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What Are the Limits on a HOA? Blood v. Stoneridge

Blood v. Stoneridge at Fountain Green Homeowners is an interesting case not only because the opinion begins with an Elton John verse from “Don’t Let the Sun Come Down on Me.”

Facts of Blood v. Stoneridge

In Blood, two Harford County (Bel Air) homeowners installed solar panels on their roofs. Big solar fans apparently, they installed fifteen solar panels on the front roof and thirty-three solar panels on the rear roof.

Saving fossil fuel.  Who could complain?  Apparently, the Stoneridge at Fountain Green Homeowners Association, their homeowners’ association. The homeowners asked the HOA for permission after the work had already been done.  The HOA, not surprisingly, denied the request, ordered the homeowners to remove the front solar panels, not explaining why (the rear panels were apparently okay).  In turn, the homeowners ignored the demand.  This lawsuit by the HOA followed.

Trial

This case went to trial.  There were a lot of pretrial stipulations so it came down to two witnesses at trial: the homeowner and someone from the installation company.  The homeowner testified that he thought the installation company would deal with the HOA because the other companies that gave him a bid said they would.

The guy from the solar panel installer testified that it would be a costly mess to remove the solar panels and it would decrease efficiency.

The HOA did not present witnesses but stood on Maryland contract law.  When the homeowner bought the home, they contractually agreed to abide by the HOA.  This was a bench trial for declaratory relief (which is decided by a judge).  The trial court ruled in favor of the HOA.  The ruling enjoined the homeowners from “maintaining any solar panels on the front roof of their residence.”  Which means that they had to spend a fortune to remove the panels.  The opinion does not mention attorneys’ fees but I would be surprised if the homeowners do not ultimately have to pay the HOA attorneys’ fees in connection with the trial (which are likely a small fortune).

Appellate Decision

The homeowners argued to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals that restricting solar panels to their front roof is an “unreasonable limitation” barred by RP § 2-119(b).

RP § 2-119(b) states that:

Unreasonable limitations on installation

(b)(1) A restriction on use regarding land use may not impose or act to impose unreasonable limitations on the installation of a solar collector system on the roof or exterior walls of improvements, provided that the property owner owns or has the right to exclusive use of the roof or exterior walls.
(2) For purposes of paragraph (1) of this subsection, an unreasonable limitation includes a limitation that:
(i) Significantly increases the cost of the solar collector system; or
(ii) Significantly decreases the efficiency of the solar collector system.

The homeowners argued the limitation is not reasonable because it makes their house less efficient.  The court doubts that this is the case. But, more to the point, the court says that if it is true the house is now less energy efficient, the homeowners’ wounds are “self-inflicted.”  Because, ultimately, the court found that the HOA’s limitation is reasonable.

Conclusion

Maryland Homeowner Associations Act, Md. Code, Real Prop. Art § 11B-101, et seq, grants non-waivable rights of an HOA to restrict what we do in our own homes.  (Not my home.  I live in the “Live Free on Die” part of Western Howard County).  This is the deal you make when you buy a home in a community with an HOA.  Yes, the Maryland high court has made clear that restrictive covenants should be construed against the HOA. But if the covenant exists, you abide by it or face harsh consequences like the homeowner faces in this case.  I feel bad for the homeowners.  But I can’t argue with the result.

Note: Our firm does not handle these types of cases.  We post this only for information purposes (and we like reading and talking about Maryland case law even outside of personal injury cases).

Homeowner Association Lawsuit Settlements and Verdicts

I thought it would be interesting to close out this post with a few HOA-related lawsuits and settlements.

  • 2017, Oregon: $550,000 Verdict. A woman died from a traumatic brain injury and internal bleeding to her brain after she fell down a stairwell and struck her head on the cement curb. She was in a building owned by the Association of Unit Owners of Oswego Summit. Her estate alleged that the HOA failed to provide proper lighting for the stairwell, failed to construct its risers to comply with Oregon building codes, and failed to warn of its dangerous conditions. They also claimed that the HOA also failed to repair the dangerous conditions. The HOA denied liability and claimed that the woman’s own negligence caused the incident. A jury allocated 47 percent of the liability to the deceased and 53 percent to the HOA. They awarded a $550,000 verdict.
  • 2016, Idaho: $88,000 Verdict. A professional recording engineer and producer lived in a subdivision owned by the Foothill Ranch Home Owners Association. The building’s pipes burst, releasing water that flowed into the man’s property. He alleged that the negligence of the handyman, who the HOA hired, caused this. The HOA hired him to help repair the fire suppression system. The man alleged that handyman failed to properly connect the pipes and install thrust blocks. He further alleged that this negligence caused damage to his recording equipment, his musical instruments, his computer, his hard drive, and his back-up tames of musical recordings that could not be replaced. Before trial, the judge awarded the man $305,722 in response to his Motion for Summary Judgment. The judge then decreased the award to $64,000 and let the jury decide the remaining damage issues. A jury awarded an additional $88,000, which brought the total award, including stipulated damages, to $331,646.
  • 2013, Illinois: $550,000 Settlement. A 74-year-old woman died of a subdural hematoma after a gurney struck a large pothole and tipped in an HOA-owned parking lot. Her estate alleged that the HOA failed to properly and adequately repair the hole and failed to properly and adequately maintain safe premises. They also alleged that two EMS personnel refused to safely position the ambulance, failed to respond with enough personnel to assist with the woman, and left one paramedic to transport the woman via gurney. The estate settled with the HOA for $250,000 and the City of Chicago for $300,000.
  • 2011, California: $80,000 Verdict. A woman walked around her HOA-owned apartment complex’s sidewalk at night. She walked in an excavated area and tripped over a piece of wood on the ground. She fell onto her knees into the concrete, twisted, and fell onto her back. The woman suffered undisclosed, but severe injuries. She sued the HOA for failing to maintain safe premises. The jury awarded a $40,000 verdict. However, the judge reduced the award to $50,850.