May 31, 2016

Neighbors Tangle in Court Over Severed Tree Roots

The roots from two large trees growing on one property encroached onto a neighboring property.  The neighboring owner removed the roots, which damaged the trees and led to a lawsuit.  The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal in a published opinion last month.  The Court held that the neighboring owner had the right to remove the portions of the roots that encroached onto his property, and it further held that he did not owe the trees' owner a duty of due care to prevent damage to the trees.

The Court noted during its opinion that tree branches that extend over the land of another are "technical nuisances [that] the person over whose land they extend may cut ... off."  It also mentioned an unusual case in which one set of neighbors sued another set of neighbors for building a condominium that blocked their western view.  The Court decided in that case that the plaintiffs had no right to bring a nuisance action because they "did not possess any easement of light, air, or view, nor do they possess any legal cause for complaint or interference therewith by the lawful erection of a building on respondents' property."  The condominium was permitted to remain.

When people live together in close proximity, they will inevitably use their properties in ways that will be annoying to each other and detrimental to each others' interests at times.  However, this does not necessarily mean that one of the parties has a legal claim against the other.  Use of real property is governed by overlapping layers of covenants, easements, ordinances, statutes, and case law.  Those sources must be examined in each case to determine whether the disputed use at issue is legal.

May 5, 2016

Legal Challenge to Amendment Restricting Leasing Held Untimely By WA High Court

The Washington Supreme Court recently unanimously ruled that a legal challenge to a recorded condominium declaration amendment restricting leasing was barred by a one-year statute of limitation in the Washington Condominium Act.  

A condominium declaration amendment received board approval, received at least sixty-seven percent owner approval, and was recorded.  A person bought a unit subject to that amendment and then argued in a lawsuit over four years later that the amendment required ninety percent owner approval (based on a different subsection of the WCA) because it changed the uses to which units were restricted. The Washington Supreme Court responded that "it is not immediately apparent which vote total was needed to approve the amendment" and that the legislature "may well wish to clarify" the WCA with regard to whether the definition of "use" includes the leasing of a unit.  However, the Court also noted that the amendment was voidable (rather than void from its inception, as in the case of fraud) from a legal perspective due to the process by which it was approved.  The Court therefore held that a one-year time bar for challenges to amendments in the WCA applied to this challenge regardless of the required approval percentage.  The Court concluded that "[t]o hold otherwise would render the time bar meaningless." 

Happy Cinco de Mayo to those WCA condominium associations that recorded declaration amendments restricting leasing with at least sixty-seven percent owner approval more than one year ago.