Strict Construction of Restrictive Covenants
Restrictive covenants are to be strictly construed. Restrictive covenants show up in Declarations or Covenants recorded in the public records that restrict a landowner’s (or unit owner’s) use to do something with his/her property. Just keep in mind that a restrictive covenant will be strictly construed in favor of the landowner. See Leamer v. White, 156 So.3d 567, 572 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015). Hence, the precise language of the restrictive covenant is important because of the requirement of strict construction.
An example of such strict construction can be found in the recent opinion of Santa Monica Beach Property Owners Association, Inc. v. Acord, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D984a (Fla. 1st DCA 2017). This case dealt with property located in a subdivision near the beach. A restrictive covenant was recorded in the public records relating to the subdivision that provided:
“Said land shall be used only for residential purposes, and not more than one detached single family dwelling house and the usual outhouses thereof, such as garage, servants’ house and the like, shall be allowed to occupy any residential lot as platted at any one time; nor shall any building on said land be used as a hospital, tenement house, sanitarium, charitable institution, or for business or manufacturing purposes nor as a dance hall or other place of public assemblage.”
Owners of property within the subdivision were advertising and using their property for short-term vacation rentals (so others could rent their residential property). The governing association contended that this violated the restrictive covenant because this was a business purpose and not a residential purpose. The problem, however, was that the restrictive covenant stated nothing about vacation rentals or that such rentals constituted a prohibited business purpose. Since the restrictive covenant is to be strictly construed, the court stated:
Finally, even if the restrictive covenants were susceptible to an interpretation that would preclude short-term vacation rentals, the omission of an explicit prohibition on that use in the covenants is fatal to the position advocated by the Association in this case because “[t]o impute such a restriction would cut against the principle that such restraints ‘are not favored and are to be strictly construed in favor of the free and unrestricted use of real property.’ ” Indeed, the need for explicit language in the covenants is particularly important where the use in question is common and predictable, as is the case with short-term rentals of houses near the beach to vacationers.
Santa Monica Beach Property Owners Association, supra (internal citation omitted).
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