Homeowners Association Legal Issues: More Common than You May Think!
We are currently in trial, defending a client against his homeowner’s association, which is seeking a permanent injunction to require our client to remove an improvement he made to his own property. In preparing for this trial, we came across a case, Young v. Tortoise Island Homeowner’s Association, 511 So. 2d 381 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987), which highlights the importance of understanding restrictive covenants before purchasing property in a deed-restricted community.In Young, a couple purchased a plot of land in the Tortoise Island subdivision in Brevard County, Florida. Id. at 382. Prior to purchasing this property, the couple drove around the subdivision and carefully looked at the residences built there. Id. There were approximately 250 lots in the subdivision, and, at the time, about half of them had been developed. Id. Notably, there was no one common architectural style employed by the owners of the residences in Turtle Island. Id. Instead, there were a variety of styles, ranging from oriental to contemporary. Id. There was also a range in roof styles, from hipped and gabled to flat. Id. The couple desired to construct a French Provencial-style home with a flat roof and submitted plans for this home to the Architectural Control Board of the Tortoise Island Homeowner’s Association. Id.
The reason the couple submitted plans to the Architectural Control Board is because Tortoise Island was a deed-restricted community. See id. Thus, lots in the Tortoise Island subdivision were subject to certain restrictive covenants that imposed extensive building requirements. Id. These requirements included, among other things, the following limitations: all homes had to be single-family residential units; the maximum height was two stories; homes could only have three-car garages; there could be no separate guest house or out-buildings; homes had to be a minimum of 2,000 square feet floor area; garage doors could not to face the adjacent street; there were setback restrictions; limitations on swimming pools, decks, patios and screens; the height and location of fences was limited; there were regulations of boathouses and docks; and there were prohibitions against filing or subdividing, signs, certain animals and clotheslines. Id. There was also a restriction regarding roofs which required that they be constructed from clay tile, heavy split cedar shake, or other materials approved by the Architectural Control Board. Id.
In the couple’s case, the Architectural Review Board denied their application out of concern as to how the flat roof would fit into the development aesthetically. Id. at 383. After the Architectural Review Board denied the couple’s application, the Tortoise Island Home Owners Association commenced a court action to stop construction of the couple’s residence and a preliminary injunction was issued after the couple’s house was partially constructed. Id. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court concluded that the Architectural Control Board had the authority to impose a prohibition against flat roofs and that it had timely rejected the couple’s proposed building plans. Id.
The trial court’s decision was subsequently reversed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal. Id. at 381. In reversing the trial court, the Fifth District noted that “[i]n the absence of an existing pattern or scheme of type of architecture which puts a prospective purchaser on notice that only one kind of style will be allowed, either in the recorded restrictions or de facto from a unified building scheme built on the subdivision, [an architectural control board] does not have the power or discretion to impose only one style over another, based purely on ‘aesthetic concepts.’” Id. at 384. The court then concluded that because the flat roof design of the Young’s home violated no recorded building restrictions, no objective rule adopted by the [Architectural Control Board], and no de facto common existing building style in Tortoise Island[,] . . . [i]t was . . . beyond the power of the [Board] to devise and impose a flat roof prohibition under the facts of [the] case.” Id. The court ultimately held that the Board’s actions “were unreasonable and arbitrary.” Id.
Although the couple in Young ultimately prevailed, it took a long drawn out legal proceeding before they were able to complete their desired home. Further, the main reason they prevailed was because Tortoise Island was not your typical subdivision with a consistent architectural style and there was not a specific deed restriction that prohibited flat roofs.
In order to avoid a legal proceeding like the one the couple faced in Young, it is important to remember that restrictive covenants which are clear will generally be enforced by courts. See Hagan v. Sabal Palms, Inc., 186 So. 2d 302, 309 (Fla. 2d DCA 1966). As a result, it is relatively easy for a Homeowner’s Association to obtain an injunction against a homeowner within its community. For example, something as simple as installing a satellite dish, when there is a clear covenant restricting the erection of television or other outdoor antenna, may lead to an injunction. See Latera v. Isle at Misson Bay Homeowner’s Ass’n, 655 So. 2d 144 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995). Accordingly, before purchasing property in a deed restricted community, it is important for a prospective homeowner to learn of any and all restrictive covenants that may impact their desired use of the land, and if they have any concern regarding how a specific covenant may impact a planned improvement to the property, they should contact a lawyer for advice.
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