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Subject: HOA Covenant Interpretaion: Trees
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MarcoS1
(Washington)

Posts:2


06/11/2018 6:59 AM  
Our HOA covenant was put into place decades ago in our Hilltop Terrace neighborhood on Whidbey Island WA to create rules to protect homeowner's views, primarily.

Our HOA covenant article 4. on Trees reads: "No trees, except original growth trees on the property at the time of recording of plat, shall be allowed to grow more than 18 ft in height, unless such trees do not impede the view of any other homeowner".

My wife & I interpret this article text as: our next-door neighbor can plant trees anywhere on his property and allow said trees to grow to 18 ft max, unless they impede our view, where then they'll have to be trimmed back as to not impede our view, even if that is well below 18 ft.

Our 3-person HOA board interprets this article text as: our next-door neighbor can plant trees anywhere on his property and allow said trees to grow to 18 ft max, even if they partially or fully impede our view.

(To note: per our HOA covenant, there is a 15 ft height restriction on houses in our neighborhood, also to help protect views, so any newly planted trees allowed to grow to 18 ft would be 3 ft higher than houses can be)

We feel our HOA board is clearly misinterpreting our covenant text of article 4. on Trees, as the primary purpose of our particular HOA covenant is to make sure all homeowner views are maintained & not impeded.

Thank you for your help -
AugustinD


Posts:964


06/11/2018 7:14 AM  
I read the covenant to mean that --

-- Trees planted after the plat recording may be taller than 18 feet as long as these trees (planted after the plat recording and growing over 18 feet tall) do not impede the view of any other homeowner.

-- Trees present at the time of plat recording may grow over 18 feet, regardless of whether they obstruct others' view.
BenA2
(Texas)

Posts:484


06/11/2018 7:15 AM  
A lot of covenants are vague and open to interpretation but this one is very clear and your HOA is correct.

It states very clearly that no trees can be more than 18 feet but it makes an exception to the rule if they DO NOT impede another homeowner's view. There is no exception if it DOES block someone's view.

So, all trees can be 18 feet tall but, if they do not block another homeowner's view, there is no limit.

I don't think the height of houses is relevant.
MarcoS1
(Washington)

Posts:2


06/11/2018 7:39 AM  
thanks for the 2 replies thus far, both of your interpretations opposite, so let me add clarification:

our next door neighbor, after living in his home for 12.5 years with zero trees on his property, is planting trees along our shared property line, along OUR home's entire view corridor ...my wife & I feel he has every right to plant these trees, but as soon as any of these trees impedes our view, said trees would have to be trimmed back so our home's view is maintained unimpeded

again: our covenant was put into place many decades ago to help maintain views for all homeowners, not impede views

we are building our new view home, it will be complete in 2 months, so we also take this tree planting as malicious
AugustinD


Posts:964


06/11/2018 7:56 AM  
-- It is the "do not" in the "do not impede" phrase that caused me to interpret the covenant as I did. If the "do not" were taken out, then I would see it as you (the OP) do.

-- I disagree with your 3-person Board's interpretation as well.

-- If the general plan for the HOA indicates it was established to have homes with amazing views, et cetera, then this will weigh in your favor. Courts look at context. In particular, the court will consider the overall plan for the HOA as conveyed in the HOA's governing documents.

-- If a court found the covenant ambiguous, then it would be obliged to interpret the ambiguity in favor of "free enjoyment of the land" and against the author of the governing documents. Here it is not clear who has more of a right to "free enjoyment": You or your neighbor.

-- Disputes over view-blocking are common. I think it would be worth your time to look at the case law on this and get a little more informed about how the courts think about this issue. justia.com is a good site for same. With a little effort, you can narrow your search of Justia to look only at Washington case law.

-- Sorry for this. In my experience, it is the stuff of tension, that will drain, for months to come.

GeorgeS21
(Florida)

Posts:196


06/11/2018 8:38 AM  
This is actually pretty clear - by my read - and, my thoughts are the same as Augustin's read.

1. Any old growth can be taller than 18' regardless of view obstruction.
2. Any planted tree can be taller than 18' if it doesn't obstruct view.
3. No planted tree can be taller than 18' if it obstructs view.
- any planted tree can be 18' whether or not it obstructs view

So, your neighbors can plant trees and allow them ALL to grow to 18 - and, they can allow those that don't block your view to grow to any height.
CjC
(Maryland)

Posts:118


06/11/2018 8:56 AM  
Check your documents in another section about views. We have a separate section about not impeding views and there is a view easement.
JaredC
(Texas)

Posts:32


06/11/2018 9:34 AM  
I fully agree with GeorgeS21 and the language is very clear. There is obviously some intent behind the clause and it would be nice if our neighbors would just to the morally correct thing but that is not always the case. IMHO this is one of those things that might be best handled if you go introduce yourself to your neighbor, shake their hand, invite them over for dinner and discuss the issue. With any luck they will be nice and reasonable people who want to reciprocate the warm and neighborly gesture. On the other hand they could be total jerks who couldn't care less about your existence much less your concerns. In that case I would simply mention there are a variety of unfortunate things that cause trees to die.
TimB4
(Virginia)

Posts:15812


06/11/2018 9:45 PM  
Marco,

To me, any tree can grow to a height of 18feet.
Trees not on the property when purchased can grow more then 18 feet providing they do not impede views.
Those that do, must be capped at 18 feet.


As you can see, there can be different interpretations of the language used.
To determine which interpretation is correct, you will need to argue in front of a court for a ruling.
The other option is to get a compromise by talking to your neighbor.
JanetB2
(Colorado)

Posts:3981


06/12/2018 2:28 PM  
To better understand break the section down:

No trees,

except original growth trees on the property at the time of recording of plat,
These trees were given exception to grow to any height

shall be allowed to grow more than 18 ft in height,
All other trees planted can only be allowed to grow to 18 ft in height, except as noted below

unless such trees do not impede the view of any other homeowner".
If the “later planted” trees DO NOT impede the view they also can grow to any height.

As others have noted I would have a conversation with the neighbor over dinner or a couple of cocktails and explain to them if they plant trees in certain areas they will be constantly trimming or paying to have trimmed to keep them no more than 18 ft in height. Therefore, would they consider planting the trees in a more appropriate area that does not obstruct any of their neighbor’s views so that then the trees could grow to any height without their need for future trimming.

Most cases being nice to each other and discussing in a rational manner can eliminate the issue.
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