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How To Interpret And Understand Community Covenants (“CCRs”)

| Jan 10, 2013 | Homeowners' Associations |

Association Boards (both Condominium and Single Family Residence communities) frequently struggle to understand the provisions of the CCRs that apply to their community.  This particularly arises in the context of regulating questionable member activities and uses and the construction of improvements on member property.

The particular CCRs provision in question was likely drafted by the original developer and often is not a model of clarity and precision. How are such provisions to be interpreted and applied from a legal standpoint?  The answer to such questions will involve the consideration of Washington law and the philosophical approach the Courts in this state have taken when considering how to interpret CCRs provision.

It’s time for a short judicial history lesson.

While traditionally all restrictions on an one’s right to use one’s own property (in deeds or easements for e.g.) were disfavored by Courts in Washington and throughout the country generally, that historic judicial philosophy has evolved in the context of today’s planned communities (both condominium and SFR) regulated, as they are, by binding CCRs intended to support a particular quality of life and uphold property values in these communities.

Washington law now provides that CCRs restrictions will generally be interpreted so as to accomplish the original intent of the restriction as best that can be ascertained by the Court.  Words in the CCRs are to be given their “ordinary, usual and popular meaning unless the entirety of the agreement [CCRs] demonstrates a contrary intent”.  See Flying H. Ranch Homeowners Assoc.v. Geary, 153 Wn.App. 1009 (2009).

This approach will most clearly apply in an owner vs. owner dispute.   If, on the other hand, the dispute is between an owner and the Association (or developer), the traditional rule favoring free use of land in the case of an ambiguous CCRs provision may be given more force.  The analysis is on a case-by-case basis, and thus the interpretation of a particular covenant or restriction must always be considered in its own context.

When you face a dispute over the interpretation of a CCRs provision as an Association Board or an individual home/unit owner, we can provide sound advice and representation.  Our firm understands Association law and the legal issues arising in planned communities.