Tanglewood v Isenhour
A Legal Moment

Appellate Decision Sheds Light on Owners' Obligation for Maintenance in a Voluntary Association; Reaffirms "Lot Combination" Rule

   The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently held that property owners within a subdivision must contribute their fair share to maintaining all of the subdivision’s roads and amenities even though they actually used only a portion of the roads to get to and from their home, did not use any of the subdivision’s amenities, and were not even members of the subdivision’s voluntary owners’ association.

   In Tanglewood POA v. Isenhour, the property owners argued that if they bore any responsibility for maintenance at all, it should be limited to contributing a pro rata share to the maintenance of the portion of road they actually used, and not for amenities ‒ a boat ramp and picnic area among them ‒ that they did not use.  Although the trial court agreed with the Isenhours, the Court of Appeals did not.
   First noting that there was no binding agreement on the matter, and that the Isenhours freely admitted that they owned easements to all of the common area and roads by virtue of the subdivision plat, the Court of Appeals held that the Isenhours should contribute to maintenance of all of the common area depicted on the plat.  While the Isenhours themselves may not be using the amenities and other roads in the Subdivision, the Court stated, their easement afforded them the right to do so and that right would “run with the land;” this conferred a benefit and added value to their property, the Court concluded.
   In analyzing the situation, the Court was careful to point out the importance of the fact that the Isenhours used a portion of the road for ingress and egress, suggesting the possibility that it might have held differently if the defendants had no interaction whatsoever with the common areas and roads (e.g., separate access to state-maintained roads).
Claremont Decision re “Lot Combination” Reaffirmed
   In a notable digression, the Court of Appeals further held that the Isenhours owed two assessments ‒ one for each of the original two lots that they had purchased ‒ despite the fact that they had since combined their lots into one for tax purposes.
   In reaching that conclusion, the Court relied on, and essentially reaffirmed the holding it reached sixteen years ago in Claremont v. Gilboy.  In Claremont, the Court articulated the rule that, absent any contrary provisions in the governing documents, combining previously-platted lots does not relieve an owner from paying the same number and amount of assessments as the owner did on the lots as originally purchased.  Until the Tanglewood case, the Claremont opinion remained something of an “outlier” with no decisions in North Carolina either following or distinguishing it since it was decided in 2001.
   Tanglewood underscores that the rule in Claremont remains the law of North Carolina.  Keep in mind, however, that a subdivision’s declaration can expressly counter that holding by expressly providing for lot combinations that reduce the owners’ obligations for assessments.


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Philip Roth is a founding shareholder at Marshall, Roth & Gregory, PC. One of the firm's principal litigators, Philip's practice involves myriad issues involving community associations.

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