This case involved a dispute between members of a homeowners association over the right of two owners of a property to construct a detached garage on their lot which violated some HOA restrictions. Believing that the owners constructing the garage were doing so in violation of the associations declaration, which contained restrictions on what property owners could do, three other association members who owned properties in the community commenced an action against the owners who were constructing the garage seeking an injunction to compel removal of the garage.This action was taken by the other owners because the associations legal existence at the time was in doubt and the association was not functioning. The owners who brought the suit contended that the recorded declaration contained provisions that prohibited the construction of the detached garage being constructed by the defendant owners, and that they had a right to enforce the restrictions contained in the declaration. When the matter went to trial, construction of the detached garage had been nearly completed at a cost of approximately $50,000 to the defendant owners.
The relevant provisions contained in the declaration stated, in part:
- No structure shall be erected, altered, placed, or permitted to remain on any residential lot other than a single family dwelling not more than two stories in height. Each such dwelling shall have an attached three or four car garage with a paved driveway.
- Any improvements to be constructed are subject to the approval of the Trustee or a committee appointed by the Trustee and such approval must be in writing.
- No buildings, fence, swimming pool, or other structures shall be placed, erected, or altered on any lot until the specifications, the building plans, and the plot plan showing the location of said structure shall have been approved in writing by the Trustee or by a committee appointed by the Trustee.
Although the declaration made reference to a Trustee, a committee, and the association, none of those existed when the defendant owners purchased their property and constructed the detached garage. The HOA restrictions contained in the Declaration were not incorporated into the actual deed that conveyed title to the defendant owners property, but they were mentioned in the title policy that said owners received, but did not read, when they purchased their property. Thus, the defendant owners maintained that they never had actual notice of the restrictions when they started construction of the detached garage. They first learned of the restrictions during the course of constructing the garage from an anonymous letter sent to them by the plaintiffs who subsequently filed the suit.
In defense of the lawsuit, the defendant owners contended that the right to enforce the restrictions in question had been waived and were unenforceable because there was no committee, the association had been allowed to dissolve, and the plaintiff owners had acquiesced to violations of the same nature on other lots.
The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the defendant owners to remove the garage that had been constructed because it violated the declaration and the plaintiffs, as persons in whose favor the restrictive covenants in the declaration ran, had a right to enforce the declaration and enjoin construction of the detached garage. After the trial court denied their motion to reconsider, the defendant owners filed an appeal in which they contended that the trial court misinterpreted the declaration and erred in enforcing a blanket prohibition on outbuildings (which the garage was considered).
The appellate court stated that, when construing restrictive covenants in a declaration, the rules of contract interpretation apply and the paramount rule of contract interpretation is to give effect to the intent of the parties. Said court further stated that the court has a duty to harmonize seemingly discordant provisions of a contract to avoid a construction would render some of those provisions meaningless. The appellate court also stated that restrictive covenants are not favored and they will be enforced only where they are reasonable, clear, and definite.
In applying these rules to the facts of the case, the court pointed out that there was a dispute as to whether the declaration intended a blanket prohibition against detached garages or whether it intended a variance procedure by which an owner could seek approval of an otherwise prohibited structure. Since the evidence showed that in prior years the committee referred to in the declaration existed and had granted a variance to another owner that permitted the construction of a six car garage, those actions supported an interpretation of the declaration by the appellate court that there was a procedure for owners to apply for and obtain a variance. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial courts judgment and stated that it would not enforce the HOA restrictions when the defendant owners were denied access to the intended variance procedure by which they might have obtained approval for the structure. In allowing the defendant owners to retain the detached garage, the court further commented that its decision was supported by the general principle to resolve any doubt in favor of the free use of land and against the restriction.
Illinois Appellate Court decision (March 29, 2019).
See case decision: Standlee_v._Bostedt_2019