This is a lawsuit attempting to enforce a restrictive covenant on the use of lots in a residential development. A restrictive covenant is a type of private zoning law that is established by deed when land is subdivided. It protects occupants from uses of the land that depress its value or decrease its enjoyment.
In this case, there was a restrictive covenant dealing with defendant Ramey’s land that limited the number of out-buildings that could exist and horses that could be kept on the property. The trial court granted the other land owners’ request to order the Rameys to comply with the covenant.
In this opinion, the Court of Appeals disagrees with the trial court. The original restrictive covenant expired before the Rameys bought their house and lot. Under Iowa law, such a covenant expires in 21 years unless it is extended by action of the land owners. None of the actions in this case satisfied the legislature’s requirement for an extension. So, the horse owner wins.
Michael and Marla Ramey appeal from the district court ruling granting the Plaintiffs' petition for injunctive relief. Because we find the Plaintiffs' petition barred by the statute of limitations pursuant to Iowa Code section 614.24 (1997), we reverse.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEEDINGS.
On July 15, 1977, Dorr and Louise Beattie filed restrictive covenants regarding Rising Sun Estates, a development located in southeastern Polk County. The covenants contained the following relevant restrictions:
(a) All lots described herein shall be known, described and used solely as residential lots, no structures shall be erected on any residential building lots other than one detached single-family dwelling not to exceed two (2) stories in height and a one or two-car garage and a storage building of one- story construction.
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(j) The owner of a lot shall not exceed one (1) dog and one (1) cat per household exclusive of unweaned baby dogs and cats and shall not exceed one (1) horse and such horse shall be kept at least, two hundred fifty (250) feet from the front lot line.
(k) These covenants are to run with the land and shall be binding on all parties and all persons claiming under them until 2000 at which time said covenants shall be automatically extended for successive periods of ten (10) years unless by vote of the majority of the then owners of the lots, it is agreed to change the said covenants in whole or in part.
On February 24, 1984, the following amendments to the covenants were filed in the office of the Polk County Recorder:
We do hereby ratify all of the restrictive covenants of record against the subject real estate except restrictive covenant (j) which shall be amended as follows:
(j) The owner of a lot shall not exceed one (1) dog and one (1) cat per household exclusive of unweened baby dogs and cats and shall not exceed two (2) horses and such horses shall be kept at least two hundred fifty (250) feet from the front lot line.
The 1984 amendments were approved by all property owners, but were not notarized or indexed in the claimant's book.
In 1982, Craig Hamilton purchased Lot 2 in Rising Sun Estates. He added a house and a garage to the property in 1988. Throughout the next eight years, Hamilton added five additional outbuildings on the lot. In July 1998, the Rameys entered into an agreement to purchase the Hamilton property.
On August 24, 1998, the Plaintiffs, property owners in Rising Sun Estates, filed a petition seeking enforcement of the development's restrictive covenants. In particular, the Plaintiffs alleged Hamilton had violated the restrictions regarding storage buildings and animals. The Plaintiffs requested the court to require Hamilton to comply with the restrictive covenants, namely, to remove the outbuildings and animals. On August 27, 1998, the transaction closed on the sale of Lot 2 to the Rameys.
In December 1999, the Plaintiffs amended the restrictive covenants. [FN1] The Rameys filed a motion to intervene, which the court granted, and a motion for summary judgment. In ruling on the motion for summary judgment, the district court dismissed Hamilton from the lawsuit and struck the provision from the 1999 amendments that prohibited property owners from keeping horses on their lots. The Rameys subsequently filed a counterclaim requesting injunctive relief prohibiting enforcement of the remaining 1999 amendments.
FN1. The December 1999 amendments included the following provisions:
1. The restrictions concerning the car garage will allow an attached or detached garage to house two (2) or more cars.
2. If a boundary fence is shared with a lot included in but adjacent to one of the properties within the plat, it shall be maintained by the non- covered property owner and shall not be in violation of these covenants.
