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CCOC Decision Summary

#353-O, Winans v. Montgomery Village Foundation (September 22, 1997) (Panel: Axelson, Perlingiero, Wilson)

The homeowner (HO) appealed the denial of his application to install sliding windows to replace a sidelight window next to his front door as unreasonable.

The evidence at the hearing showed that the governing documents of the homeowner association (HOA) required advance approval for all modifications to the exterior of the member homes, and that the HOA must act on an application within 30 days or the application will be deemed to be approved.  The HOA periodically publishes information about its architectural requirements; in spite of this, the HO replaced all the windows on his house without applying for permission.  In its notices, the HOA promised that architectural applications will be acted upon within 7 days.  One of the windows was the sidelight window next to the front door, which was replaced with two slider windows.  The HOA cited the HO for the violations and he applied for approval for the changes.  The HOA approved most of the windows 14 days later, but rejected the change to the sidelight.  The HO appealed this denial to the Executive Committee and lost. 

The hearing panel held that the HO violated the rules by installing new windows without permission, and that the HOA acted within its rights when it approved most of the windows but rejected the slider windows.  Although the HOA did not act on the belated application within 7 days as promised by the HOA's informational materials, that promise was not legally binding, and only the 30-day deadline established in the Declaration was binding; and the HOA acted within that 30-day deadline.  The HOA's decision as to the slider windows was reasonable because there was evidence that it was different from any other feature on any other home in the community and significantly altered the appearance of the front of the house.

However, the panel found that the procedures used by the HOA to judge the HO's application were unfair.  The HOA referred to past conduct by the HO in negative terms.  The panel wrote that "due process requires that each application be considered on its own merits and not be based on any prior conduct of the applicant.  The only time the prior history of the applicant should be taken into consideration in deciding architectural control decisions is if the applicant denies having knowledge of the procedures and it is shown that the applicant has participated in the process at a prior time."  The panel found that the architectural committee was biased and the materials it used were biased as well, and contained irrelevant and negative information that was unnecessary to the issue of the windows.  The panel ruled that the HOA "[is] hereby put on notice that the disclosure of irrelevant information concerning the character and past actions of the applicant is unfair and does not meet the standards of due process required by the State of Maryland and Montgomery County, Maryland."  The panel concluded, however, that the bias was harmless error since the HOA approved most of the application, and its decision rejecting the one window was reasonable.

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