May 3, 2010

Washington Supreme Court Resolves Dispute Over Addition to Bellevue Condominium

The Washington Supreme Court issued an important decision last month regarding the Horizontal Property Regimes Act (the state law that governs condominiums created on or before July 1, 1990). This decision is significant for two reasons. First, the first few pages of the Court’s opinion provide an excellent overview of the Act. Second, the Court’s opinion clarifies that an owner in an older condominium can expand his apartment into the common area with board approval if the association’s declaration permits it.

An owner at the Woodcreek Condominium in Bellevue, Washington built a second story addition to his townhouse-style condominium apartment with the approval of the Woodcreek Condominium Association. This new addition blocked light to and views from another apartment, and the owner of that apartment sued the first owner and the association, arguing that the common areas either could not be divided or could not be combined with an apartment without a unanimous vote of the owners. The Court rejected those arguments and ruled in favor of the owner who built the addition and the condominium association.

The Court first held that the Act and the association’s declaration do not bar the division of a condominium’s common areas. It next held that the Act and the declaration do not require the unanimous consent of the owners to combine a portion of the common area with an apartment. The Court explained that the unanimous consent provision in the Act only applies to changes in the percentage ownership rates assigned to each apartment. It also noted that the association’s targeted increase in the assessments charged to the owner that completed the addition was invalid.

This case serves as a reminder to condominium boards and owners to determine whether Washington law and the governing documents allow them to pursue courses of action that affect others. Older condominiums face many challenges as they evolve, and owners' interests will sometimes clash. A thorough understanding of Washington law and the declaration is essential to resolving these conflicts without costly litigation.