Court Upholds Association Foreclosure for Unpaid Fines

A Connecticut court recently upheld a foreclosure action after an owner refused to pay fines assessed for her failure to construct a deck in accordance with board approved plans. Although this case was decided by a Connecticut court and is not binding in Washington, it demonstrates how a court in Washington might decide a similar issue. The 2015 case Carriage House I-Enfield Association, Inc. v. Johnston concerns a homeowner who decided to expand her deck using a board pre-approved plan. The owner entered a contract with the association requiring her to construct a privacy wall on one side of the new deck. However, the city Zoning Commission initially would not approve a privacy wall because it was not included in the association’s original special use permit application. The owner built the deck without the privacy wall, breaching her contract with the association. Meanwhile, the association applied for and received a special use permit for deck privacy walls. The association informed the owner of the new special permit and that if she didn’t install the privacy wall or restore the deck to its original condition she would be fined for each day she remained in violation. When she refused to pay the fines the association filed a foreclosure action against her. The owner argued that the deck contract was illegal because it violated the city’s zoning regulations. The trial court found that the contract was valid and entered a foreclosure judgment. The appellate court agreed because the association obtained a special use permit for the privacy wall, curing any alleged illegality, and because the purpose of the contract was not to violate the law. This case demonstrates that community associations can fine an owner rather than sue for compliance. If the owner refuses to pay the fines, the association can foreclose on the property which is a much easier process than suing for compliance.
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