The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in an opinion released last Friday, issued an opinion which affirms the validity of rental restrictions included in a community association’s bylaws, as opposed to the association’s declaration. Several courts around the country have dealt with this issue in the past several years, with opinions coming down on both sides of the issue. And in this case, the Court was divided, with a dissenting justice arguing that the amendment to the bylaws were contrary to the declaration and the statutes, and that the restrictions needed to adopted, if at all, as an amendment to the declaration.
The case, Apple Valley Gardens Association, Inc. v. MacHutta, involved an association formed in July of 1979, by Steven MacHutta (yes, that MacHutta). The original declaration included a sentence providing that “Any lease…shall not relieve an owner from his obligation to pay common expenses or any other obligations…”
In 2002, the Association members amended the Association’s bylaws to prohibit rental of units. Ms. MacHutta, the declarant’s spouse was renting her unit, and challenged the amendment. Existing tenancies were “grandfathered”, as the dispute did not ripen until 2004, when the board refused her petition to enter into a lease with a new tenant. Nonetheless, she rented the Unit and the Association sued.
The Court framed the first question as to whether lease restrictions must be included in the declaration; the court held that the rental restriction fell within the statutory provision providing that bylaws could include “any restriction on or requirement respecting the use and maintenance of the units…,” which the Court held could include rental restrictions.
The Court next held that the provision respecting the joint liability of owners for assessments, by allowing leases, was contrary to the restriction against leases.
“Condominium ownership is a statutory creation that obligates individual owners to relinquish rights that they might otherwise enjoy in othr types of real property ownership”, the Court stated. Amendments to the bylaws were foreseeable and enforceable, even if not as readily discoverable by virtue of recordation, and even if more easily achievable than declaration amendments. “The fact that lenders and purchasers rely on recorded declarations is irrelevant. If lenders and purchasers wish to know whether and under what conditions a condominium unit may be rented out, they may easily inquire as to both the declaration and the bylaws.”
Next, the Court held that the declaration’s reference to the conditions under which leases must be made did not mandate that they be allowed. The Court stated: “this provision neither grants a right to rent one’s unit nor prohibits it…”
Lastly, the court dismissed a statutory-based challenge to the provision, holding that a marketability statute did not prohibit the bylaw.
The dissent disagreed, arguing first that restrictions such as rental restrictions must be in the declaration to be valid. Furthermore, the dissent argued, the amendment was contrary to, and hence prohibited by, the Declaration.
Apple Valley provides support for the Association that cannot, for whatever reason, provide rental restrictions in a declaration as opposed to bylaws. Nonetheless, this author, and the majority of practitioners in the area, encourage associations to make such significant changes in the declaration, rather than the bylaws.