April 9, 2018

Washington Court Upholds Homeowners Association's View Enforcement Decision

A Snohomish County homeowner recently proposed to increase the height of his roof by seven feet, which obstructed the view of Puget Sound from at least one neighboring house.  After the Picnic Point Homeowners Association denied his proposal, the homeowner sued.  The Court of Appeals ruled in a published opinion last month that the plain language of the covenants and the relevant extrinsic evidence supported the Association's enforcement decision.

The Association’s covenants state that “no structures, including fences, hedges or boundary walls, may be constructed or modified on any parcel to a height which would … obstruct the Puget Sound or park view of any other parcel.”  The appellate court held that this plainly prohibits any view obstruction, no matter how minimal.  The Court pointed out that permitting marginal obstructions would result in the gradual elimination of the views that the covenants are attempting to protect.

March 30, 2018

Well, Yes - Washington Court Affirms Authority of Homeowners Association

Two Washington homeowners recently challenged the authority of their homeowners association to manage well water services in their housing development.  In an opinion published earlier this month, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed that the homeowners association’s exercise of authority was consistent with Washington law and the homeowners’ deed.

RCW 64.38.010(11) states that a homeowners’ association must be: (1) a corporation, unincorporated association, or other legal entity, each member of which (2) is an owner of residential real property located within the association’s jurisdiction, as described in the governing documents, and (3) by virtue of membership or ownership of property is obligated to pay real property taxes, insurance premiums, maintenance costs, or for improvement of real property other than that which is owned by the member.  Since the lot owners in this case were obligated to pay maintenance and insurance costs regarding wells and this obligation arose from joint ownership of the wells, the homeowners association in this case was held to constitute a valid homeowner’s association entitled to exercise the powers described in RCW 64.38 and its CC&Rs.

The appellate court went on to rule that the challenging homeowners did not have the legal right to challenge the homeowners association’s authority because they had ratified its existence and actions.  Ratification occurs when a homeowner either (1) voluntarily accepts the benefits and obligations of the association’s actions with full knowledge of the facts warranting rescission, or (2) accepts the benefits and obligations imposed by the association without inquiry.  The second form of ratification - action without inquiry - was held to apply in this case.  All of the pertinent facts were contained in the title documents, and “a party to a real estate contract will not be heard to declare that he did not read it, or was ignorant of its contents.” 

March 5, 2018

Legal Blogs Are Not A Substitute for Legal Advice

Washington condominium and homeowners association boards face the constant temptation to rely on legal blog posts rather than paid advice from attorneys. They should resist that pernicious pull.  

Attorneys' blog posts are not legal advice, nor are they intended to be.  They provide (at most) a general overview of a subject or issue, and this almost always fails to reflect the complexities encountered when applying legal rules and their many exceptions in specific situations.  Without additional guidance from attorneys, relying on information contained in blog posts often leads to boards misinterpreting that information and reaching incorrect conclusions.  Subsequent events can also render blog posts obsolete in some or all respects.  

As the adage goes, those who represent themselves in legal matters have fools for clients. Washington community association boards should establish relationships with attorneys who focus their practices on community association law and who diligently stay abreast of current developments in that area.  Such attorneys can help them comply with their legal obligations and minimize legal problems when they arise.  As Benjamin Franklin advised about fire safety, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.