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CCOC Decision Summary

#87-06, GreencastleLakes Community Association v. Kelley (April 24, 2008) (Panel: McCabe, Fleischer, Kivitz)

The homeowner association (HOA) filed a complaint alleging that the homeowner was in violation of the architectural rules of the community by having an unapproved fence, and because shutters and screens were missing from the front of the home.The homeowner did not file a response to the complaint.

The Commission referred the dispute to a hearing panel for action under its Default Judgment Procedures.The hearing panel issued an order of default, and followed it up with a default judgment that ordered the homeowner to make the necessary repairs and to submit an application for the new fence.There was no hearing.

The HOA also requested an award of attorney's fees.The hearing panel directed the attorney to submit an itemized accounting of her time and charges, and she requested $280 per hour for 1.6 hours, a total of $448.Pursuant to Section 10B-13(d) of the Montgomery County Code, she cited, as the legal basis for her attorney fee request a rule in the architectural regulations of the Association that states:

"Any costs for GLCA legal action during pursuit of its right to remove or correct violations shall be charged to the affected homeowner following resolution of the action."

The Hearing Panel found that the amount of the request was reasonable.However, the Hearing Panel also found that the words "any costs for GLCA legal action" were not clear enough under Maryland law to include attorney's fees.The Panel cited Hess Construction Co. v. Board of Education, 341 Md. 155 (1996), as support for its holding that a rule or contract term must specifically state that it includes attorney fees.The Panel further stated that to the extent that there was any doubt over whether the word "costs" included attorney fees or not, then such doubt should be resolved against the party that wrote the rule or contract term in question: in this case, against the HOA.Therefore, the Hearing Panel denied the request for attorney fees.

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