Covenant violations targeted

Association sues homeowners over fences, yard care

Compliance is goal

Group's court action is `out of control,' resident says

July 29, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association has filed five lawsuits in Howard County Circuit Court, charging homeowners with covenant violations, as it tries to address rising complaints about deteriorating -- or just plain unsightly -- properties in the 30-year-old planned community.

The alleged violations range from relocating a fence without permission to failing to trim backyard trees and bushes, to refusing to remove algae from house siding and a deck.

"I can agree with part of the deal to try to keep this place looking nice," said William Dragovich of Chase Lions Way in Dorsey's Search, who relocated a 5-foot-tall wooden fence and is facing a lawsuit. "But when they pick on homeowners such as myself that moves a fence like that -- that looks nice -- I think they're a little bit out of control."

The lawsuits, filed Monday, were brought by CA, which is the homeowners group that oversees most facilities and provides many programs in Columbia, and the respective village associations.

Shelby A. Tucker King, CA's general counsel, called the court filings "routine."

"Ideally, we simply want the maintenance done, and so if that's what happens, it's a win-win situation," she said. "That's really the goal. It's not to take somebody to court. Voluntary compliance is obviously the goal."

CA has never lost a covenant violation case in court, she said. About a dozen residents are sued every year.

In addition to Dragovich, those named as defendants in the lawsuits include: Robert and Frances Grieves of Indian Camp Road in Oakland Mills; Robert Leftwich of Flamepool Way in Long Reach; Paul and Darlyn Nettlebladt of Chase Lions Way in Dorsey's Search; and John Shoemaker of Spinning Seed in Owen Brown.

None except Dragovich could be reached for comment yesterday.

Every village in Columbia drafts and enforces covenants requiring homeowners to keep their properties in "good order and repair" as well as get approval for, among other things, tree removal, changes in paint color and deck, fence or picnic table construction.

The Owen Brown covenant requires "the seeding, watering and mowing of all lawns, the pruning and cutting of all trees and shrubbery and the painting (or other appropriate external care) of all buildings and other improvements, all in a manner and with such frequency as is consistent with good Property management."

No structure may be built, moved or altered without written approval of the village's architectural committee, according to the covenant.

In addition, "No lumber, metals, bulk materials, refuse or trash shall be kept, stored or allowed to accumulate on any Lot, except building materials during the course of construction of any approved Structure."

In each case, the lawsuits state, the defendant was notified several times of the violations, but failed to correct the problem.

Joseph Merke, chairman of CA's governing body, the Columbia Council, said covenant enforcement has for years been an important issue in the planned community, where billboards are not allowed and signs are strictly regulated.

"It all goes back to property values," he said. "The neighborhood that's cleaned up and [where] everybody's house is in good order makes a real impression on buyers going down the street. Just like a city, a downtown part of the city, the older it gets the more decayed it gets, the worse it sells and just eats itself."

Dragovich, who had been unaware until yesterday of the lawsuit, said he moved the fence so he could have a view of Fairway Hills Golf Course.

"It was going parallel to my home and I just moved it where it goes perpendicular," he said.

He got approval from two of his neighbors and Deborah Perkins, president of the Fairway Hills homeowners association.

After he was told he wasn't in compliance with the village's architectural guidelines, Dragovich applied to have the project approved.

When it was rejected, he said he decided to ignore the matter altogether.

"They're definitely picking on the wrong people if they're worried about property values going down by me relocating that fence," he said. "They are totally way out of control.

"You can't even see my fence from the street, but that's not the point. If one of my neighbors complained about this fence, I would move it back the other way, no questions asked."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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