Stanley Sellers bought a home in Woodfield subdivision and wanted to build an outdoor kitchen. He applied to the Woodfield property owners’ association’s architectural committee, which approved his plans. Without asking for approval, he then built a storage building in his yard. The POA told him that the architectural committee had adopted a rule that prohibited storage and utility buildings. Sellers asked the POA and the architectural committee to change its rules or grant him a waiver, which did not happen.
(For clarification, the document that is referred to here as “covenants” is also referred to as a “declaration” or “subdivision restrictions” or “covenants, conditions and restrictions” or “master deed” or “subdivision indenture,” depending on where you are. An association of lot owners is called a property owners’ association (POA) or homeowners’ association (HOA). “Architecture committees” are sometimes called “architectural control committees (ACCs) or design review committees (DRCs), or some other variation.)
Sellers sued, arguing that the rule against storage buildings was invalid, because Missouri law prohibits adoption of additional subdivision covenants (“new burdens”) without unanimous approval of all lot owners, unless the covenants permit addition of new burdens on real estate by less than unanimous consent. The trial court ruled for the POA, indicating that the covenants in place before Sellers’ purchase of a lot empowered the POA to regulate “accessory structures” and allowed the architecture committee to make “guidelines and policies for the development and [sic] a residential community which is harmonious and aesthetically pleasing.” Thus the prohibition of storage buildings was a burden within the scope of the recorded covenants rather than the imposition of a new burden.
The appeals court’s decision in Sellers v. Woodfield POA, upholding the trial court’s decision, makes a few points worth remembering:
- A court reviewing the decision of an architectural committee reviews only for reasonableness and does not substitute its opinion (for the architectural committee’s opinion) as to harmony or disharmony.
- It doesn’t matter whether the homeowner was aware of the requirements. Though the court of appeals didn’t explain this, a purchaser of a lot is deemed as a matter of law to have knowledge of subdivision covenants applicable to the lot, if the covenants are recorded.
- If the covenants authorize the POA or the architecture committee to make additional rules not in the recorded covenants, the lot purchaser also is deemed to have notice of this rulemaking authority and should ask about the existence of additional rules.