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CCOC Decision Summary

#24-08, Seneca Crossing Section I HOA v. Mejia (January 6, 2010) (Panel: Fleischer, Farrar, Gelfound)

The HOA filed this complaint claiming that Mejia violated the architectural rules by installing retaining walls, lamps, and landscaping in his front yard without advance permission.  Mejia argued in his defense that the improvements were attractive and in keeping with the overall style of the community.  The parties later negotiated an agreement under which Mejia was to make certain changes, and if he did so, the HOA would dismiss its complaint.  He did not complete the changes, however, and the HOA asked for a hearing.

The HOA and its attorney appeared at the hearing.  Mejia did not appear, but his wife did, and she claimed that the necessary changes had been made and that Mejia had moved out of the home.  The Hearing Panel granted a continuance so that the HOA could inspect the home.  The HOA later conceded that the repairs had been made to its satisfaction but asked that it be awarded reasonable attorneys fees of $3220 ($200 per hour for 16.1 hours) under Section 10B-13(d) of the Montgomery County Code, which allows the Commission to award fees "if an association rule so requires."

The Panel found that the HOA's covenants provided that if the HOA successfully sued to enforce the Covenants or rules, "the costs of such action, including legal fees, shall become a binding, personal obligation of the Owner. . . " (emphasis added).  Therefore, the HOA met the requirement that an association rule required payment of attorney's fees.

The Panel also determined that even though there was no hearing on the dispute, there had been a settlement agreement which Mejia violated, and that the HOA was forced to proceed to a hearing.  Not until the hearing did Mejia's wife finally inform the Commission and the HOA that the repairs had been made. 

Of the 16.1 hours requested, the Panel found that 6.25 were required for the mediation of the settlement agreement, and that agreement did not require Mejia to pay attorneys fees.  If Mejia had complied with the agreement promptly, the HOA would not have had a claim for attorney's fees.  Therefore, the Panel deducted the 6.25 hours from the fees.  The Panel also deducted 1.5 hours used to prepare the fee motion.  The Panel therefore awarded the amount of time needed to prepare the amended complaint and to prepare for the hearing, and this came to 8.35 hours.  The Panel concluded that the hourly rate of $200 was reasonable.  The panel therefore ordered Mejia to pay $1670 in attorneys fees plus the $50 filing fee. 

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