Washington Law Review


Casey J. Little


In Riss v. Angel, the Supreme Court of Washington declared that in disputes between subdivision homeowners, courts must construe restrictive covenants to give effect to the covenants' intended purposes by considering surrounding circumstances to protect the homeowners' collective interests. The court further held that when restrictive covenants grant discretion to architectural review committees (ARCs) to approve new construction or remodels, ARCs or other homeowners association committees that enforce such covenants must exercise their authority reasonably and in good faith. Riss represents a departure from prior precedent that required courts to construe strictly the terms of restrictive covenants to limit their effect. This Note observes that the court's shift from strict construction to intent-based construction was wise because it clarifies Washington law on the enforceability of restrictive covenants and was necessary because the original policy behind strictly construing covenants in favor of the free use of land has little value when applied to subdivisions. Furthermore, this Note argues that the reasonableness requirement for the architectural review process will encourage homeowners associations to adopt strict procedures for their review committees to follow when making discretionary decisions. Strict procedures will help protect individual homeowners who may be faced with a review committee that is predisposed against change, and that, through a process of group polarization, becomes even more likely to make irrational decisions regarding proposed constructions in the neighborhood. This Note concludes by proposing procedural guidelines for ARCs that will enable them to carry out their duties under Riss.

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