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HOA Can Regulate Common Area

Kirk owned a home in a residential community that was overseen by a homeowners association. His property abutted one of a handful of lakes in the community. Legally, the lakes were regarded as common areas controlled by the association. When Kirk bought his home many years ago, the only recorded document imposing restrictions on his use of the property was a two-page document with general restrictions for all homeowners in the community. The only mention of the lakes was an irrelevant limit on how far a boat pier could extend into a lake.

The association amended its rules to prohibit the use of pontoon boats having more than two pontoons on the lake next to Kirk’s property. As it happened, Kirk had planned to use just such a vessel, called a “tritoon boat,” on that lake. When the association expressed its determination to enforce its regulation, litigation ensued.

Kirk’s strategy, which, with the benefit of hindsight, may have been flawed, was to argue that the association did not have the power to impose the ban on tritoon boats, because there was nothing in the recorded covenants that referred to or authorized such a restriction. The court that ruled against him at least intimated that his lawsuit may have gained more traction had he challenged the regulation as unreasonable, even if it was within the association’s powers.

It is a legal truism that restrictive covenants should be strictly construed in favor of full and unlimited use of property by the property owner and that restrictions against the free use of property are generally not favored. However, these brakes on the power of homeowners associations usually are applied to restrictions that are imposed on a homeowner’s use of his own property.

In this case, the lake was common property for the benefit of all in the community and subject to management by the association; it was not Kirk’s property. The absence of any explicit references to pontoon or tritoon boats in the recorded covenants was not fatal to the association’s position. The homeowners association had the responsibility of administering the lakes for the common good of the members, and with that responsibility came the implicit power to make reasonable regulations regarding the use of that common property. Kirk would have to settle for the usual two pontoons on his boat.

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