Don’t Get Stuck Paying Attorney’s Fees
When associations sue owners, they typically rely on language in the governing documents that provides the owner must pay the association’s costs if it prevails. But the Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled that an HOA that successfully sued an owner over unapproved construction was on the hook for its own nearly $84,000 in attorney’s fees.
The owner in the case submitted plans to the HOA for additional exterior features, including a pool, a hot tub, a fire pit, a fence, and a deck. The HOA approved the plans but informed the owner that any additional changes also must be approved.
Several months later, the association learned that the owner was constructing a pool building that wasn’t in the original plans. It sent a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the owner stop construction and remove the building. The owner refused, so the HOA asked a court to grant an injunction to have the unapproved building removed and to award it its attorney’s fees and costs.
The trial court granted a permanent injunction against the owner and initially ordered both parties to pay their own attorney’s fees. It then clarified its judgment, finding in the HOA’s favor on all counts and ordering the owner to remove the structure and pay the HOA’s attorney’s fees. Both parties subsequently sought further clarification, and the court determined that each should cover its own attorney’s fees.
Ultimately, the court adopted the HOA’s proposed judgment — but crossed out the line awarding it attorney’s fees. The HOA appealed, and the case made its way to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Read the full story now to learn all the details, along with some advice for avoiding a similar predicament: