Appellate Court sides with Homeowner in Parking Enforcement Litigation. Owner Permitted to Park Large Pick-Up Truck in Driveway.
Interpreting governing documents of condos & HOA is tricky sometimes. While there is an emphasis on the ‘plain meaning’ of the words – sometimes the exact meaning of the words doesn’t make sense in the context or is otherwise unreasonable for one reason or another. The Second District Court of Appeal found that the plain meaning of one of the sentences of the Eagles Master Association’s Declaration didn’t make sense on its own. After considering several factors, it found that the Association’s interpretation of the Declaration was simply unreasonable, inconsistent with other provisions and therefore incorrect. The result? Victory for the homeowner after reportedly spending two hundred thousand ($200,000) dollars in legal fees – some or all of which to be reimbursed by the Association.
Like any case, this case involved several legal issues. The homeowner challenged the legitimacy of the Master Association’s board. There was the issue of whether the Master Association declaration of covenants had priority over the Sub-Association documents in the event of a conflict. There were amendments to analyze as well.
The Master Declaration said (in part) the following:
Vehicles and Parking. No vehicles shall be regularly parked in The Eagles except on a paved driveway or inside a garage. No trucks or vehicles which are used for commercial purposes, other than those present on business may be parked in The Eagles unless inside a garage and concealed from public view. Pick-up trucks, boats, trailers, campers, vans, motorcycles and other recreational vehicles … shall not be permitted in The Eagles except while loading or unloading the contents thereof or while parked inside a garage and concealed from public view.
The Sub-Association Declaration said (in part):
Vehicles. No motor vehicles shall be parked on the Properties except on paved or concrete driveway or in a garage. No motor vehicles which are primarily used for commercial purposes, other than those present on business, nor any trailers, may be parked on the Properties unless inside a garage and concealed from public view. Boats, trailers, commercial trucks, commercial vans, motorcycles and other recreational vehicles shall be parked inside of garages and concealed from public view.
Seem pretty similar, right?
The Master Association took the position that its declaration required all pick-up trucks, vans, etc. to park in an enclosed garage (concealed from view), except for short periods of loading and unloading. This truck was too large to fit inside the garage. The Court disagreed. It said:
- Interpreting the declaration was a matter of law;
- If at all possible, any inconsistent provisions should be reconciled;
- All of the terms & provisions should be read together with the goal of making each term meaningful; and
- Any doubts must be resolved in favor of the free use of the property (against the party seeking to enforce the restriction).
In the end, the Court found that the better interpretation of both documents lead to the conclusion that while commercial trucks and commercial vans were banned from parking on the driveways unless garaged or there for business purposes, other trucks (including pick-up trucks and SUV’s registered as trucks) used for personal transportation were allowed.
Community leaders should analyze the current documents and consult with counsel to ensure that the restrictions and covenants are written in a way that supports the common interpretation. Remember, any ambiguity is resolved against the person/entity trying to enforce the document. Thus, review your existing practices and consider amending the documents to create enforceable rules and regulations that fit your community’s goals and residents’ needs.