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Brewer v. Lake Easton Homeowners Association

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

March 13, 2018

LYNN BREWER and DOUGLAS BREWER, husband and wife and the marital community comprised thereof, Appellants,
v.
LAKE EASTON HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, a Washington nonprofit corporation; and MICHAEL D. PECKMAN, an individual, Respondents, JOHN and JANE DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          PENNELL, J.

         Lynn and Douglas Brewer challenge the authority of the Lake Easton Estates Homeowners Association (LEEHOA) to manage well water services in their housing development. They also claim services provided have been inadequate to protect water safety and property values. Because the LEEHOA's exercise of authority is consistent with both Washington law and the terms of the Brewers' deed, the challenge to the LEEHOA's legal authority fails. Furthermore, because the Brewers have not shown any tangible injury connected to the LEEHOA's management activities, their claims for damages cannot be sustained. The trial court's summary judgment dismissal of the Brewers' claims is affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         The Lake Easton Estates housing development is a 51-lot subdivision located in Kittitas County. The development's residents get water through 9 "Group B" wells.[1] The lot owners in Lake Easton Estates have unique legal interests in the wells servicing their properties. The significance of these legal interests lies at the heart of this appeal.

         History and development of Lake Easton Estates

         The development of Lake Easton Estates began in the late 1980s. In a February 1990 document entitled "Lake Easton Estates Domestic Water Systems Agreement" (1990 Water Agreement) was executed and recorded in Kittitas County. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 24-26. The purpose of the agreement was to set forth general conditions relating to the installation, use, and maintenance of individual water systems for Lake Easton Estates. The agreement noted different water systems would be installed in the development, each composed of a well delivering water to nine or fewer lots. According to the agreement, lot owners would be responsible for maintaining the well that delivered water to their property. The agreement further specified the lot owners served by each individual well had the right to form a "Domestic Water System Owners Association" for the purpose of well maintenance. CP at 25.

         In 1992, the development owner recorded an amended "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions of Lake Easton Estates, " (1992 CC&Rs). CP at 52-61. This document specified that lot owners within Lake Easton Estates were deemed to covenant and agree to assessments levied by a homeowners' association. The purpose of the assessments was "to promote the recreation, health, safety and welfare of the Owners, and to pay costs associated with any signage, landscaping, lighting and water thereof' CP at 54 (emphasis added).

         A new owner purchased a majority of Lake Easton Estates in 1994. Shortly thereafter, in early 1995, the owner recorded a "Water User's Declaration" (1995 Water Declaration), for each of the nine wells in Lake Easton Estates. See CP at 69-75. The substantive terms of each declaration were identical. The declarations specified that each lot had an undivided one-fourth to one-sixth interest in its servicing well. Accordingly, each lot that benefited from the well would share equally in the cost of well construction, maintenance, and testing. The declarations also prohibited construction of any structure within 100 feet of a well. The 1995 Water Declaration did not supersede the 1990 Water Agreement. Nor do the declarations mention a homeowners' association or the 1992 CC&Rs.

         The LEEHOA was incorporated in 2000. The member lot owners agreed the LEEHOA would manage the water systems located in Lake Easton Estates. To this end, the LEEHOA bylaws specifically authorize its board of trustees to appoint a "Water Master" to manage water systems within Lake Easton Estates. CP at 985. Under its bylaws, the LEEHOA is empowered to collect assessments for a broad array of purposes. Since its inception, the LEEHOA has collected assessments for the maintenance and testing of wells located within Lake Easton Estates.

         The Brewers' initial involvement with Lake Easton Estates

         In 2004, the Brewers purchased lot 27 of Lake Easton Estates. This was one of the lots that housed a well. When the Brewers purchased their property, they received a preliminary title report, notifying them of the 1990 Water Agreement, the 1992 CC&Rs, and the 1995 Water Declaration.[2] The Brewers purchased their lot without the benefit of a real estate agent. They did not obtain copies of any of the documents referenced in the preliminary title report.

         During the purchase process, the Brewers failed to realize the 1995 Water Declaration conferred ownership rights to the well that delivered water to their property. Instead, the Brewers assumed the well was owned by the LEEHOA. From the time of purchase in 2004 until late 2012, the Brewers regularly paid the LEEHOA assessments for well maintenance and water.

         Although the Brewers started paying water assessments in 2004, they did not actually connect their house to well water until 2009. With the exception of some sand discovered in the water at the time of their well connection, the Brewers have never found any contaminants in their well water. Indeed, since at least 2008, none of the wells in Lake Easton Estates have tested positive for any contaminants.

         In 2012, the Brewers applied for a zoning variance from Kittitas County so they could build a shop on their property. Neighboring lot owners were notified of the variance request. The neighbors complained that granting the variance would violate the 1995 Water Declaration, which prohibited structures from being built within 100 feet of any well. The Brewers were surprised by their neighbors' objections, given that other wells in Lake Easton Estates appeared to have structures encroaching on the 100-foot limitation, including structures with apparent sewage lines. Kittitas County ultimately denied the Brewers' variance request. Not only did the 1995 Water Declaration require 100-foot setbacks, so did the applicable state building regulations.

         The Brewers' disputes with the LEEHOA

         After coming into conflict over the zoning request and familiarizing themselves with the contents of the 1995 Water Declaration, the Brewers stopped paying their LEEHOA assessments and filed suit. The Brewers claimed that because the declaration identified them as owners of their well and specified the method for maintenance and ...


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