Posts Tagged ‘CC&Rs’

Sun Sets On Omaha Doctor’s Solar Panels

January 10, 2013

I suspect we will see more and more of this type of conflict as environmentally-friendly technologies get cheaper and smart grids and other factors encourage home power use reduction and/or power generation.  As far as I know, Nebraska is no hotbed of environmentalist activism, and yet, it was the setting for a heated dispute between one homeowner and his HOA over some extensive solar panels.

article photo

The local coverage indicates that a settlement was reached, in which the HOA chipped in some money towards the cost of removing the panels.

 

I suspect this was a tough call for that HOA board, who were attacked by the owner in billboards and other fora.  They no doubt did some math and realized that it was going to cost more to get a result in court.

However, the enforceability of CC&Rs in situations like this is not really in question.  Covenants are not trumped by environmental concerns, no matter how deeply felt.   Until a state or federal law explicitly overrules property covenants  (see, e.g. OTARD) , homeowners should be wary of preemptively installing solar, wind, or any other power-generating devices without consulting their CC&Rs.  This owner apparently is out $75,000 plus court costs.

A Ditch Runs Through It

August 14, 2012

Ok, I admit it, the fly fishing photo is a red herring.  Idaho is well known for its fly fishing, but it ought to be just as well known for its amazing irrigation systems.  These canals, and the institutions that maintain and operate them, allow thousands of us to live and farm in what was once a rocky desert.

In Idaho’s Treasure Valley, the canal system and farmland that it supports is steadily being moved, buried, and reshaped into HOA-governed slices: many what the New York Times called “a quintessential slice of American suburbia.” Some Idaho associations run irrigation or well systems, so irrigation is a central part of their role.  However, for most suburban HOA-dwellers and boards, this engineering marvel is a scenic backdrop, but not much more. This should not always be the case.

When a developer moves in and builds homes where there was once open farmland, the canals are buried, put in pipes, or put into concrete spillways along major roads.  Sometimes the open canals get attention when a child is tragically swept away, but usually they remain in the background for suburban and urban (sic) Idahoans.

But buried or not, canals require maintenance and care.   Often large volumes of water flow through these arteries.  Roots can catch onto debris and block the flow of water.  Clogged canal pipes can flood and damage homes and property.

Idaho code requires the owners of the canals–irrigation companies–to maintain their canals:

42-1204. Prevention of damage to others. The owners or constructors of ditches, canals, works or other aqueducts, and their successors in interest, using and employing the same to convey the waters of any stream or spring, whether the said ditches, canals, works or aqueducts be upon the lands owned or claimed by them, or upon other lands, must carefully keep and maintain the same, and the embankments, flumes or other conduits, by which such waters are or may be conducted, in good repair and condition, so as not to damage or in any way injure the property or premises of others.

Idaho caselaw has interpreted statute to mean that when a landholder puts a canal into a pipe, the landholder becomes responsible only for any increased maintenance costs.  However, these questions are usually not left to statute or courts.  When a developer seeks to move or bury a canal, the easement-holding irrigation company most likely will require a “license agreement.”  These license agreements are recorded documents in which the developer will take responsibility to maintain the now-buried canal.  The developer, in turn, may pass this duty along to the association in the CC&Rs.

If the CC&Rs of your Association require the Association to maintain a buried irrigation pipe, the Board should have a plan in place to regularly perform this maintenance.  Not only could an Association become liable to downstream water users in the event of a disruption of water, but it could find common areas and private lots swamped in the process.

Jeremy

Some History and Background:

The Unspoken Rule: Discrimination in Unenforced Covenants

August 9, 2012

Can something discriminatory written and recorded in your Idaho CC&Rs decades ago still pose a liability for your association today?  Today, a blog for the Orlando Sentinel discusses the state of the law in Florida, and recommends a professional review of governing documents to find and remove offending restrictions. Not surprisingly, in Florida’s litigious society, there are municipal and county fair housing regulations.  Florida associations have been found liable for discrimination for “publishing” rules and regulations that caused a tenant “emotional distress,” even where those rules are not enforced.  That 1997 decision is online here.

The question remains how to regard that decision and legal advice here in Idaho, where the legal climate is as different from Florida’s as Idaho’s high desert climate is different from Florida’s coastal humidity.  Certainly the federal fair housing laws still apply, even if we do not see much additional municipal and county fair housing regulations.

Idaho’s Supreme Court found in a 2002 case, D & M Country Estates v. Romreill, that Idaho statutes restricting discrimination in zoning laws do not apply to covenants.   The Court found that because the governing documents in question were specific and unambiguous in limiting housing use to two “families,” the Idaho association was acting within its rights to prohibit use of a house by eight unrelated adults in a group home setting.  Unfortunately, in that case, claims based on the Idaho Human Rights Act were not properly before the Court, and so did not factor into the decision.  Indeed, the Human Rights Commission no doubt would urge Idaho courts to follow the Florida ruling that recorded “published” governing documents indeed can have a discriminatory effect.

In my experience, unenforced clauses in Idaho governing documents have not led to court liability.  However, I have seen such unenforced clauses lead to discrimination charges against associations and their boards.  Even unsuccessful fair housing claims require legal representation and defense.  Rather than face that uncertainty and expense, a preemptive review and amendment of governing documents is still as good an idea here in Idaho as in Florida.  But it may not be the only option.

An option that has not been explored here in Idaho is the use of a recorded cover sheet, as is required in California.  This would involve recording a statement that any discriminatory language in the remaining covenants is to be ignored.  The cover sheet would explicitly void any discriminatory covenants.

Either amending covenants to change language or to add a cover sheet would require the same supermajority vote by the owners.  In Idaho, we have no uniform common interest ownership act to make the process any easier than it sounds.  At the moment, either approach would require legal assistance and membership participation.