Resolve Orchards tree dispute

Owning a house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association can be attractive to many buyers. The existence of an association can provide a level of assurance that a neighborhood won’t fall into disrepair or be marred by future blight. 

Homeowners associations also can be over-controlling, interfering in trivial issues that don’t affect the community as a whole. This is the case in an East Lyme neighborhood. Owners of one home are embroiled in a battle over whether four trees they planted parallel to the street, on their property, violate their homeowners association’s rules.

The Orchards is a neighborhood of sprawling, upscale houses perched high atop a ridge in the northern part of East Lyme. Purba Mukerji and Ali Rangwala understood when they purchased a home there in 2015 that the neighborhood homeowners association imposed certain rules about how and whether they could make changes and improvements on their property. Still, they were convinced that planting some dwarf fruit trees and a dwarf willow did not violate the association’s rules.

Yes, fruit trees — fitting seemingly for a place named The Orchards.

The neighborhood’s property manager saw it differently, issuing Mukerji and Rangwala an order to remove these trees, saying they were planted without association permission. The homeowners have refused and pointed to the association’s regulations to support their decision. The regulations list 16 examples of improvements that require the association board’s approval. All the examples are for man-made items such as patios, decks, fencing and swimming pools.

The association asserts a letter sent to property owners in November 2015 clarified that trees also were considered improvements in need of board approval. The letter was sent after Mukerji and Rangwala moved in and, presumably after they had read and agreed to regulations that were silent on the issue of tree planting.

The property manager told a Day reporter that a selling point for the neighborhood, and for having an association, is the assurance of community uniformity. From the colors and sizes of the houses, to the identical mailboxes, this neighborhood does demonstrate a high level of uniformity, so much so that a casual observer would have a difficult time identifying the trees in front of Mukerji and Rangwala’s property as being dramatically at odds with others in the neighborhood. Additionally, the homeowners feel they are the targets of selective enforcement. 

The legal threats should stop in this case. The association contends street trees must be 15 feet from the curb and Mukerji and Rangwala’s trees stand 14 feet from the curb. It makes little sense for either side to run up legal bills over what is essentially a 12-inch dispute. The association must be clear and specific about what its regulations cover and should work to ensure that all current and future homeowners at The Orchards understand and agree to these rules.

This editorial was updated to correct a factual error and further elaborate on the dispute.

 

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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