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The Washington Court of Appeals ruled in a recent unpublished opinion that a leasing restriction on "single-family homes" contained in the declaration of a master community does not apply to condominiums within that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.

June 25, 2015

Washington State Legislative Update for Community Associations

The Washington State Legislature did not approve any significant new laws affecting community associations in 2015.  A bill to replace the existing state laws pertaining to community associations was discussed in committee, but it did not have sufficient support to proceed.  A revised version of that bill will be proposed again next year, and the scope of its applicability and the content of its provisions are sure to be the subject of intense debate.

May 18, 2015

Washington Court of Appeals Rules Slip Victim Assumed Risk

The Washington Court of Appeals recently ruled in an unpublished opinion that a man assumed the risk of slipping and falling on accumulated ice and snow in a roadway.  As a result, the Court upheld the summary judgment dismissal of his lawsuit against his apartment complex.

Landlords have a general legal duty to keep common areas free from dangerous accumulations of snow and ice, but they are generally not liable for damages caused by dangers that are known or obvious to the injured person.  The Court held that the defense of implied primary assumption of risk applied in this case because the injured person had full subjective understanding of the presence and nature of the specific risk and voluntarily chose to encounter that risk.

The Court included a fun footnote near the end of its opinion.  During a discussion of the risks posed by snow and ice, the Court mentioned the "proverbial hundreds of Inuit words for snow" and cited a 2013 Washington Post story by David Robson titled There really are 50 Eskimo words for 'snow'.  This article observed that "for many of these dialects, the vocabulary associated with sea ice is even richer."  

April 21, 2015

Court Resolves Dispute Over Sewer Line Damage Caused by Tree Roots

The Washington Court of Appeals recently issued a published opinion involving downhill homeowners' claims against neighboring uphill homeowners and a neighboring uphill undeveloped property owner for damage to their residence caused by a clogged private sewer line shared by the homeowners.  The Court affirmed the trial court's order directing the neighboring uphill homeowners (who used and benefited from the sewer line) to pay an equal share to repair the sewer line, dismissing the claims against the neighboring uphill homeowners for damage to the residence, and dismissing all claims against the neighboring uphill undeveloped property owner (which did not use or benefit from the sewer line).  The Court held that no controlling legal authority imposed an affirmative duty on the parties to inspect the sewer line.

During the course of its opinion, the Court discussed a property owner's potential liability when the roots of trees on the owner's property invade a neighboring property and cause damage.  It pointed out that the Washington Supreme Court resolved a 1945 dispute involving such facts by holding that "it is the duty of the one who is the owner of the offending agency to restrain its encroachment upon the property of another." Luckily for the neighboring uphill undeveloped property owner in the recent case, the roots of the tree on its property clogged the portion of the sewer line underneath its property but did not invade any neighboring property.  

April 5, 2015

Washington Supreme Court Affirms Drainage Pipe Maintenance Decision

The Washington Supreme Court recently upheld an appellate court's decision that the City of Bothell assumed responsibility for maintaining a drainage pipe installed in a residential subdivision in Snohomish County.  The Court concluded that the only reasonable interpretation of the plat is that the City assumed responsibility to maintain that pipe.  My previous post about this case in 2013 is here.

Sometimes the Court includes a choice quote or two in its opinions.  This opinion features this response to the City's attempt to raise a constitutional argument: "Naked castings into the constitutional sea are not sufficient to command judicial consideration and discussion."