This case involved a dispute between two homeowners („Owners“) and their homeowners association („Association“) over Owners‘ right to construct a pool house that exceeded the size limitations imposed by Association’s governing documents. Association had the following provisions in its governing documents (Declaration) that were at issue: (i) Article V, Section 1, which instructs the Board to create an Architectural Committee, „for the purpose of ensuring“ the general suitability of new improvements with respect to other construction in the subdivision; (ii) Section 5.3(a), which prohibits homeowners from constructing improvements until the construction plans and specifications have been improved in writing by the committee, but if the committee fails to approve or disapprove construction plans and specifications within 30 days of their submission, the committee’s HOA construction approval will be deemed given, and an approval, whether by affirmative action or default, will be null and void if construction is not commenced within 180 days; and (iii) Section 7.16 (a), which provides that „outbuildings and detached structures shall not be permitted unless approval, in writing is obtained“ from Association prior to the commencement of any construction. Because Association’s Board did not create an independent architectural committee, the Board itself acted as the committee.
In February, 2014, Owners requested permission from Association to construct a pool and pool house. The Board approved the proposed pool, but not the pool house because it exceeded the size limitation of 100 square feet imposed by the Declaration. Owners held off on construction of the pool and in July of 2015, they submitted another request for HOA construction approval of the same pool and pool house. The Board again approved the pool but not the pool house due to the size. In September, 2015, Owners submitted a revised document to the Board with handwritten notations indicating changes to the pool and the position and dimensions of the proposed pool house. The revised proposal for the pool house still exceeded the size limitation of 100 square feet. The Board did not take affirmative action to approve or deny Owners‘ revised plans.
Undeterred, Owners started construction in late October of 2015, and in December of 2015, Association filed suit against Owners seeking injunctive relief and recovery of attorney’s fees and costs. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Association for the requested injunctive relief after finding that the Declaration establishes separate functions for the Board and the Architectural Committee which consist of the committee being responsible for evaluating the aesthetics of a proposed improvement, and the Association (acting through its Board) being responsible for either authorizing, or refusing to authorize, in writing, the actual construction of improvements for which plans had been approved by the Architectural Committee. The trial court reasoned that, even if the submittal of the revised document by Owners at the September 2015 Board Meeting were deemed approved by default (the Board took no action on it), the Board did not provide the required written permission that is the second required function in the approval process for constructing a pool house (outbuilding).
Owners appealed contending that, because Association’s Board did not affirmatively approve or deny construction in accordance with the revised documents that had been submitted to the Board in September of 2015, they received permission to construct their desired pool and pool house by default. In their appeal, Owners contended that the Board’s approval of the plans by default, based on the September, 2015, meeting, also satisfied the requirement in the Declaration for „approval in writing“ by Association prior to the commencement of work.
After finding that the trial court’s interpretation of the provisions in Association’s Declaration that were at issue were consistent with the intent of the parties to the Declaration, the appellate court concurred with the findings of the trial court that Association’s Declaration created a separate role for the Architectural Committee to review plans for a proposed improvement to determine general suitability and compliance with applicable standards, and following the committee’s action (or inaction), Association’s „written approval“ prior to the construction of an outbuilding was required. Thus, the appellate court ruled that, even if there was a default approval of the plans, that did not satisfy the need for Association’s written approval to proceed with construction of the pool house.
Accordingly, the granting of injunctive relief in favor of Association was proper, subject to the trial court considering on remand of the case, whether the pool house structure that had been built without HOA construction approval could be brought into compliance with the size limitation imposed by the Declaration, as opposed to entirely removing it.
See case decision: Stonebridge_Neighborhood_Ass’n_Inc._v._Knapinski_2018_Ohio_424_(Ohio_App._2018)1