Arizona Restrictive Covenants Interpretation

In Arizona, a recorded declaration that contains restrictive covenants common to all properties in a development forms a contract between "the development's property owners as a whole and the individual lot owners." Ariz. Biltmore Estates Assn v. Tezak, 177 Ariz. 447, 448, 868 P.2d 1030, 1031 (App. 1993) (citing Divizio v. Kewin Enters., Inc., 136 Ariz. 476, 481, 666 P.2d 1085, 1090 (App. 1983)). The interpretation of restrictive covenants is a question of law for the court. Id. ("The interpretation of a contract is a matter of law and not a question of fact."). In interpreting the meaning of a covenant, the superior court does not defer to the interpretation given by the association. Cf. id. (because interpretation of restrictive covenants is a matter of law, "the Court of Appeals is not bound by conclusions of law reached by the trial court."). Even when a declaration authorizes the exercise of discretion in complying with its provisions, the association still must comply with the declaration's requirements, and association members are entitled to judicial recourse to ensure such compliance. Gfeller v. Scottsdale Vista N. Townhomes Ass'n, 193 Ariz. 52, 54, 969 P.2d 658, P 11, 969 P.2d 658, 660 ("Whichever means of enforcement it chooses, the Association may not forsake its express duty to enforce the CC & R's."). "Because of its considerable power in managing and regulating a common interest development, the governing board of an owners association must guard against the potential for the abuse of that power." Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condo. Assn, 8 Cal. 4th 361, 878 P.2d 1275, 1281-82 (Cal. 1994). In the absence of declaration provisions providing alternative means of resolving disputes arising from the enforcement of restrictive covenants, both homeowners and their associations are entitled to bring their case before the courts without either party's position receiving deference. The civil courts afford a neutral interpretation of the development's declaration and "significant protection against overreaching" by either homeowners or their association. See Lamden, 980 P.2d at 952.