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CCOC Decision Summary

#589-G, DuFief Homes Association v. Nicoletta Sacchi and Leszek Karowiec, (March 29, 2006) (Panel: Hitchens, Fleischer)

The homeowner association (HOA) filed a complaint against the homeowner (HO) and a resident in the home, claiming that they violated the HOA's rules by painting the home in an unapproved color. The HO responded that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations and the rule of "laches"; and also because the rule prohibiting the color she used was not adopted until several years after the painting was performed. The Commission made the following rulings:

1. Only the HO, as a property owner with the legal authority to paint the home, and not the co-resident, who has no such authority, is a proper party in this case.

2. Although the house was painted between 1992 and 1996, and the HOA took no action on the paint issue until 2001, under Maryland court decisions the statute of limitations did not apply and the HOA could still take action on the violations (because they were still in existence).

3. The rule of laches also did not apply, because the HO did not meet its conditions. The delay in enforcing the rule occurred after the house was painted in the unapproved color, and so the delay could not have misled the HO into thinking she had any right to use that color. {Editor's note: "laches" is an ancient legal rule that says that if one party's delay in asserting its rights causes another party to do something under the mistaken impression that it's permissible, then the first party has waived its rights and can't enforce them against the second party.]

4. Even though the HOA did not adopt a formal rule prohibiting the paint color used by the HO until several years after she used it, the HOA had never approved any applications for the use of that color or similar colors before then, and the HO never applied for, or obtained, permission to use that color.

5. The HOA's color rules had a reasonable basis, being intended to preserve the harmony and continuity of colors used in the community.

6. The HOA's enforcement of the color rules was not selective or unequal. Although non-conforming colors might exist on other homes, the HOA had not approved them and was taking action against them.

7. The HO's request for attorney's fees was denied because she did not show that the HOA acted improperly and because both parties were dealing with the complaint in good faith.

The Panel ordered the HO to repaint her unit in approved colors and to submit an application to the HOA before doing the work describing how she proposed to correct the violations. The HOA was ordered to act on the application within 90 days of receiving it.

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