Restrictive Covenant Prohibiting Rentals to College Students Upheld

The SPUR at Williams Brice Owners Association, Inc. v. Lalla, No. 2013-001479.

In this recent Court of Appeals ruling, the Court affirmed the lower court’s holding that a restrictive covenant prohibiting the lease of condominium units to students unrelated to the unit owners was valid.

The Association filed the original action as a covenant enforcement suit and declaratory judgment action seeking determination from the court whether the covenant was enforceable and whether the Lallas were in violation. The covenant at issue provided as follows:

The rental of any unit to any student currently enrolled in a two (2) or four (4) year college, institute, or university is strictly prohibited. Additionally, any tenant of any unit shall be prohibited from having any roommate that is enrolled in a two (2) year or four (4) year college, institute or university. Any tenant in violation of this Restriction shall have their lease automatically terminated and shall have thirty (30) days to vacate the Unit.

The Master Deed goes on to create an exception for the children or grandchildren of unit owners who are students and authorizes them to reside with one other student roommate.

The Lallas argued that the covenant should be overturned based on the following grounds: (1) it is unreasonable and unenforceable; (2) it violates the Equal Protection clauses of the South Carolina and United States Constitutions; (3) it violates the Federal Fair Housing Act and South Carolina Fair Housing Laws; (4) it should be nullified on the basis of changed economic conditions; and (5) the Association waived the right to enforce the covenant.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the covenant should be upheld as enforceable as it is binding on the unit at issue and the Lallas failed to demonstrate the covenant discriminates against a protected or inherently suspect class. Neither the Federal Fair Housing Act nor the South Carolina Fair Housing Laws recognize students as a protected class. Both laws protect against discrimination on the basis of familial status, which means a person under 18 being domiciled with a parent or someone with legal custody or the designee of such parent or person having legal custody. The court held that this classification was “wholly unrelated” to the rental restriction at issue.

The court succinctly stated its holding as follows:

[W]e find no error in the circuit court’s ruling that when the [Lallas] became owners of a unit in [The SPUR], they voluntarily and intentionally bound themselves by the restrictive covenants barring the rental of any unit to college students who are unrelated to the unit’s owner. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court’s ruling that the rental ban provision of the restrictive covenant is binding upon the Lallas.

Emphasis added.

This site and any information contained herein should not be construed as legal advice. Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Covenant Enforcement: Height Restriction Upheld

Greenbank Beach & Boat Club, Inc. v. Bunney, No. 66308-9-1, Wash. App. Ct., May 29, 2012.

In this case, the association brought suit against Bunney for violating a 15’ maximum height restriction on dwellings within the neighborhood. Bunney submitted building plans for a home six feet taller than the maximum allowed height and these plans were rejected. In spite of this and further attempts by the association to bring him into compliance, Bunney constructed the home as planned.

At trial, Bunney argued that the association abandoned its right to enforce the height restriction by selectively enforcing it. He presented evidence that other homes in the association exceeded the height restriction.  The court determined that the association had not waived this restriction and further found that Bunney acted in bad faith by continuing to build a home that he knew was in violation without attempting to resolve the issue with the association.

As a result, Bunney was ordered to modify his home to comply with the 15’ restriction.

This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Self-Help and Covenant Enforcement- Drawing a Line in the Sand

Frustrated board members often find themselves in a predicament: how far is too far in covenant enforcement?  Oftentimes, the governing documents of an association will allow the board to use self-help to enforce the covenants in a handful of situations.  For example, the covenants may state that if an owner refuses to maintain his or her yard the board may hire a landscaper to mow and then charge the owner for the service.  Unfortunately, boards sometimes go too far in seeking enforcement measures and step into the realm of vigilante justice.  This was the situation in a Florida case where the board of Palomino Lakes Subdivision literally blocked access to the subdivision on three occasions to prevent an owner from delivering what they thought was a mobile home.  Parton v. Palomino Lakes Prop. Owners Ass’n, Inc., 928 So. 2d 449 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006).

The covenants for Palomino Lakes prohibited mobile homes, but the owner was actually delivering a modular home, which was to be attached to a concrete slab and was permitted by the covenants.  By blockading access to the neighborhood, the board violated the covenants.  The owner later sued the association and the board members individually for breach of contract and injunctive relief. 

At trial, a jury determined that the owner was entitled to $5,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $60,000 against one board member, $50,000 against another board member, and $40,000 against a third.  As the prevailing party, the owner was also entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees.

Board members should think twice before taking self-help measures and subjecting themselves to personal liability.  Always ensure that board actions are permitted by the governing documents.

This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.  Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Association Can Enforce Zoning Regulations

Ariyan v. Pine Orchard Ass’n, Inc., No. CV084034207S, Conn. Super. Ct., Dec. 3, 2010.

The court in this case held that the Pine Orchard Association had the authority to enforce zoning regulations within the association.  Ariyan began constructing a gazebo on her lot, which is zoned with a 20-foot rear setback. Behind her lot is a private, unimproved right-of-way.  Ariyan did not initially seek approval of the zoning board before starting construction.  However, she eventually did submit an application for a permit, which was denied.  She later submitted a second application for a permit and that was also denied based on the setback requirement.

Ariyan then submitted a variance request for the setback requirement, arguing that because there was no barrier between her property and the private right-of-way, the gazebo would not be noticeable if it violated the required setback requirement.  Her variance was also denied, and was shortly followed with a cease and desist order for the partially constructed gazebo.  Ariyan was asked to remove the gazebo.  After the Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the decision, Ariyan appealed to the Connecticut Superior Court.

Ariyan argued on appeal that the decision was illegal, arbitrary and an abuse of discretion.  She based most of her argument on the fact that the regulations did not define “structure.”  The court found this unconvincing and held that “structure” is defined using its common and usual meaning.  The court also held that the appeal lacked merit because zoning regulators are required to apply the regulations when appropriate, and the fact that the gazebo would not obstruct her neighbors’ views was irrelevant.

This site and any information herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.