Indoor Sprinkler System Required in Covenants

by Richard
(Mountain Home Idaho )

Visitor Question: I recently purchased a complete subdivision in Idaho. On the cc's&r it states each facility must have an indoor sprinkler system. The County Elmore has imposed the requirement by the fire chief. This requirement is not imposed on any other residents within Elmore County. Can I change it under the not reasonable rule?


Editors Comment: If this is a subdivision planned to contain single-family residences or mostly single-family residences, this requirement is indeed unusual. Even in very restrictive jurisdictions, it is not common to require indoor sprinklers unless there are at least four housing units in a building, and often a higher number than that.

Perhaps the reasoning behind this is the potential for wildfires in your area, which would be somewhat more understandable.

Having said this, now we must deal with the situation as it exists. This requirement is found in a deed restriction apparently, as you characterized it as being in the CC&Rs (codes, conditions and restrictions) document.

Consult an attorney to find out about the process for changing a deed restriction in Idaho. We are holding out some hope for this procedure to remedy your problem since you own an entire subdivision. Usually changing a deed restriction requires the agreement of whoever imposed the restriction in the first place--perhaps the person you bought the property from.

If that person agrees that this is not a reasonable restriction, or that he or she simply doesn't care any more, he or she might be cooperative in removing it if you will pay the legal costs.

If the person imposing the restriction does not agree, cannot be located, or has died and left heirs, your path becomes more difficult. If the author of the deed restriction wants to see it remain in place, you're stuck.

If the author has died and left heirs, state law or sometimes the language of the particular deed restriction will govern what happens. Sometimes unanimous consent of all heirs will be required, and in other times and places, only a majority or super-majority. Of course if you have multiple heirs, the difficulty of even finding them and having them answer you is multiplied.

In all dealings with a previous owner or heirs, be very careful to remain calm and civil. This is kind of obvious, but often we see someone lose his or her temper when dealing with someone unreasonable. After all, you would be asking someone to change their opinion on something that he or she wrote up.

If our guess is incorrect, and there was a longer chain of property transfers between the original author of the restriction and yourself, this also complicates the picture both in terms of locating that person and perhaps in terms of the process.

This really covers the territory as far as changing a deed restriction. However, one loose end in your question is bothering us. You say that the fire chief is requiring this. This statement implies that perhaps you are saying cc&r's but really where the restriction was imposed was within the county's development approval for the subdivision.

That would be a whole different matter. In a way it would be easier for you to tackle, as you would approach the county government directly and have no need for attorneys, finding heirs, and so forth. But on the other hand if the current fire chief is telling you that you must install the indoor sprinkler systems when you build, be very well prepared to have allies when you go into this argument.

Most local governments will back their staff members, at least the police and fire chiefs, on matters such as this. Your best argument is the fairness question--you should repeat frequently that no one else is being required to do this. Of course that becomes much weaker if the restriction was imposed because your land is considered within a geography especially prone to forest fires.

If your situation is that the restriction really stems from the development approval ordinance, then the governing body of the county can remove that restriction after following the same public hearing and voting process in which it was imposed in the first place. This process concludes within a couple of months usually, and doesn't require an attorney unless that is the custom where you live. Just be prepared for an effective political argument if you go that route.

Good luck in resolving this issue of sprinkler systems in restrictive covenants.


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