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NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING
MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL
GEM ESTATES MOBILE HOME
VILLAGE ASSOCIATION, INC.,
Case No. 2D03-5605
Opinion filed October 20, 2004.
Appeal from the Circuit Court
for Pasco County;
Lynn Tepper, Judge.
Charles D. Waller of The Law Office of
Charles D. Waller, P.A., Dade City,
Larry S. Hersch of Hersch & Kelly, P.A.,
Dade City, for Appellee.
Gem Estates Mobile Home Village Association (the Association), a not-for-
profit association of owners of mobile home lots in the Gem Estates mobile home park
(Gem Estates), appeals the denial of injunctive relief with respect to an alleged violation
of the setback requirements in a recorded restrictive covenant. Because we conclude
the trial court misinterpreted the pertinent setback provision, we reverse.
The Association sought injunctive relief with respect to appellee Vicki
Bluhm's addition to her mobile home of an attached, enclosed screen porch. The
Association contended that the addition was a violation of a recorded restriction
applicable to each mobile home in Gem Estates. The restriction at issue states, in
pertinent part, that "each mobile home shall be set back fifty (50) feet from the center
line of the street which it faces." The parties stipulated that the addition of the porch
caused Bluhm's structure to be thirty-seven feet from the center line of the street. The
restrictions also provide that "[a]ll mobile homes and utility buildings shall be approved
by the Board of Directors before being placed on any lot." It was uncontroverted that
Bluhm did not seek approval for the porch. Bluhm also admitted that she was aware of
the fifty-foot setback requirement when she caused the porch to be added to her mobile
home. An additional provision of the restrictions contains standards for materials used
in constructing and a ninety-day time limit to complete construction of "[a]ll detached
rooms, porches, utility buildings placed on any parcel and all additions to each mobile
home." The provision further provides that "[a]ny detached buildings shall be
constructed or placed no closer than six (6) feet to the back parcel line."
After a brief evidentiary hearing, the circuit court judge placed an oral
decision on the record denying relief to the Association. In justifying its ruling, the court
cited the definition of mobile home in section 723.003(3), Florida Statutes (2003):
The term "mobile home" means a residential structure,
transportable in one or more sections, which is 8 body feet
or more in width, over 35 body feet in length with the hitch,
built on an integral chassis, designed to be used as a
dwelling when connected to the required utilities, and not
originally sold as a recreational vehicle, and includes the
plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, and electrical systems
According to the circuit court, the porch, which was affixed to Bluhm's
mobile home at the roof, was not a mobile home because the porch had no wheels or
chassis. The porch was completely attached to the ground and was not transportable.
The court stated that because the porch was not a mobile home it was not subject to the
fifty-foot setback requirement in the restrictions. The court also stated that since the
restrictions specifically mentioned the construction of porches, it was contemplated that
the mobile home owners might add to a mobile home a porch or other structures subject
to the construction material requirements and the ninety-day construction time limit in
the restrictions. The court also concluded that the six-foot setback provision with
respect to "detached buildings" was inapplicable to the porch since it was attached to
the mobile home. The court also reasoned that the porch was neither a mobile home
nor a utility building and therefore was not subject to preapproval by the board. Having
concluded that the porch did not have to comply with the fifty-foot setback requirement
and that approval of the board was not required for addition of the porch to the mobile
home, the circuit court denied the application for injunctive relief.
The trial court's ruling regarding the meaning of the restrictive covenant
provisions is subject to de novo review. See Klak v. Eagles' Reserve Homeowners'
Ass'n, 862 So. 2d 947, 954 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004); see also Kaplan v. Bayer, 782 So. 2d
417, 419 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) ("Because interpretation of a contract is a question of law,
we apply a de novo standard of review."). In interpreting restrictive covenant provisions,
a court should give effect to the commonly understood meaning of the words of the
pertinent provisions. See Klak, 862 So. 2d at 954 (holding that the trial court erred in
interpreting a provision of homeowners' association declaration because court
"neglected to give effect to the commonly understood meaning" of pertinent terms); see
also Interfirst Fed. Sav. Bank v. Burke, 672 So. 2d 90, 92 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996) ("Contract
language must be given its plain meaning."); Schechtman v. Grobbel, 226 So. 2d 1, 3
(Fla. 2d DCA 1969) ("[C]learly written provisions of contracts entered into by ordinary
men should be construed in the light of common understanding."); Beans v. Chohonis,
740 So. 2d 65, 67 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999) (stating principle of contract interpretation that
words must be "given their plain and ordinary meaning").
In ruling that the porch could be added to the mobile home, with the
resulting structure within thirty-seven feet of the center line of the street, the circuit court
failed to give effect to the plain meaning of the fifty-foot setback requirement. The trial
court's error arose from its failure to recognize that when a porch is added to the
structure of a mobile home (or manufactured housing unit) that porch becomes a part
of the mobile home. The term "mobile home" is commonly understood to encompass
any building structures that are attached to or built onto the manufactured housing unit.
The porch of a mobile home is as much a part of the mobile home as the porch of a
brick home is a part of the brick home.
Under the circuit court's interpretation, any mobile home owner in Gem
Estates could totally subvert and nullify the effect of the front setback requirement and
build to the street simply by making an addition to a mobile home. While "restrictive
covenants should be narrowly construed, 'they should never be construed in a manner
that would defeat the plain and obvious purpose and intent of the restriction.' " McMillan
v. Oaks of Spring Hill Homeowner's Ass'n, 754 So. 2d 160, 162 (Fla 5th DCA 2000)
(quoting Brower v. Hubbard, 643 So. 2d 28, 29 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994)); accord Prisco v.
