In 2012, Alan and Erika White purchased a condominium in a subassociation of the Lakeland master community (Lakeland) in Auburn, WA. The master community is a mix of single family homes and condominium subassociations. The Lakeland declaration contains a provision preventing the rental of a “Single-Family Home” within the first year of purchase. The condominium declaration did not have a rental restriction, and stated “[T]here is no restriction on the right of any Unit Owner to Lease or otherwise Rent their Unit.” The Whites rented their unit and the Lakeland Master association began to fine them $30 per day.
The Whites filed a lawsuit and the court found that “[t]here is no restriction on Plaintiffs’ ability to rent their condominium within the first year of purchase.” The courts reached this decision based on the language in the master declaration with the use and definition of “Single-Family Home” which is not defined in the governing documents and the fact that the term “living unit” was defined in the declaration, which encompasses both houses and condominium units. In the court’s words, “The restriction must be interpreted to exclude condominiums” because the entire document does not demonstrate any contrary intent. Last week the appellate court affirmed the decision.
In the legal world, it is vital that the language you use is exact and clearly stated or you risk the chance that your governing documents convey a different meaning than you intended. Though unintentional, these misconstrued meanings can still carry the full force of law. It also follows that reading ambiguities into the documents to change the plain meaning can lead to challenges in court and awards of attorney fees.
For more see: Alan White and Erica White v. Lakeland Homeowners Association Case No. 71903-3-1, filed June 1, 2015