Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ekstrom v. Marquesa at Monarch Beach HOA (Cal. Ct. App. - Dec. 1, 2008)

I concede that I'm somewhat personally invested in this decision, since I own an ocean-view home and the case involves whether or not homeowners can enforce a CC&R that requires neighbors to trim any trees -- here, palm trees -- that exceed the height of the home and thereby obstruct the views of other homeowners. (That said, I both don't own one of these homes nor do I have any relevant CC&R's in my community. Plus, it'd be hard to obstruct my particular view with trees unless they somehow grew in the ocean itself.)

Regardless of my personal interest, however, I think that both Justice O'Leary and the trial court (Judge Margines in Orange County) got it exactly right. The CC&Rs here affirmatively require a homeowner to trim trees that grow above the house and obstruct views. Yes, fully developed palm trees look nice. And, yes, you can't actually trim them, because when you cut the tops off they die. So that's a bummer.

But that doesn't mean the HOA can simply refuse to enforce the CC&Rs by categorically exempting palm trees. Homeowners may permissibly rely upon the written CC&Rs when they buy a view home, and can assume that when the CC&Rs say that the view from their home won't ever be blocked by trees above other houses, that will in fact be the case, and those CC&Rs will be enforced -- either by the HOA or (as allowed by the CC&Rs here) through private litigation. Nor does the HOA get any deference when interpreting a straightforward and unambiguous CC&R. If it clearly says X, the HOA can't interpret it to mean "X except for Y". Sorry. Doesn't work.

I take no view on whether the palm trees in the area make the place generally look nicer. Regardless, when a covenant says you can rely on X, you can rely on X, even if X is a bad idea. (In that regard, can I mention that my home has a wide variety of totally absurd CC&Rs. Many of which expired in the early 1940s, but some of will operate forever to preclude me from, inter alia, brewing alcohol on the premises -- in short, from a wide variety of socially beneficial practices. I may or may not like 'em. But they're part of the deal.)