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CCOC Decision Summary

#446-O, Chan v. Hadley Farms Community Association (January 7, 2000) (Reilly, Krampf, Murphy)

The homeowner (HO) appealed a decision of the community association (CA) requiring him to limit the height of trees he planted to under 8 feet, and to change the lights he had installed on his deck so that they did not shine into his neighbor's yard or else to remove them.

The evidence produced at the hearing showed that the HO applied for permission to construct a deck, with lights, at the rear of his house, and that the CA approved the proposal.  A year later he planted 20 Leland Cypress trees along his property line.  His neighbor then complained about the trees and the deck lighting to the CA.  After various proceedings involving the HO, his neighbor and the CA's board of directors, the CA ordered the HO to limit the height of the trees to 8 feet and to change the deck lights so that they did not shine into the neighbor's yard.  Sometime after this, the neighbor moved out of the community.

The panel noted that under Maryland law, restrictions on the use of private property are not favored, so that if the restriction is vague or ambiguous, it will be interpreted against the party trying to enforce it.  The panel then held that the section of the Declarations governing architectural control in the community gave it control over "structures" on private lots but did not give the CA any control over landscaping, and therefore, the panel ruled that the CA had no authority to impose a height limitation on the trees.  The panel said that although the governing documents gave the CA a general authority to adopt rules and regulations, the rules adopted must be within the scope of its authority, and that authority did not include the right to regulate plants.  The panel further ruled that although the CA acted reasonably to require the installation of a dimmer switch on the deck lights after it approved them, its later decision that the HO must take yet more steps to prevent "light leakage" into the neighbor's yard was overly vague and left too much discretion to the board member who would have to decide if there was "light leakage", and was therefore arbitrary and capricious, and ultimately unenforceable.  The panel ordered that the CA could not impose any further modifications on the deck lights or on the heights of the trees.

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