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Blood v. Stoneridge at Fountain Green Homeowners Association, Inc.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 29, 2019

JONATHAN BLOOD, ET AL.
v.
STONERIDGE AT FOUNTAIN GREEN HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC.

          Circuit Court for Harford County Case No. 12-C-16-003324

          Fader, C.J., Nazarian, Zarnoch, Robert A. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ. [*]

          OPINION

          NAZARIAN, J.

         Don't let the sun go down on me Although I search myself, it's always someone else I see I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free But losin' everything is like the sun goin' down on me[1]

         This case is the first test of a relatively new statute, Maryland Code (1974, 2015 Repl. Vol.), § 2-119(b) of the Real Property ("RP") Article, and the extent to which the pro-solar energy policy it embodies limits the normally broad power of homeowners' associations to enforce aesthetic uniformity. Jonathan and Megan Blood, homeowners in a development called Stoneridge at Fountain Green, installed solar panels on the roof of their home. Unfortunately, they failed to get approval from the Stoneridge at Fountain Green Homeowners Association, Inc. (the "Association") before beginning installation. The Bloods later asked for the Association's approval, which was denied, then they ignored the Association's order directing them to remove the panels from the front roof of the house.

         The Association brought suit in the Circuit Court for Harford County, seeking a declaration that the Bloods were in violation of the Association's declaration of covenants and an injunction directing them to remove the panels from the front roof of their house. After a short trial, on largely stipulated facts, the circuit court entered judgment for the Association. On appeal, the Bloods argue that the Association's order places an unreasonable limitation on their solar installation in violation of RP § 2-119(b) and that the Association unreasonably withheld its consent to the system they installed. As we explain, the notion of reasonableness the Bloods ask us to adopt here misconstrues the text and purpose of the statute. We hold that the limitation here was reasonable and enforced reasonably and affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In April 2015, the Bloods purchased a single-family home in a subdivision in Bel Air. The property was part of a development called Stoneridge at Fountain Green and subject to a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (the "Declaration"). Among other things, Article V of the Declaration required the Bloods to seek approval by the Association's Board of Directors or architectural review committee before adding to, changing, or altering the property:

No building, fence, wall or other structure shall be commenced, erected or maintained upon the Property, nor shall any exterior addition to or change or alteration therein be made (including, without limitation, any structure which impedes or impairs mowing or lawn maintenance) until the plans and specification showing the nature, kind, shape, height, materials and location of the same shall have been submitted to and approved in writing as to harmony of external design and location in relation to surrounding structures and topography by the Board of Directors of the Association or by an architectural committee composed of three (3) or more representatives appointed by the Board, which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld . . . .

         A few months after moving in, on June 19, 2015, the Bloods entered an agreement with a company called SolarGaines to install a solar collection system on their roof. The system included fifteen solar panels on the front roof of the house and thirty-three solar panels on the rear roof, along with the equipment, such as an inverter and net meter, needed to connect the system to the local electric company's distribution system. The installation was completed approximately two months later.

         The Bloods don't dispute that the Declaration required them to seek approval before installing the system or that they failed to file an application for approval with the Association's architectural committee until August 6, 2015, when installation was nearly complete. The committee denied the Bloods' application on August 27, 2015, and the Bloods didn't appeal the decision to the Association's Board of Directors at that point or take the solar system down.

         On May 4, 2016, the Association sent the Bloods a letter notifying them that their solar array violated the Declaration because it lacked "the mandatory written approval [of the committee] per Article V [] of the Declaration for Stone Ridge at Fountain Green." The letter directed the Bloods to "remove the solar panels within 30 days of the date of this letter;" the letter didn't qualify this direction or limit it to the panels on the front roof, but the "Subject" line of the letter said, "Solar Panels Removal on Front of House." After receiving the letter, the Bloods appealed the architectural committee's August 2015 decision to the Association's Board of Directors, and the Board denied the appeal on July 25, 2016.

         The Bloods still didn't remove the solar panels from their front roof, so on December 14, 2016, the Association filed a two-count complaint in the Circuit Court of Harford County. Count 1 sought a declaratory judgment stating that the Bloods were in violation of the Declaration. Count 2 sought an injunction "DIRECTING the [Bloods] to dismantle and disassemble their solar system and to remove the same from the front roof" of the house. The complaint doesn't quote from the Association's May 4, 2016 violation letter, but in paragraph 20, characterizes that letter as directing the Bloods to remove the solar panels only from the front roof. Similarly, the complaint alleges in paragraph 21 that "[n]otwithstanding the second notification the [Bloods] failed to remove the solar system from the front roof and the solar system is still attached to the front roof of the [Bloods'] residence." (Emphasis added.) The Association also filed a motion for summary judgment alongside the complaint, which contended that the material facts were undisputed-the text of the Declaration required approval and the solar system remained on the Bloods' roof without it. For that reason, the Association argued it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         The Bloods answered and opposed the Association's motion. Although they claimed that material facts were in dispute, they didn't identify any. They emphasized, however (and correctly), that the Association hadn't stated any reasons for denying their application, and argued that requiring them to remove the solar panels from their front roof imposed an unreasonable limitation on solar installations that violated RP § 2-119(b). That statute limits restrictions on land use that interfere unreasonably with solar energy ...


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