Bottom line: A covenant violation by a homeowner does not justify or excuse a violation by another homeowner.

Noticing other plastic mailboxes in the neighborhood, a homeowner installs her own without seeking the approval of the architectural committee of his homeowners association. Soon thereafter, she gets a violation notice from the association board of directors: “Submit a request for review and approval by the architectural committee, or take it down.”

The governing documents for the association, which contain restrictions to which the homeowner agreed when she acquired property subject to such restrictions, prohibit improvements on the lot, including mailboxes, without approval by the architectural committee. Without hesitation, the homeowner submits her request. To her surprise, the request is denied. To add fuel to the fire, the denial letter warns her of a file of $100 per day that would be assessed if she does not take the plastic mailbox down (a file authorized by the North Carolina Planned Community Act for violations of governing documents).

“But I know of another owner who has a plastic mailbox!!!”, she complains. Boards of directors exercise their best business judgment when enforcing the association covenants. In doing so, the board has discretion to make decisions that are in the best interests of the communities. With regard to architectural committees, their task is usually to review the proposed improvement and determine whether such improvement is in harmony with the external design and appearance of the rest of the community. This is a case-by-case determination.

While boards of homeowners associations have the duty to enforce covenants uniformly among homeowners, one owner’s violation does not justify or excuse another’s. Without an overwhelming number of plastic mailboxes already in existence in the community or without an amendment to the covenants expressly allowing such mailboxes, the homeowner will likely lose a challenge to the denial by the architectural committee.