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Homeowners’ Association Issues In Tennessee: The Case Of The Stinking Unit

A recent Tennessee case involving a Nashville condominium and its homeowners’ association (also referred to herein as a “condominium association”) may not be very instructive legally, but it is bizarre enough to make an interesting blog post. Stacy Harris lived at the Windsor Tower Condominiums, a high-rise condo building on Harding Road in Nashville. Like all condominium residents, Ms. Harris was subject to terms in the master deed for the condominium as well as to the bylaws and rules and regulations of the condominium association.

The bylaws and rules and regulations in question forbid the owners of the individual units from carrying on any “unlawful noxious or offensive activities” or doing anything that amounted to a nuisance or “disturbance to others.” The bylaws stated that trash and garbage should be kept only in sanitary conditions, and should be “disposed of in a clean and sanitary manner.” Residents were also prohibited from causing an “unreasonable disturbance to others.” All of the foregoing are typical condominium association rules.
The property manager for the Windsor Tower began to receive complaints about noxious and offensive odors in the building. Eventually, it was determined that the odors were emanating from Ms. Harris’ unit. After a visit inside Ms. Harris’ unit, it was determined that there were “major sanitation issues” inside of her unit. The property manager reported that the smell inside Ms. Harris’ unit was so terrible that it made her eyes water and she had to fight her gag reflex.

To the great credit of the humanity of the residents and property manager of the condominium, they pitched in to assist in the cleaning of Ms. Harris’ unit, and in the disposal of the trash Ms. Harris had been hoarding inside her unit. So full of trash was Ms. Harris’ unit, that the dumpster which was provided by the homeowners’ association was filled and emptied three times with debris from Ms. Harris’ unit.
Not long after the heroic efforts which restored Ms. Harris’ unit to a sanitary condition and put an end to the foul odors, the odors came back. As you might guess, the source of the odors was, once again, Ms. Harris’ unit. After a period of trying to work with Ms. Harris to cure the unsanitary conditions in her unit, during which time complaints from other residents increased and Ms. Harris refused to cooperate in measures deemed necessary to restore her unit to a sanitary condition, the homeowners’ association filed a legal action to have Ms. Harris removed from her unit and to have the unit sold.

The Davidson County Chancery Court which heard the case held that Ms. Harris was in breach of contract by virtue of her breach of the master deed and bylaws. The court ordered Ms. Harris’ unit sold and that the proceeds of the sale be used to pay attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred by the homeowners’ association with any balance remaining to be paid to Ms. Harris. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Davidson County Chancery Court.This is an extreme and sad case. It is a reminder that, if you are enough of a scofflaw when it comes to the rules of the homeowners’ association, the association can use the “death penalty” of homeowners’ association penalties: the judicial sale.