In this case, a homeowner installed a new septic drain field on his property which affected the landscaping in his front yard.As part of the project the homeowner redesigned the affected landscaping to include hardscape features, vegetation and mulch, but no grass. The homeowner submitted a plan to his homeowners association for approval of the hardscape additions which was approved by the association. The owner subsequently submitted a plan for approval of the soft aspects of the landscaping which did not include a grass lawn and for that reason, the plan was not approved by the association. The homeowner filed suit against the association contending that association approval was not required for the nonstructural modifications to his front yard landscaping and that the applicable provision in the association’s governing documents was ambiguous. The trial court ruled against the homeowner and concluded that the HOA covenant in question required association approval.The homeowner then appealed the trial court’s decision maintaining that applicable provision in the association’s governing documents was at a minimum, ambiguous and thus not enforceable against the homeowner.
The appellate court ruled that covenants such as the one at issue must be strictly construed in favor of the free and unrestricted use of real property. As such, ambiguous covenants must be construed in favor of the landowner. Prior decisions ruled that language is ambiguous when its provisions are fairly susceptible to more than one interpretation.In evaluating the restrictive HOA covenant in question the appellate court concluded that it was ambiguous and therefore, had to be construed in a manner that was most favorable to the homeowner. Accordingly, the trial court decision was reversed in favor of the homeowner.
See case decision: Bendo_v._Silver_Woods_Cmty._