Johnson v. Pointe Community Ass'n, Inc

In Johnson v. Pointe Community Ass'n, Inc., 205 Ariz. 485, 73 P.3d 616 (App. 2003), the Court held that a community association's interpretation of its own restrictive covenants in a dispute with a homeowner is not entitled to judicial deference. Id. at 490, P 22, 73 P.3d at 621. The recorded declaration at issue in that case provided that no changes or alterations that affected the exterior appearance of any residence could be initiated without prior approval of the association's architectural committee. Id. at 486, P 4, 73 P.3d at 617. The Johnsons complained to the association that their neighbors had, among other things, altered the texture of the stucco on their backyard patio columns without seeking prior approval from the architectural committee. Id. at 486-87, P 4, 73 P.3d at 617-18. Notwithstanding the terms of the declaration, the association declined to require formal architectural committee approval of the new stucco texture. Id. The Johnsons filed a lawsuit seeking enforcement of the terms of the declaration. Id. at 487-88, P 12, 73 P.3d at 618-19. Although the association acknowledged it was obligated to enforce the declaration, it nonetheless argued that its decision not to require prior authorization of the stucco change was entitled to judicial deference. Id. at 488, P 14, 73 P.3d at 619. The Court rejected this argument, reasoning that restrictive covenants in a recorded declaration create a contract between a subdivision's property owners as a whole and individual lot owners and that interpretation of such contracts is a question of law for the court. Id. at 489-90, PP22-23, 73 P.3d at 620-21. The Court further explained that as to the interpretation of the CC&Rs: 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. Id. at 490, P 25, 73 P.3d at 621.