The Court of Appeals of Michigan recently addressed the enforceability of a restrictive covenant regarding the construction of a shed, in Crestwood Homeowners Association v. Pawlanta. A restrictive covenant is essentially an agreement that real property will be used in a certain way. Moreover, restrictive covenants are understood to involve two fundamental freedoms—freedom to contract and freedom to use property.
In this case mentioned above, a subdivision association alleged that a homeowner’s shed was constructed in violation of an established restrictive covenant. In this covenant, it prohibited the construction of structures other than single-family residences, except for certain structures including, “other auxiliary construction.” The homeowner argued their shed qualified as “other auxiliary construction” and was therefore permitted under the restrictive covenant.
Courts generally interpret covenants in the same manner as interpreting contracts under Michigan law. Therefore, a court will look to the plain language within the document and determine whether its ambiguous or vague. As such, the court in the Crestwood Homeowners Assoc. v. Pawlantacase, primarily focused on the term “auxiliary construction” and found that it was unambiguous, meaning it was not open to more than one meaning.
Where the language is determined to be clear on its face or unambiguous, courts have established that the covenant in question must be enforced as written. As a result, courts will strictly rely upon the plain language in the covenant. Despite finding “auxiliary construction” unambiguous, the court noted that the term was not defined by the covenant. Because the term was left undefined, the court consulted a dictionary to determine the common meaning of the phrase “auxiliary construction” in a restrictive covenant. The court found “auxiliary construction” is commonly understood to mean a structure built that complements and supplements a single-family home. In addition to resorting to a dictionary, the court looked to evidence of other structures that had been built in the subdivision which the association permitted, as well as the purpose for constructing this particular shed.
Ultimately, the court concluded “auxiliary construction” refers to a structure that is built to aid, support, complement, and supplement a single-family home. Applying this definition, the court further concluded the shed at issue was built to store items used to aid, complement, and support the homeowner’s residence therefore, it was in compliance with the restrictive covenant.
Restrictive covenants are regularly found in various homeowner associations and can apply to numerous ways a landowner may use their property. As evidenced above, a multitude of factors can go into defining and interpreting what a restrictive covenant means. Attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have handled numerous land use cases over the years. We would be happy to speak with you and assist you through resolving any questions and/or issues you may encounter with restrictive covenants. Please feel free to contact us at (313) 859-6000.