September 25, 2013

Washington Court Voids HOA Committee's Decision Enforcing View Covenant

The Washington Court of Appeals recently issued a published opinion that invalidated the decision of a homeowners association's covenants review committee.  The committee had decided that an owner's maple tree violated a restrictive covenant protecting views and had required that the tree be trimmed or removed.  The appellate court concluded that the committee's decision was based upon an incorrect interpretation of the relevant covenant and was not enforceable. 

The covenant at issue in this case stated that trees must not "unnecessarily" interfere with the view of another resident.  The covenants review committee subjectively determined that the tree in question unnecessarily interfered with a neighbor's view of the Olympic Mountains.  The appellate court ruled that the committee should have applied an objective standard instead.  The court held that the portions of a tree necessary to its survival are a necessary interference with the view of another residence.  Since the committee applied the wrong standard, the court struck down its decision.

Washington condominium and homeowners associations and their committees are often required to interpret and enforce their governing documents.  Seeking advice from an attorney with experience in this area can help to ensure that they do so correctly.             

September 18, 2013

Enforcement of HOA Covenants Makes for Good TV

The current season of the reality show Duck Dynasty has included some hilarious moments.  In one recent episode, Jase Robertson (one of the stars of the show) was fined by his homeowners association for burning leaves and keeping chickens in his yard.  Mr. Robertson attended an association meeting to challenge the fine and made the following plea to association's board of directors: "We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Chickens make me happy.  They get insects.  They fertilize your yard, and if anything goes wrong, you can put them in a pot."  The association's board of directors pointed out that the association's covenants are a lawful restriction of his rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness and denied his appeal.  Mr. Robertson backed down, stating that he was not aware of what was in the covenants when he bought the property.

Scripted TV or not, this incident reflects two important realities regarding community associations.  One, most owners do not read associations' governing documents.  Two, most owners will do as they please until boards intervene, even if their behavior has a negative impact on their neighbors.  By taking action to enforce associations' governing documents, boards help to ensure that the ultimate purposes of associations' governing documents (enhancement of property values and community harmony) are achieved. 

If your association's board has questions about how to enforce its governing documents, then it should consider contacting my office to obtain guidance regarding that subject.  This can help keep the board out of legal trouble and increase the happiness of the community as a whole.