Update on Tennessee Architectural Covenants
July 22, 2014
It appears that more cases involving homeowners and condominium owners associations are being litigated in Tennessee. This would make some degree of sense. There are more such associations. They are enforcing their covenants, and homeowners are testing the limits of such covenants.
Another case involving a homeowners association was decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on June 26, 2014, Avalon Sections 4, 6, and 7 Homeowners Association v. Chaudhuri, No. M2013-02346-COA-R3-CV. Avalon deals with the application of architectural covenants.
The facts of the case are interesting. The Chaudhuris purchased their home in October 2007 and shortly thereafter installed a flowerbed in the front yard surrounded by scalloped border blocks. These scalloped border blocks would become the issue in the litigation. Pursuant to the CCRs governing the Chaudhuris’ property, the Architectural Review Committee is responsible for reviewing and approving or disapproving proposed improvements to subdivision property. On August 10, 2010 (nearly two and half years after the Chaudhuris acquired installed the border blocks) the property manager notified the Chaudhuris that they would have to submit an application for the irrigation system that had been installed on the property. It should be noted that the property manager did not note the installation of the border blocks. The Chaudhuris submitted an application for the installation of the irrigation system, an ornamental tree, and the border blocks. In a letter dated September 8, 2010, the property manager informed the Chaudhuris that the irrigation system and ornamental tree had been approved, but the border blocks had been denied as they did not comply with the subdivision’s Standards of Appearance Policy. The Chaudhuris refused to remove the border blocks. In a letter dated November 22, 2010, the property manager informed the Chaudhuris that the border blocks had to be removed by December 15, 2010, because they did not “meet the criteria for the uniformity of appearance for the front of homes in Avalon”. The Chaudhuris did not remove the border blocks. On February 7, 2013, the Association filed suit seeking injunctive relief to have the border blocks removed. It is unknown from the record what occurred between December 2010 and February 2013 (suffice to say this is a long period of time). By the time the matter was filed, the border blocks had been in place for over five (5) years. The trial court denied the Association request for a temporary injunction, but ultimately ruled that the border blocks were in violation of covenants in the Declaration.
The Court of Appeals noted that restrictive covenants conditioning the right of property owners to make improvements on the approval of a homeowners association or architectural committee are generally valid and enforceable. Further, the Court acknowledged that such covenants will be enforced as long as the entity administering them acts reasonably and in good faith. The Court explained that whether the approval or disapproval of an improvement is reasonable “is a factual question to be determined in light of the circumstances”. The most important criterion applicable to this determination is whether there is “lack of compliance with the specific restrictions on the subdivision and construction that is not consistent or harmonious with the overall plan of development or with neighboring property.”
After noting this, the Court reviewed the covenants at issue in the case. There was no real dispute that the covenants required landscaping improvements to be approved by the Architectural Control Committee. Further, the Court noted that the border blocks did not comply with the duly promulgated Standards of Appearance Policy. Taking this into account, the Court held that the border blocks were in violation of the covenants.
What is interesting in this matter is the amount of time from the initial violation and the enforcement by the Association. Given the time and the Court’s ultimate approval of enforcement, this appears to strengthen architectural covenants in Tennessee. While a straight forward architectural covenants case, the Avalon case appears to provide more enforceability to associations given the lag involved in dealing with the violations involved in this matter.
Tags: architectural covenants, association, board of directors, bylaws, CCRs, condominium association, Declaration of Covenants Conditions and Restrictions, HOA, homeowner, homeowner association, homeowners association, non-profit corporation, protective covenants