Court of Appeals refines single family use limitations for restricted communities

On 17 July 2007 the North Carolina Court of Appeals handed down two decisions dealing with the interpretation of single family use restrictions found in community restrictive covenants.

In the case of Danaher v. Joffee and Winding Ridge Homeowners Association v. Joffe, the Court of Appeals held that certain university students encouraged to live together by their baseball coach were not a single familyfor purposes of the restrictive covenants governing the community. The restrictive covenants of the community in the Joffe cases provided, in part, no building shall be erected, altered, placed or permitted to remain on any lot other than one single family residence and its customarily accessory buildings and uses.

The home in these cases was divided into two connected dwelling units. One portion of the home was approximately 1900 square feet and was considered the main dwelling unit, and the other was a smaller 750 square foot dwelling with a separate exterior entrance and a separate postal address from the main dwelling unit. The home contained a total of six bedrooms and five bathrooms and the power and gas utilities were separately metered at the two dwelling units. Seven students leased the property from the owner of the property, four of the students rented the main dwelling unit, and three students rented the smaller unit. The homeowners association filed a complaint seeking to enforce the aforementioned restrictive covenant permitting one single family residence.

The trial court, on summary judgment, held that the defendant students were not in violation of the structural restriction limiting the residents to a single family dwelling. However, the trial court also found that the defendant students were in violation of the usage restriction and prohibited the students from occupying the residence unless they were related by blood or marriage or otherwise structured in the same way as a traditional view of an American family.The students and owners appealed the trial court’s ruling. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the language in the restrictive covenant was both a structural and usage restriction and the students were, in fact, in violation of the restrictive covenant because the students were not substantially structured as an integrated family unit.The majority opinion held that the students were in violation of the usage restriction which prevented buildings from being erected, altered, placed or permitted to remain on any lot other than one single family residence.

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