SC Court of Appeals Upholds Developer’s Plan for Tailgate Condo Project

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The SPUR avoids kiddie condo status.

In a case decided in the midst of a wretched Carolina football season, the South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a restriction against rentals to students in a condominium project that was clearly built to accommodate terrific tailgate parties.

williams brice condoLalla v. The SPUR at Williams Brice Owners Association, Inc.* involved a three bedroom condominium in the shadow of Williams Brice stadium purchased in 2007 for $470,000. Mr. and Mrs. Lalla purchased the condo intending to enjoy football games and to allow their daughter and two roommates to live there during college.  However, the great market decline beginning in 2008 spoiled their plans.

The Master Deed contained a prohibition against renting to any student enrolled in a two or four year college. But owners could allow their children or grandchildren to reside in or rent a unit along with rent-paying roommates.

When the market declined, the value of the condominium substantially decreased in value, and the Lallas unsuccessfully attempted to sell it. At the time of the appellate court hearing in 2014, the condo had been on the market for four years.

During the summer of 2010, the Lallas notified the owners’ association of their decision to rent to college students and began to do so. In June of 2010, the board of the association met and considered a comment card from a unit owner complaining that the association was allowing the project to turn into a dormitory.  Following this meeting, the board sent out a notice to each owner indicating the restrictions would be enforced and giving owners until May of 2011 to terminate any violating leases.

When the rules were not followed by Mr. and Mrs. Lalla, the association filed a declaratory judgment action seeking interpretation and enforcement of the master deed. The Lallas answered and counterclaimed, seeking a ruling that the restrictions were null and void because of changed circumstances. The association prevailed in the circuit court, and the Lallas appealed, asserting that the restrictions discriminated against a specific class of individuals (college students) and are unreasonable because the violation caused no damage to other property owners.

football tailgateThe discrimination argument failed because ”college students have not faced a long history of discrimination, are not an insular minority, and have not been classified according to an immutable trait acquired at birth.” In other words “college students” is not an inherently suspect class. The purpose of the restriction, to insure the comfort and safety of the residents and to protect the investment of the property owners by minimizing the risk of creating a dormitory-like atmosphere, was held to be rational.

The Court of Appeals also held that the economic change in circumstances failed to support the termination of the restriction because the declining market had no effect on the association’s need to minimize the risk that the project might develop a dormitory-like atmosphere.

South Carolina dirt lawyers like to see restrictive covenants enforced as written, so this case matches our world view.  And the Carolina fans among us dream of an outstanding replacement for Steve Spurrier so those terrific tailgate parties can resume!

SC Supreme Court Crafts New Foreclosure Law

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foreclosureFailure to file bond does not render appeal moot

In a case decided on November 4*, the Supreme Court of South Carolina interpreted S.C. Code §18-9-170** in a way that may come as a surprise to dirt lawyers.

The case arose from the foreclosure of an HOA lien. The absentee owner defaulted in the foreclosure and did not appeal. Instead, he moved to vacate the resulting sale. When his motion to vacate was denied, the master issued a deed to the successful bidder, and the defaulting owner appealed without filing an appeal bond.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that the property owner failed to comply with the statute that would have stayed the sale, and, therefore the master-in-equity’s deed rendered the appeal moot.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for a decision on the merits.

Real estate practitioners have likely read §18-9-170 to mean that failure to file a bond in this situation renders the appeal moot. This case indicates that the failure to file a bond may not be an issue. If no bond is filed, the master may issue the deed to the successful bidder, but the appeal can proceed. By implication, if the appeal is successful, then the purchaser’s deed may be set aside. The Court specifically stated that the master’s deed does not moot the appeal, and the appellate court may reach the merits.

For title examiners and the lawyers who rely on title examinations, this case means that whether or not an appeal bond has been filed, we must pay attention to a case on appeal.

* Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc., v. Alexander, Appellate Case No. 2012-21340, Opinion 27585

** S.C. Code §18-9-170 reads in relevant portion: “If the judgment appealed from directs the sale or delivery of possession of real property, the execution of the judgment shall not be stayed unless a written undertaking be executed….”