Forest Villas Condo. Apartments, Inc., 847 So. 2d 1012, 1015 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). The
general rule is
that a reasonable, unambiguous restriction will be enforced
according to the intent of the parties, as expressed by the
clear and ordinary meaning of its terms. If it is necessary to
construe a somewhat ambiguous term, the intent of the
parties as to the evil sought to be avoided expressed by the
covenants as a whole will be determinative.
Eastpointe Prop. Owners' Ass'n v. Cohen, 505 So. 2d 518, 519 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987);
see also Imperial Golf Club, Inc. v. Monaco, 752 So. 2d 653, 654 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000)
(holding that restriction that no fences, hedges, or other obstructions be constructed
around or near the boundaries of property was designed to provide homeowners with a
clear view of the golf course and construction of a shelter and restroom facility near an
owner's property violated the restriction, reasonably construed, taking into account its
intent); Pelican Island Prop. Owners Ass'n v. Murphy, 554 So. 2d 1179, 1181 (Fla. 2d
DCA 1990) (stating that the court would enforce construction standards in a restriction
with respect to a noncompliant carport, the restriction having been established " 'with a
view to preserve the symmetry, beauty, and general good of all interested in the
scheme of development' ") (quoting Stephl v. Moore, 114 So. 455 (Fla. 1927)
(concerning a setback restriction)).
Our interpretation of the Gem Estates front setback requirement is simply
an application of the general rule that when an addition to a home that is originally
within a setback requirement of a restrictive covenant causes the structure to violate the
setback requirement, the setback requirement contained in a restrictive covenant can
be enforced with respect to the structure which became noncompliant as a result of the
addition. See Watson v. Buchanan, 344 So. 2d 644 (Fla. 2d DCA 1977) (holding that
setback requirement could be enforced with respect to added swimming pool
enclosure); Daniel v. May, 143 So. 2d 536 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962) (holding that setback
was enforceable with regard to carport addition).
The circuit court attempted to distinguish the porch from the mobile home
on the ground that the porch was permanently affixed to the site and because the porch
itself was not a mobile home under the statutory definition in section 723.003(3). The
trial court's reliance on the statutory definitionwhich is found in the Florida Mobile
Home Actis entirely misplaced. The sole function of that definition is to
demarcatetogether with other pertinent provisions of chapter 723the type of
properties to which the protections of the Mobile Home Act are applicable. The
definition has no application outside the context of chapter 723. See § 723.003
("DefinitionsAs used in this chapter, the following words and terms have the following
meanings. . . .") (emphasis supplied). The statutory definition thus has no relevance to
the interpretation of the Gem Estate restrictions. Moreover, there is nothing in the
definition itself which is inconsistent with the common understanding that additions to
mobile homes become a part of the mobile home.
The trial court's attempt to distinguish between the porch as something
permanently located and the mobile home as something not permanently located is also
unavailing. The court apparently reasoned that to be a mobile home a structure must
be mobile and that the porch did not fall within the scope of the fifty-foot setback
because it was not mobile. The fallacy involved here is apparent when we consider that
a mobile home structure to which a porch is attached thereby loses whatever mobility it
previously possessed. In its altered condition, the manufactured housing unit owned by
Bluhm was no more mobile than the porch to which it was attached. But under the
restrictions, the absence of mobility does not transform the manufactured housing unit
into something other than a mobile home. Nor does the absence of mobility prevent the
porch from being considered part of the mobile home.
The provision of the restrictions pertaining to the construction of porches,
cited by the circuit court, does not provide any basis to exclude Bluhm's mobile home
with the attached porch from the scope of the fifty-foot setback requirement. Part of the
cited provision contains a ninety-day construction time limitation and construction
material standards for porches and other enumerated structures. The six-foot setback
mentioned therein pertains only to "detached buildings," which the porch is not. In
addition, the six-foot setback requirement concerns distance from the side of the parcel,
not from the structure to the center line of the street which the structure faces. The fifty-
foot front setback requirement which is at issue here is not affected by the six-foot side
setback requirement for "detached buildings." There is nothing in the provision
pertaining to the construction of porches which indicates that the resulting structures are
not subject to the fifty-foot front setback requirement. The restrictions contemplate the
construction of porches, but the restrictions also contemplate compliance of the
resulting structure with the applicable setback requirements.
The circuit court correctly noted that the provision of the restrictions
requiring that "all mobile homes and utility buildings shall be approved by the Board of
Directors before being placed on any lot" does not specifically provide that an addition
to a mobile home be preapproved by the board. The Association argued that any
permanent addition to a mobile home requires preapproval by the board. In view of the
fact that our interpretation of the fifty-foot setback requirement is dispositive, we need
not address the issue of whether preapproval was required. In any event, we note that
the restrictions do not appear to contemplate the approval by the board of structures
that violate the applicable setback requirements.
Because the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the pertinent setback
provision, the judgment of the circuit court is reversed and the matter is remanded to the
circuit court with directions for entry of a judgment in favor of the Association, including
a declaration that the addition of the porch violated the setback restriction, an injunction
directing removal of the addition, and an award of attorneys' fees to the Association for
fees incurred before the circuit court, as provided in the recorded bylaws of the
Reversed and remanded with instructions.
WHATLEY and DAVIS, JJ., Concur.
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