3. That these covenants shall prohibit any horse or livestock being housed or maintained on the subject real estate.
4. Further, that any parts of the original restrictive covenants or the amended restrictive covenants that are in conflict with this amendment shall be deleted and this amendment shall be the restrictive covenant in force.
The case was tried on November 20, 2000. The district court granted injunctive relief to the Plaintiffs and ordered the removal of certain buildings from the Rameys' property. In addition, the court enjoined the Rameys from adding on to any existing building. On appeal, the Rameys contend the district court erred in (1) ruling Iowa Code section 614.24 does not preclude enforcement of the restrictive covenants, (2) finding certain equitable defenses did not bar the Plaintiffs' claims, and (3) enjoining the Rameys from adding on to any existing building on their property.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW.
Our review of equity cases is de novo. Iowa R.App. P. 6.4. Although not bound by the trial court's determination of factual findings, we will give considerable weight to them, especially when considering the credibility of witnesses. Iowa R.App. P. 6.14(6)(g ).
The Rameys contend the district court erred in ruling section 614 .24 does not preclude enforcement of the restrictive covenants. We agree.
Section 614.24 imposes "a statutory limit on the life of land use restrictions ... by providing for automatic termination of the covenants in the absence of affirmative actions to continue them ..." Compiano v. Jones, 269 N.W.2d 459, 461 (Iowa 1978). The statute provides in relevant part:
No action based upon any claim arising or existing by reason of the provisions of any deed or conveyance ... or use restrictions in and to the land therein described shall be maintained either at law or in equity in any court to recover ... after twenty-one years from the recording of such deed of conveyance ... unless the claimant shall ... file a verified claim with the recorder of the county wherein said real estate is located within said twenty- one year period.
Iowa Code § 614.24. To extend a restrictive covenant for an additional twenty-one years, any claim filed
shall be indexed under the description of the real estate involved in a book set apart and especially designed for that purpose to be known as the 'claimant's book' and kept in the office of the recorder of the county where such real estate is situated, and said statement, when so indexed, shall be recorded as other instruments affecting real estate.
Iowa Code § 614.18; see also Iowa Code § 614.26 ("The provisions of section 614.18 are made applicable to the provisions of sections 614.24 to 614.28.").
The Rameys contend the restrictive covenants automatically terminated on July 15, 1998, twenty-one years after the date of their original filing, pursuant to section 614.24. See Amana Soc. v. Colony, Inn, Inc., 315 N.W.2d 101, 106-11 (Iowa 1982) (holding twenty-one year period runs from the date the deed restrictions are filed). The Rameys further contend the 1984 amendment was ineffective to extend the duration of the 1977 covenants because it did not express an intent to do so, and because it was not properly verified or indexed in the claimant's book. We agree.
The extension requirements of section 614.24 have been strictly construed. See Compiano v. Jones, 269 N.W.2d at 462 (finding claim filed by lot owners to extend use restrictions ineffective because improperly indexed and notarized by interested party); see also Compiano v. Kuntz, 226 N.W.2d 245, 249 (Iowa 1975) (holding land use restrictions unenforceable when requirements of section 614 .24 are not met). "It is necessary that a verified claim be filed and indexed in the claimant's book." Compiano v. Jones, 269 N.W.2d at 462. "It is vital that one who searches the records should know where to look and should know, too, when he need look no further." Id.
Because the 1984 amendment failed to express the intent to extend the duration of the covenants and was not notarized or appropriately indexed, we conclude the restrictive covenants expired on July 15, 1998. Accordingly, we conclude the Plaintiffs' action filed on August 24, 1998 is barred by the statute of limitations pursuant to section 614.24. Thus, the district court erred by ordering the Rameys to remove buildings from their property and enjoining them from constructing any additional buildings on their property. Because we have concluded the Plaintiffs' claim is barred because the covenants expired before this action was commenced, we need not address the merits of the Rameys' equitable defenses. We reverse the decision of the district court and remand for dismissal of the case.
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