Montgomery County CCOC To Require Negotiation of Association Disputes

After a year-long examination of the operations of the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (CCOC), the County Council has enacted a new law which makes changes in the CCOC dispute resolution process.   More than 340,000 Montgomery County, Maryland residents live in over 1,000 condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives.  The CCOC was created in 1991 to provide a forum for certain disputes between association residents and the board which govern the association to be resolved without going to court, and to provide educational resources for associaiton residents and leaders

Where the CCOC staff determines that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that a violation of law or association documents has occurred, the new law requires the staff to attempt to resolve disputes filed with the CCOC through informal negotiation and possibly mediation.

If the party who filed the CCOC dispute does not attend the mediation, the dispute must be dismissed.  If the party who is alleged to violation applicable law or the association documents does not attend the mediation, the matter must be set for a hearing and that party is prohibited from appearing at the hearing to present testimony and evidence. Previously, there was no requirement for active staff negotiation, and mediation was voluntary.

The new law also requires all members of the CCOC  to take the same CCOC training on community association governance which association board members are required to take, and any other training provided or approved by the County Attorney.   Additionally, volunteer arbitrators who chair CCOC hearing panels will be prohibited from representing any parties in disputes before other hearing panels.

Separately, the annual community association registration fee was increased from $3 to $5 per dwelling unit beginning July 1 to allow the CCOC to provide more staff and and educational resources. The CCOC is now part of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in  Maryland Counties of  Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, and Frederick County; and in Washington, D.C.

 

Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Enforcement of Association Truck Covenant

A homeowner association restriction on trucks has been determined by a Maryland appeals court to be enforceable against the owner of a large military-style vehicle.

The 3-axle camouflaged vehicle was taller than the first story of the home and as wide as the driveway. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed with the trial court that the truck covenant had not been waived by allowing other smaller Sport Utility Vehicles built on a truck chassis.  It was appropriate and reasonable to distinguish between “consumer vehicles” and a “massive army-surplus truck”.

Although the appeals court noted that restrictive covenants may become invalid and unenforceable if the original development plan has been abandoned, or the character of the neighborhood has changed so much as to defeat the purpose of the restriction, those factors were not applicable to the community of single family homes in Harford County where the over-sized military truck was parked.

The court also rejected the homeowner’s contention that suit to obtain an injunction to enforce the truck covenant could not be filed before complying with the dispute resolution procedure in the HOA bylaws.  The bylaws required notice of the alleged violation and an opportunity for a hearing before the HOA Board of Directors before imposing a fine, suspend voting rights or infringe on other rights of a homeowner.

The appeals court concluded that the right to enforce the covenants by court action was provided for in the Declaration without conditions and, therefore, the dispute resolution procedures in the HOA Bylaws did not apply.  Even if the suit was deemed to be an attempt to “infringe” on the rights of the owner, the terms of the Declaration which had no pre-conditions to litigation prevailed over the notice and hearing provisions in the Bylaws.

Although the decision in Maloney v. Fountain Glen Homeowners Association, Inc. is an “unreported” decision and, therefore, not a binding precedent, it is instructive on how courts view enforcement of homeowner association covenant restrictions.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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Single Dwelling Covenant Not Waived By Other Structures

by Tom Schild

A covenant allowing only one dwelling to be constructed on each lot in a Baltimore County community of over 600 homes is not waived by allowing erection of other structures including pool houses, gazebos, guest houses, and sheds, according to a recent ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals–the highest state appellate court.

At issue in Shader v. Hampton Improvement Association, Inc. was whether a “one dwelling” covenant prohibited construction of a house on each of two subdivided portions of the original lot as it existed when the covenant was first created in 1931. Although the appeals court concluded there had been a waiver of the portion of the covenant which prohibited buildings other than “private dwelling houses”, there had been no waiver of the covenant which prohibited “no more than one dwelling” on each lot.

Explaining that each clause of the covenant is severable and independent of the other restrictions, the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and intermediate appeals court that waiver of one clause did not constitute a waiver of other covenant restrictions.  Therefore, the “one dwelling” covenant remained enforceable to ensure the residential character of the neighborhood and a house was not allowed on each subdivided portion of the original lot.

POSTED BY:  Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC

“Single Family Residences” Restriction Does Not Bar Unrelated Occupants

by Tom Schild

A restrictive covenant which limits use of lots to “single family residences”–but does not define the term “family”–is ambiguous.  Therefore, it is not enforceable to prevent renting a house to persons not related by blood, marriage or adoption, according a recent decision of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in South Kaywood Community Association v. Long.

A Wicomico County homeowners association contended that the restriction requiring use and occupancy as a “single family” residence prevented lease of a house to 3 unrelated student who attend Salisbury University.

The appeals court noted that Maryland courts apply a “reasonably strict construction” when interpreting covenants so that if there is ambiguity in meaning, any doubt should favor the unrestricted use of the property.  In discerning the intent of the drafter in using the term “single family”, the court looked for but found no guidance in other provisions of the South Kaywood covenants.  Observing that no Maryland appellate court has considered the meaning of a “single family” covenant, it also considered court decisions from other states decided near the time the 1961 South Kaywood restriction was drafted by found no clear covenant.

In concluding that the term “single family” is ambiguous, the Court noted that the term as used in zoning ordinances is often defined to include a specified number of unrelated persons living as a single housekeeping unit.  It also noted that the great majority of courts in other states which have construed the term in zoning ordinances or restrictive covenants since the South Kaywood restriction was imposed have concluded that the term is ambiguous and does not necessarily restrict use of property to persons related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Therefore,  the “single family” covenant restriction did not prevent occupancy by 3 unrelated college students.