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CCOC Decision Summary

Amchin v. Potomac Glen Community Association ##29-13 and 95-14 (February 26, 2016) (Panel: Winegar, Coyle, Fishbein)

The lot owner filed numerous claims against his HOA in 2013 (#29-13), and among them were disputes over the HOA’s refusal to install landscaping that would prevent trespassers from entering his lot from the common areas, and that would require the HOA to limit noise at community swim meets and enforce trash collection rules. The parties were able to resolve these claims in mediation. The settlement agreement required the HOA to consider the adoption of certain proposed rule changes and landscaping modifications.

A year after the settlement, the same owner filed #95-14, alleging that the HOA failed to honor its agreement. He disputed the HOA’s decision not to modify the landscaping and to instead bill him for removal of the landscaping he installed. He claimed the HOA failed to maintain the common areas by allowing tree roots to grow into his lot and by failing to enforce rules on trash collection and against the use of the community basketball court at night.

The HOA responded by arguing that the complaint should be dismissed because the new claims were settled in the previous case and that the owner was bound by that settlement.

After the CCOC took jurisdiction of most of his claims, the owner filed extensive requests for documents dating back to 1996. The hearing panel granted the requests but limited them to the previous 5 years. The HOA complied with the discovery order and produced approximately 600 to 700 pages of documents.

At the hearing on the merits, the owner did not use any of the documents he had requested in discovery. He did produce numerous photographs showing that many other homeowners were setting their trash out in bags rather than in plastic bins as required by the HOA rules. He testified that the basketball court was being used at night in violation of the rules and that the area was not safe. The HOA, in turn, produced evidence to show it was attempting to enforce the trash rules, that the landscaping the owner wanted interfered with the residents’ ability to use the sidewalks, and that it had notified other homeowners to removing plantings that encroached on the common areas. It also claimed that although some areas of the HOA had landscaping that the owner’s own area did not, those areas had different needs.

The panel held that the HOA had substantially complied with the settlements in #29-13. It said that if the owner had safety concerns he should notify the police, not the HOA and that the HOA’s decision not to hire security guards and not to enforce the rule against nighttime use of the basketball court was protected by the business judgment rule.

The panel held that the HOA was not required to remove tree roots or prevent them from entering the private lots. Under Maryland law, the owner of the lot had the right to remove branches and roots entering his lot from another lot. However, the HOA improperly billed the owner for the costs of removing his plantings from the common areas because its notices to him were confusing and contradictory, and the panel abated those charges.

The panel held that the owner abused the discovery process by requesting an extensive list of documents which he then failed to use as part of his case. Because of this, because he refused to mediate in #95-14, and refused to recognize the HOA’s attempts to comply with the agreement in #29-13, he maintained a frivolous action, and under Section 10B-13(d) the panel ordered him to pay $6631 in legal fees to the HOA.

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