This case involved a dispute between a homeowner (“Owner”) and his homeowners association (“Association”) over landscaping that Owner installed on his property without having first obtained approval of Association’s Architectural Review Board as required by Association’s governing documents. The landscaping in question consisted of several palm trees that Owner planted on his property and decorative sculptures and fountains that could be seen from outside of Owner’s property. After Owner planted the palm trees on his property without having first obtained approval from Association, when confronted by Association, Owner submitted a landscaping plan for approval of the trees that had already been planted. Association’s Architectural Review Board approved some of the landscaping but not all of the palm trees that had been planted because they were not “harmonious” with the community’s landscaping. Because Owner refused to remove the palm trees that had not been approved, Association filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to require the removal of the landscaping and architectural ornaments that violated the applicable restrictive covenants and to prevent Owner from installing additional landscaping without the approval of Association’s Architectural Review Board.

The Trial Court Rules in Favor of Association

The trial court ruled in favor of Association after finding that Owner’s lot was subject to restrictions that required architectural review and approval of landscaping plans in advance of any work being done and Owner, having knowledge of the restrictions, failed to obtain such approval prior to having the landscaping work done on his property. After finding that Association’s Architectural Review Board’s decision was procedurally fair and reasonable, the trial court granted the injunctive relief requested by Association and ordered Owner to bring his property into compliance with the restrictive covenants within 45 days by removing the palm trees that had not been approved. The trial court also awarded Association attorney fees incurred in pursuing the lawsuit against Owner. Owner posted a bond and appealed the trial court’s judgment.

On Appeal, Who Will Prevail?

In his appeal, Owner argued that he did not breach a restrictive covenant because there was no covenant that prohibited palm trees or otherwise articulated an objective standard for approving a landscaping design. Owner also contended that Association’s Architectural Review Board decision was arbitrary and capricious. Because the appellate court found that Owner knew that his property was burdened by Association’s restrictive covenants which required him to obtain approval of the Architectural Review Board prior to making any landscaping alterations and Owner failed to do that, and Association’s decision was not arbitrary and capricious, it affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting Association injunctive relief. Because the appellate court determined that the plain language contained in Association’s bylaws and declaration did not authorize an award of attorney fees in actions that involved only injunctive relief as opposed to actions seeking to enforce a fine or assessment, the trial court’s award of attorney fees to Association was reversed.
See case decision: Esfahani_v._Steelwood_Prop._Owners’_Ass’n_Inc