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Heritage Woods Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Wisniewski

A-4363-07T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009) (Unpublished)

HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATIONS; ATTORNEYS FEES — Attorneys fees are recoverable by a homeowners association if its declaration and by-laws so provide.

A homeowners association asked an owner to remove a recreational gym the owner had placed on common property adjacent to his home. The homeowner refused to do so. The association’s board of trustees sued the homeowner. The lower court ordered removal of the gym. For several months, the homeowner ignored the order. The lower court ultimately ordered the homeowner to pay the association’s attorney’s fees and costs, and to pay the fines imposed by the court for failure to comply with its order. The court held that it had the inherent power to enforce its own orders. The homeowner appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Specifically, it held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion when it awarded counsel fees or imposed fines. The Court found that counsel fees were recoverable by the association pursuant to its declaration and by-laws. The by-laws gave the association the power to enforce the terms of its by-laws which provided that the breaching party pay the entire cost of enforcing its terms. It held that the owner’s installing and then continued refusal to remove the recreational gym from common property violated the association’s declaration and by-laws. The Court also found that the lower court sufficiently articulated its reasons for the award of counsel fees; the lower court referred to the significantly complex issues of the case, and to the fact that the homeowner made no specific challenge to the fee calculation or nature of services rendered.

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