September 21, 2015

Washington Court Affirms Dismissal of Intentional Water Trespass Claim

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's dismissal of a property owner's intentional water trespass claim against neighboring property owners.  The plaintiff owned a residential lot in Spokane situated at the bottom of a v-shaped drainage basin.  Before 2009, she experienced no drainage problems.  In September of 2009, the Qualchan Hills HOA authorized construction of a concrete extension, which greatly increased drainage onto her lot, overburdened her small drainage pond, and caused flooding.  The plaintiff sued the Qualchan Hills HOA and most of the uphill property owners.  

The HOA entered into binding arbitration with regard to this dispute, and the Court noted that periodic flooding caused by the defective design or modification of a drainage system can constitute a continuing trespass.  However, the Court went on to hold that the neighboring property owners' passive usage of the water system at issue did not support an intentional trespass claim against them.  The Court pointed out that its 2013 opinion Jackass Mtn. Ranch, Inc. v. S. Columbia Basin Irr. Dist. upheld the dismissal of an intentional trespass claim against the operator of an irrigation system that created a landslide because no evidence existed the operator knew that the system would cause such a slide.   

September 8, 2015

Washington Court Affirms Homeowners Association's Internal Procedures

The Washington Court of Appeals recently ruled in an unpublished opinion that an owner's legal challenges to a Mason County homeowners association's internal procedures had no merit. The Court first ruled that the association's governing documents do not grant owners a general right to appeal the decisions of its board of directors. It next held that the association could exclude a board member from closed executive sessions of board meetings when he acted in his capacity as an owner and threatened litigation against it.  The Court finally ruled that the association's hazard tree policy is valid because it provides sufficient notice of proposed tree removals and an adequate appeal process.

The eleventh footnote of the court's opinion observes that homeowners associations in Washington state are not bound by constitutional due process requirements.  The first footnote of the court's opinion emphasizes that those associations are instead bound to manage their affairs pursuant to their governing documents, RCW 64.38, and RCW 24.03 (if incorporated).  

August 26, 2015

Washington Appellate Court Affirms Enforcement of View Easement

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's decision that a recorded view easement protects views of the Olympic Mountains from the main floor of a home in rural King County and requires maintenance of vegetation on an adjacent property to the extent that it exceeds the top of certain foothills and obstructs the view of the mountains which appears above them.  The view easement at issue was intended to "protect the reasonable expectation of landowners to have and protect such views as they exist on the date of the making of this agreement" and provided that the properties shall have a "reasonable unencumbered view of the Olympic Mountains."  A beautiful (and valuable) view of the mountains was thus preserved through the judicial process.

The Pacific Northwest abounds in stunning scenery, and owners of property in this region are often interested in preserving views.  Recording a view easement in conjunction with neighboring properties is the legal way to accomplish that goal.  If such an easement does not exist, then a property owner can not force his or her neighbor or homeowners association to preserve or restore a treasured view.   

July 30, 2015

We Only Represent Condominium and Homeowners Associations

We often receive calls and emails from individuals who are involved in disputes with their community associations.  However, our office only provides legal representation to condominium and homeowners associations.  It does not accept individual property owners as clients.

The Washington appellate courts have issued several unpublished opinions over the last month that are relevant to community associations.  Posts regarding those opinions are coming soon.  Stay cool out there!

July 3, 2015

Washington Court: Leasing Restriction on Homes Does Not Apply to Condominiums

The Washington Court of Appeals ruled in a recent unpublished opinion that a leasing restriction on "single-family homes" contained in the declaration of a master community does not apply to condominiums within that community.  The Court reached its decision by closely examining the declaration's definitions section.  

The declaration defined the term "home" as "any structure located on a lot ... intended for use and occupancy as a residence by a single family" and the term "condominium" to include "units located in duplexes, fourplexes, and other multi-dwelling-unit buildings."  The Court noted that a "condominium" does not fall within this definition of a "home." 

The declaration also defined the term "living unit" to mean "a building or structure or any portion thereof ... that is designated and intended for use and occupancy as a residence by a single family, including attached or detached houses, condominiums, and units within apartment buildings."  The Court viewed the leasing restriction's reference to the narrower term "homes" rather then the broader term "living units" to indicate that condominiums are not covered by that restriction.

Boards of Washington condominium and homeowners associations should seek legal guidance if disputes arise regarding the meaning of their governing documents.