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CCOC Decision Summary

#46-09, Syed v. Gatestone HOA #46-09 (July 30, 2010) (Panel: Fleischer, Dubin, Whelan)

The Gatestone HOA rejected Syed's architectural application to build a white vinyl deck with a white vinyl privacy screen, and Syed filed a complaint with the Commission.  Syed argued that the board's decision was unreasonable and arbitrary because there were other white decks in the community, the rule only applied to the floor of the deck and not to the railings, and the rules did not specify a color for privacy screens.

The evidence at the hearing showed that the HOA's rules permitted only decks made of wood or of synthetic material in a neutral, wood color.  There were 30 homes with decks, and out of those 30, there were 4 of white vinyl.  One of these 4 had been permitted by the community's developer, and the other 3 had been permitted by one of the first board presidents acting on his own authority and without the consent of the rest of his board.  Since that time, however, the board had consistently enforced the rule requiring decks to be of wood or in neutral wood colors.  The board rejected Syed's application for white vinyl but authorized him to use a wood-colored vinyl, but he rejected that option.

The hearing panel applied the "reasonableness rule" of Kirkley v. Seipelt, a 1957 decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals.  Under that decision, a board's decision on an architectural application has to have a reasonable connection to the overall appearance or design plan of a community, and cannot be arbitrary or unreasonable.  The panel held that the board's decision was reasonably grounded in its desire to preserve the wooded, natural appearance of the community.  The existence of 4 other nonconforming decks had not been authorized by the community, and the HOA's boards had been consistent in enforcing the rule on wood decks.  The panel also found that the board's interpretation of its rules was reasonable.  Although one dictionary definition of the word "deck" means the platform or floor only and not the railings, the generally-applied definition referred to the entire structure, including the railings and stairway attached to the platform, and the board had the discretion to select the latter meaning.  Although the rules did not specify the color of privacy screens attached to the deck, the board had the discretion to interpret the rule as requiring the screen to be the same color as the rest of the deck, rather than matching the trim color of the house, which was white.  The panel noted that a board's interpretation of its own governing documents must be upheld so long as it is reasonable even if there are other reasonable interpretations.  Finally, the board did allow Syed to have a vinyl deck so long as it was a wood color.  The panel held that the board's decision rejecting a white vinyl deck was a reasonable one within its authority.

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