October 15, 2014

Washington Supreme Court Limits HOAs' Ability to Create New Restrictive Covenants

The Washington Supreme Court issued a published opinion this past April that significantly limited the ability of homeowners associations to create new restrictive covenants that have no relation to existing covenants.  The case involved a dispute between a homeowners association and a group of owners over the validity of a majority-approved covenant amendment prohibiting short-term vacation rentals.  The owners contended in their lawsuit that the covenant amendment required unanimous owner consent because the existing covenants did not contain any durational limitations on leasing and only gave the association the power to change existing covenants by majority vote (as opposed to the power to create new covenants that have no relation to existing covenants).    
The Court agreed with the owners and invalidated the covenant amendment.  It held that if a homeowners association's existing covenants only authorize it to change existing covenants by majority vote, then that association may only adopt a covenant amendment imposing new restrictions on the use of the property by majority vote if that amendment is "consistent with the general plan of development and related to an existing covenant."  It is notable that two dissenting opinions argued at length that the correct legal standard in this situation is whether the amendment was adopted "in a reasonable manner [and is] consistent with the general plan of development."

As a result of this decision, some homeowners associations may seek to amend their covenants to permit the creation of new restrictive covenants by majority vote.  If your association wants to amend its covenants in any manner, then it should strongly consider consulting an attorney who is familiar with the laws that apply to such amendments.