Association trustees are batting .500 in two recent and colorful Appeals Court decisions.  Trustees of a homeowner’s association got on base in Rawan v. Massad (pdf), in which the defendants, Mr. and Mrs. Massad, baseball and bat.jpgdecided to help their son and others in the community “play ball” by creating a regulation baseball diamond on their property.  The town had only one other ballfield, and the Massads’ field was a hit.  The field was used for practices and games (without charge) by other kids and coaches, as well as by two baseball leagues.  It was so busy that the Massads built a separate driveway to access the field.

The trustees objected because the association’s master declaration contained a restriction that lots “shall be used for single family residential purposes only.”  They also complained that the use violated an association regulation restricting the number of guest vehicles that could use the common driveway.  The Appeals Court enforced these provisions, rejecting the Massads’ claim that the regulations deprived them of their constitutional right to use their property.

The trustees of a condominium association did not fare as well when they sought to enjoin a unit owner from certain forms of expression.  In Board of Managers of Old Colony Village Condominium v. Preu (pdf), the Appeals Court considered a range of conduct by the defendant disgruntled unit owner.  Mr. Preu had placed bags of dog feces labeled with the name of the board president in a common area, apparently based on Preu’s belief that the president had allowed his dog to defecate in an area in which it was forbidden, and allegedly had committed misdeeds in the common area, such as obstructing fire doors that were supposed to remain open.

Preu also had posted hand-made signs in the trash area regarding the cleanliness of the condominium’s common areas, and had written “insulting messages” on the memo line of the checks by which he paid his monthly condominium fees.  In addition, he gave “a well-known and insulting hand gesture to [the president and] condominium manager, when he passed them in the common areas, as well as to security cameras around the premises.” 

For better or worse, the only issue on appeal concerned the signs in the trash room.  The lower court had enjoined Preu from having any contact – other than in writing – with condominium staff or board members, except in case of an emergency.  The Appeals Court found that this injunction was a prior restraint of speech in violation of Preu’s First Amendment rights.  It remanded the case for further findings and, presumably, consideration of narrower injunctive relief.