Covenants Conditions and Restrictions

Summary

Your Association should ensure that the language and definitions in governing documents reflect the intentions of the Association.  If they don’t, amend them, don’t just pretend they say something they don’t say

Facts

Sunburst Farms East (the “Association”) is a residential community consisting of four sections with individual lots (Sections 2, 3, 4, and 7).  Each Section had its own deed restrictions embodied in their own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”).  Every property owner in each Section automatically became a member of the Association, which was created to provide water to its members.  Under the CC&Rs the Association could impose assessments on its members, even if they didn’t use the services.  Over time, a majority of the owners in Sections 3, 4 and 7 voted to amend their CC&Rs to revoke mandatory payment obligations, and Section 7 also voted to revoke automatic membership.

Obviously, this created differences between the various Sections, since they now had different rules.  In 2007, all four Sections attempted to amend the existing CC&R’s and stated in the document that all four Sections seek to amend their CC&R’s and the prior CC&R’s are superseded.  After an election, the CC&R’s were recorded because they had been allegedly approved by a majority of property owners in each Section.  In response to a suit brought by owners, the Association filed a suit seeking a declaration that the 2007 CC&R’s were valid.  During the suit, the owners learned that the CC&R’s had not in fact been approved by a majority of the owners in Section 7.  Therefore, these owners argued the 2007 CC&R’s were invalid.
Continue Reading The Language Used in Documents, Amendments and Motions Matters

Summary

The Court of Appeals of Washington held that a lot owner was barred from claiming ownership of a strip of land after representing that the land was part of the adjacent lot, building a fence along the supposed boundary, allowing the adjacent lot owner to maintain and landscape up to the fence, abandoning the land, and causing the adjacent lot owner to rely on that representation.
Continue Reading This Land Is My Land, this Land is Your Land – Owner Loses Ownership of Land After Denying It Was Part of His Lot

Facts

The dispute in this case centered on what rights owners of lots that did not have frontage on a lake (“Non-Lake Lot Owners”) had to place a dock in the lake based on the restrictive rights for their homeowner’s association (“HOA”) which were recorded in 1922.  The HOA consisted of 146 lots.  All Non-Lake Lots were granted a perpetual easement over and across seven lakefront outlots for their use and enjoyment, including access to the lake.  Some of the Non-Lake Lot Owners construed this broadly enough that they installed a dock and used one of the outlots for activities unrelated to the water (picnics and such).  Plaintiff, a “Lake Lot Owner”, had a letter sent to the Non-Lake Lot Owner Defendants demanding that they stop using the outlot and remove the dock.  The parties disagreed.  Plaintiff sued.
Continue Reading HOAs & Riparian Rights-Can I Put a Dock Here?

Facts

Diane Steele owned a home in the Diamond Farm development, which was managed by the Association. While in accordance with the Association’s declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, the Association must obtain at least two-thirds of the members’ total votes to increase annual assessments, assessment increases in 2007, 2011, and 2014 did not receive the requisite two-thirds vote for approval. Consequently, Steele ceased making payments. The Association brought suit seeking unpaid assessments and attorney’s fees. Steele’s defense was that she did not owe dues for the amounts of increases imposed without the supermajority required under the Declaration of Covenants.
Continue Reading Can Homeowners Sue an Association for Increasing Assessments Where the Association Did Not Receive the Requisite Votes Required?

Summary

Even where homeowners characterize their claims against an Association as civil rights violations, the claims involved in the parties’ rights under the declaration, and the declaration’s attorney’s fees provisions applied.

Facts

In 2011, David Merritt, a former HOA board member, and his wife, Salma, sued their Sunnyvale HOA, Classics at Fair Oaks (Classics), as well as three of its board members. The dispute centered on the Association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (“CC&Rs”) involving parking restrictions at the Classics. The HOA’s parking policy requires residents to pay for and obtain a permit for each vehicle parked on the street versus in the garage of each residence. The Merritts had a two-car garage, but only parked one car inside it. They argued that they can only park one car in the garage, because Salma is disabled, and needs additional space to enter and exit the vehicle when it is parked inside the garage.
Continue Reading Owners Pay High Price of Litigation Against Association

Problem

What do you do if you want a detached garage but your documents don’t allow it?

Facts

Plaintiffs sought to enjoin the construction of a detached garage in their association on the grounds that it was specifically prohibited by the declaration. However, the declaration provided a procedure for review of any proposed structure that would otherwise violate the declaration. That process required submission and approval in writing from the Trustee (think Architectural Control Committee or “ACC”). However, the Association had not had any ACC in place for approximately nine years.
Continue Reading Architectural Control Committee – Why It’s Needed!!!

Facts

When you are headed down the wrong path – TURN BACK.  This applies to owners and associations when they act on their belief of what their documents say, but then learn that their understanding may be wrong.  Often parties who make a mistake, or learn that they might have made a mistake, refuse to reevaluate their situation and at least allow turning back to be an option.  Such appears to have been what happened in the recent case of Fritz v. Lake Carroll Property Owners Association, Inc., (2019 unreported case out of Illinois) where the association passed a rule that required inspection and pumping of the owners privately owned septic system every four years and that if an owner failed to follow the rule they would be fined $250 and $25 per day. 
Continue Reading Wisconsin Condominium and Homeowner Association Owners Need to Follow their Rules Even When they Are Not Recorded.

Eith v. Ketelhut, — Cal.Reptr.3d — (2018)

The Facts

Homeowner bought home in 2003.  In 2005 they planted a vineyard consisting of 600 plants on around .4 acres after obtaining approval of the Board’s Architectural Committee to their landscape plan that included the grape vines.  The CC&R’s (Covenants Conditions and Restrictions) specifically prohibited that “No lot shall be used for any purpose (including any business or commercial activity) other than for a residence of one family…”  The first wine harvest was in 2008 and the owner began selling the wine in 2009.  In a good year he would produce 720 bottles of wine.  Neighbors objected and when the Board did nothing, they filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief claiming that the Board breached its fiduciary duty and to prohibit the owner from operating their business.  At trial the owner admitted that “the sale of wine is a business,” that the vineyard “operates like a business” and that “this was a hobby.”  The owner also testified that he filed IRS Schedule C for the vineyard, which is entitled “Profit or Loss of Business (Sole Proprietor).”  Under the IRS rules you would not file Schedule C if the business was only a hobby 
Continue Reading When is a Business NOT a Business?