SIDE STREETS: Neighbors, attorneys can't agree if HOA covenants ban parking

BILL VOGRIN Updated: January 17, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 17, 2013

Terry Bott thought she did everything right when she bought her home in Trail Ridge South neighborhood in Northgate in 2003.

“I read all the covenants,” said Bott, an accountant who works for a homebuilder. “There were some I didn’t like. I can’t have a clothes line, for example. I think that’s stupid. But I agreed to abide by it.

“I told myself I was willing to abide by everything in the covenants even though I didn’t like all the stuff.”

So she was angry in 2006 when the board of the Trail Ridge South Homeowners Association passed rules prohibiting homeowners from parking on neigborhood streets, which are public. She’s been fighting the HOA ever since.

First, she volunteered to serve on the board to work for change.

After a couple of years she resigned, but has continued to challenge the rule, which allows guests to the neighborhood to park on the street. Just not homeowners.

Bott went back to her copy of the covenants, which govern things such as landscaping, paint colors, displays of signs and flags and changes to a home.

Every buyer in a covenant-protected neighborhood agrees to honor the covenants, which are enforced by volunteer boards that police the neighborhood. Often, property management companies are hired to collect dues, maintain commonly owned neighborhood parks, pools and rights-of-way and do the dirty work of enforcement.

Anyway, Bott studied the covenants, written by the developer in 2001, and found only one reference to parking.

“The covenants only say abandoned cars after five days and recreational vehicles can not park in the street,” Bott said.

So I gave the covenants a look. I’m not exactly Stephen J. Hawking, but I can read. What I read left me puzzled. (Shocking, I know.) There was one paragraph on parking: Section 4.11 Restrictions on Parking and Storage.

Sure enough, it bans abandoned vehicles. It requires garage doors to be kept closed except “when in immediate use” by a vehicle. It goes on to say: “Boats, recreational vehicles, campers, motor homes, trailers and other such vehicles shall be kept in the garage” . . . “and shall in no event be parked on the streets” of the neighborhood.

The HOA board read that paragraph as permission to adopt a rule six years ago banning parking by home-owners.

HOA president Amy Umiamaka wasn’t on the board at the time. But she said the board was concerned about safety of children riding bikes and appearance.

“It sure does make the neighborhood look nicer,” Umiamaka said.

To appease Bott, she said, the HOA board finally solicited a legal opinion from attorney Lenard Rioth last fall.

In a November letter to the HOA, Rioth said he believed the rule prohibiting parking was valid. He concluded the “other such vehicles” language applies to car and trucks.

“It’s pretty straight-forward,” Rioth told me. “There’s plenty of case law to support the board.”

But another longtime HOA attorney, Jack Scheuerman, said it wasn’t so simple.

“Banning parking exceeds the authority they have under the covenants,” Scheuerman told me. “I think a judge would shoot it down.”

Shocking, isn’t it, that neighbors and lawyers all disagree?

Bott is convinced she has the right to park on the street and it doesn’t matter if a majority of her neighbors agree with the board’s actions.

I’ve talked to neighbors on both sides of the question. The community certainly is divided.

Some say it’s imperative to the safety of neighborhood children to keep cars off the street. Others say it’s unfair to allow guests to park on the street but not homeowners. Some have several teenage drivers and no room in their driveways for all the cars.

Bott seems determined to resolve the question of what Section 4.11 really means.

“I’m not going to drop this,” she said. “I resigned from the HOA board because I thought what they were trying to do was wrong.”

She said the dispute has led to heated board meetings and confrontations.

“I’ve been told by a board member that I should move if I do not like what they are doing. These guys need to be stopped.”

Here’s a guess: a judge ultimately will decide the definition of “other such vehicles.”

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