the property and first acquired it in 1999, according to court documents. Knight lives in a home on the property with his husband, Harley Rodriguez.
The Trustees Say They Had ‘No Choice But to File This Enforcement Action’ After Knight Began Construction on the Home
The Trustees filed a 133-page complaint in November 2021. In the complaint, The Trustees wrote, “Although the owner of the land purchased it with full knowledge that the land was subject to a conservation restriction and was therefore subject to certain clearly defined limitations, all designed to preserve the open and rural characteristics. of the property, he has persisted for nearly a decade in a development campaign that ignores the plain language of the conservation restriction.
They added, “When The Trustees have given approval for certain types of development on the property, the owner pulls a bait and switch. On other occasions the other has asked for The Trustees’ permission and approval after a structure has already been completed and discovered by The Trustees.” They wrote:
Most recently the owner has moved ahead with construction of a single-family home on a foundation that The Trustees approved more than four years ago as a working, agricultural — i.e. non-residential — barn. As envisioned by the owner, the new house would be more than 4,166 square feet, which includes a finished basement and screened-in porch and would connect via a 200 square foot enclosed mudroom to a 1,456 square foot residential garage, each of these facts being a violation of the plain language of the conservation restriction. The Trustees had no choice but to file this enforcement action.
The lawsuit states, “At various times throughout their ownership Ms. Putman and Mr. Knight have sought to develop the property in a way that is inconsistent with the language” of the conservation restriction.”
The complaint details the back-and-forth between Knight and The Trustees during his attempts to expand and renovate homes on the property. It also includes emails and plans as exhibits. The Trustees are asking the Land Court to remove agricultural structures they didn’t approve before they were constructed, including a chicken coop, garden shed and lean-to on the side of a barn.
They also want the court to reove an equipment shed that was denied by The Trustees and order Knight to cease and disst the construction of a barn that they say will be used as a residential structure and not an agriculutral structure. They are also seeking attorneys’ fees and costs, accordingt to court documents.
Knight Has Countersued The Trustees
In December 2021, Harmon filed a countersuit against The Trustees on behalf of King’s Court Trust, according to court documents obtained by Heavy that can be read here.
Harmon told the Gloucester Daily Times in June 2022 that neighbors have been able to get larger projects started without as many complications. “We don’t begrudge the neighbors. We understand everyone has their own needs and they had to fight for their own work as well,” Harmon told the newspaper.
Knight has called out The Trustees on social media. He wrote in a tweet in May 2022 directed at The Trustees’ lawyer, “Why are you surprised I am tweeting? The organization you represent is the most difficult and non transparent non profit. They have guided me and I’ve followed, only to be sued. Get your facts straight. And stop making landowners look bad.”
Knight added in another tweet, “Dear Kate, @thetrustees lawyer: Happy to move this to discovery phase so we can expose all the lies your organization have given me the past 6 years. Your big powerful non profit that makes millions, doesn’t scare me!”
A status conference hearing before Land Court justice Kevin T. Smith is scheduled for October 14, 2022, at 10 a.m., according to online records. The hearing was scheduled in January. The two sides last met in court via video on December 15, 2021, for case management conference, records show. During that hearing, Smith ruled that the two sides would need to complete the discovery process by September 30.