November 22, 2016

Thankful for My Clients!

Happy Thanksgiving to my clients!  I am thankful for you and appreciate your contributions to your communities.  I will continue to represent your legal interests to the very best of my ability!  

November 10, 2016

FHA Condominium Owner-Occupancy Requirement Lowered in Some Situations

Until recently, condominiums that wanted to obtain FHA lending approval were required to be at least 50% owner-occupied.  HUD announced last month that it is willing to issue FHA approvals to condominiums with owner-occupancy percentages as low as 35% in certain circumstances.  This will allow more condominiums to obtain FHA approval for the benefit of their owners.

The following requirements must be met for a condominium project to be approved if it has an owner-occupancy percentage as low as 35%:

1. Existing project;
2. Use HUD Review and Approval Process option;
3. Financial documents must provide for funding of replacement reserves for capital expenditures and deferred maintenance in an account representing at least 20% of the budget;
4. No more than 10% of the units are delinquent; and
5. Three years of acceptable financial documents.

HUD's letter announcing this change noted that "owner occupants serve to stabilize the financial viability of the projects and are less likely to default on their obligations to ownership associations than non-owner occupants .... Owner occupants, unlike either investors or renters, are incentivized to cooperate with other unit owners to ensure successful operation of the project."  However, HUD decided that substantial reserves, a low percentage of delinquent owners, and evidence of long-term financial stability mitigate the risk associated with lower owner occupancy. 

October 26, 2016

Washington Court of Appeals Affirms Order to Trim Hedge Row and Restore View

A Mercer Island homeowner sued his downhill neighbors for specific performance of a covenant that requires landscaping to be maintained at a height no greater than the nearest roof peak.  His neighbors responded that a hedge row on their property could grow as tall as the roof peak of the plaintiff's home because it was the closest structure to that hedge row.  The trial court rejected that argument on summary judgment and ordered the downhill neighbors to trim the hedge row, concluding that the covenant pertains to the nearest roof peak on the same property as the vegetation.  The Court of Appeals recently affirmed that decision in an unpublished opinion.

The homeowner in this case sued in order to restore a view of Lake Washington that he was legally entitled to enjoy pursuant to a set of recorded covenants, and the value of that view is central to the Court's decision.  The Court notes that "it is common sense that a lakefront property is more desirable when it has a view of the lake."  It then points out that the covenants "call for landscaping to be maintained to protect the overall desirability of all of the properties in the subdivision" and that "it would be inconsistent with this provision to permit landscaping to grow so tall that it completely blocks the view from the uphill neighbor's outlook."

October 14, 2016

Court of Appeals Enforces Covenant Restricting Height of Trees and Hedges

The Washington Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished opinion indicating that a row of trees violated a covenant restricting "hedges" to a height of six feet or less. The parties own property in a neighborhood on Whidbey Island that is built on a slope and that provides views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.  Trees on downhill property blocked uphill property views, causing the uphill property owners to file a lawsuit arguing that the trees constituted a hedge in violation of a restrictive covenant.  The trial court ordered the downhill property owners to cut certain trees to a height of six feet or less, and those owners appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that one definition of "hedge" is "a boundary formed by a row of trees planted close together."  The Court decided that the row of trees constituted a "hedge" under the terms of the restrictive covenant and that it was therefore subject to the height restriction.  The Court emphasized that the scenic location and views are an important part of the value of the properties and that protecting views is in the homeowners' collective interest.      

September 12, 2016

Court Rejects Condominium Owner's Attempt to Invalidate Assessments

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's summary judgment denial of a condominium owner's legal challenges to the assessments charged to his unit.  The owner argued that the assessments were invalid in a variety of ways, but the Court held that he did not offer sufficient evidence to support any of them.  The Court also noted that "the owner of a condominium residential unit may not withhold payment of condominium assessments as a form of protest."