Dealing with Items Not Mentioned in Guidelines
While it saves a lot of hassle—and potentially litigation—when association guidelines are detailed, occasionally you’ll come across a member with a request to install an item that hasn’t been addressed. But does that mean that it’s permissible for an owner to do anything that isn’t mentioned?
That will depend on whether some other portion of the guidelines can be imputed to an item that isn’t explicitly mentioned. For example, let’s say that mailboxes aren’t covered in your guidelines, but they are considered to be a part of a larger category that is governed by the rules.
That was the situation in a recent Pennsylvania homeowners association lawsuit. There, homeowners in a planned community installed a mailbox that was stylized to resemble the Disney character “Tigger” on their property. The homeowners association management company asked them to take the mailbox down, on the ground that the mailbox violated the association’s regulations. The homeowners argued that mailboxes weren’t specifically mentioned in the association’s guidelines for the appearance of homes in the community. The association asserted that the term “structure” in the guidelines was a catchall that included mailboxes. The homeowners sued the association. A trial court ruled in favor of the association. The homeowners appealed.
A Pennsylvania appeals court upheld the trial court’s decision. It determined that the trial court properly found that although mailboxes were not specifically mentioned in the association guidelines, a mailbox fell within both the “ordinary and legal definitions of a structure” and, as a result, the association had authority to regulate mailboxes under the declaration and guidelines [Weber v. Board of Directors of the Laurel Oaks Ass’n, November 2017].
As with most ambiguous issues in associations, it’s best to talk with the association’s attorney and then the homeowner who’s making a request for something that isn’t specifically mentioned in the guidelines to let her know what the association expects in her situation. It’ll save you and the association time and money fighting a lawsuit later, and the homeowner from installing a potentially expensive item that she’ll be required to remove if it violates the association’s rules.