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Playhouse used as storage shed runs afoul of local association

Q. I purchased a new home in Fallston Valley Farms in 2003. I later put a "playhouse" in the rear yard. I submitted all required information to the community association, including a plat of the property showing where the structure would be placed, dimensions of the structure, material and color of the structure and landscaping around it. I even faxed a picture of the "playhouse" to them.

In August 2004, I received a certified letter from the architectural review committee of the Fallston Valley Homeowners Association Inc. [saying] that prior approval was granted to you for the use of a "playhouse" but [that] the structure actually installed can in no manner be characterized as a "playhouse."

They said I would have to remove it or attach it to the house. I received another certified letter recently from attorneys of the association saying again that approval had been granted to install and maintain a "playhouse" but that I installed a shed. They say I have 15 days to remove it and I can be fined for every day thereafter. A few of my neighbors are in my same situation.

How can they change from approval to not approved and hold me liable? The shed-playhouse has windows on either side of the door and an octagonal window above the door. It matches the architecture of my home. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

A. Apparently, you are using the playhouse as a storage shed. Since the architectural review committee approved the design and placement of the structure, you probably cannot be forced to remove it. Whether you can use the playhouse for storage depends on the answers to several questions:

Do the covenants of the homeowners association prohibit the use of a structure for storage? If yes, then you will be unable to use the structure for storage purposes.

Did the approval of the architectural review committee in any way limit the use of the structure? If so, your use of the playhouse may be limited so that you cannot use it for storage.

Did you misrepresent the use or purpose of the "playhouse" when you sought approval?

Are there other approved structures in the community that are used for storage? If so, you may have a right to use the "playhouse" for storage purposes.

I suggest you and your neighbors who are in the same situation get together and consult an attorney. Based on a thorough review of the HOA protective covenants and the prior submission to and approvals by the architectural review committee, your lawyer can draft an appropriate response to the letter from the HOA's attorney.

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