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2008-UP-332 - BillyBob’s Marina v. Blakeslee

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals


Case No.: 2006-CP-07-01418 BillyBob’s Marina, Inc., d/b/a Outdoor Resort and Yacht Club, Appellant,

v.

Dwight Blakeslee, Respondent.

Case No.:  2006-CP-07-01477 BillyBob’s Marina, Inc., d/b/a Hilton Head Harbor RV Resorts and Marina, Appellant,

v.

George Martin, Respondent.


Appeal From Beaufort County
 Ellis B. Drew, Jr., Special Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2008-UP-332
Submitted June 1, 2008 – Filed July 1, 2008 


AFFIRMED


James B. Richardson, Jr., of Columbia and James O. Hale, of Hilton Head Island, for Appellant.

John R. C. Bowen, of Hilton Head Island, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM:  BillyBob’s Marina, Inc., d/b/a Outdoor Resort and Yacht Club (BillyBob), filed these actions against Dwight Blakeslee and George Martin.  The trial court granted summary judgment to Blakeslee and Martin.  BillyBob appeals.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS[2]

Outdoor Resorts RV Resort and Yacht Club (the Development) is a recreational vehicle (RV) resort and marina located on Jenkins Island in Beaufort County.  From the Development’s inception in 1981, it has consisted of several separate areas including a marina, the resort including 200 lots with parking pads for RVs (lots), and a real estate and rental management business.  The Development, a South Carolina General Partnership, developed the resort and owned the marina and rental management business.  In June 1981, the “Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions for Outdoor Resorts, R.V. Resort and Yacht Club and Provisions for the R.V. Resort and Yacht Club Owners’ Association, Inc.” (the Covenants) were recorded.  

The Covenants provide the Developer has the exclusive right to rent lots belonging to the individual owners within the resort when not occupied by the owner(s) and his or her guest(s) at the scheduled rate promulgated by the Developer.  The Covenants further provide the Developer shall retain fifty percent “of rental collected on any Lot” and remit the remaining fifty percent to the lot owner.    

On August 31, 1999, BillyBob purchased the marina and rental management businesses, real estate in the Development, and the Developer’s right to rent lots.  Based on BillyBob’s changes in restrictions and fee collections, the Association and several lot owners filed an action alleging, inter alia, BillyBob violated the Covenants.  BillyBob counterclaimed asserting numerous violations of the Covenants including Blakeslee’s alleged violation of a covenant restricting permanent residences in the resort.  The referee found, inter alia, Blakeslee was not in violation of the Covenants.  BillyBob appealed to this court, and in RV Resort v. BillyBob’s Marina, Inc., this court affirmed the referee’s finding.

During the pendency of that action, BillyBob filed these actions, again alleging Blakeslee was in violation of the covenant restricting permanent residences.  BillyBob likewise alleged Martin’s use violated the Covenants.  In separate orders, the trial court found neither Blakeslee nor Martin violated the Covenants.  The trial court also awarded Blakeslee and Martin attorney’s fees and costs.  BillyBob appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The character of an action as legal or equitable depends on the relief sought.  Cedar Cove Homeowners Ass’n v. DiPietro, 368 S.C. 254, 258, 628 S.E.2d 284, 286 (Ct. App. 2006).  An action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is an equitable action.  South Carolina Dep’t of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 622, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302 (2001).  In an action in equity, we may find facts in accordance with our own view of the evidence.  Id.  “As a practical matter, however, we . . . defer to the good judgment of the trial court who heard and observed the witnesses.”  Costa & Sons Constr. Co. v. Long, 306 S.C. 465, 468, 412 S.E.2d 450, 452 (Ct. App. 1991).

LAW/ANALYSIS

BillyBob argues the trial court erred in finding the Covenants do not prohibit lot owners from permanently residing on their lots.  We disagree. 

Article VIII, section 8.1, of the Covenants states:

It is the specific intent of this Declaration to create and maintain a lu[x]ury resort for recreation vehicles and to prohibit permanent or semi-permanent structures as well as any structure or vehicle which is used as, or designed for use as, permanent living quarters on any Lot.  In that regard, all Lots . . . shall be reserved and restricted for recreation campsites and camping vehicles, including . . . modern travel trailers . . . and other similar types of camping trailers and equipment that are mobile. . . .  Lot Owners . . . are prohibited from erecting or placing on any Lot any permanent or semi-permanent structure or any vehicle which is designed as permanent living quarters, which prohibited structures include, without limitation, the following:  (a) screen rooms, carport, metal awnings . . . ; (b) travel trailers longer than thirty-five (35) feet . . . ; (c) mobile homes; (d) any structure which cannot be transported within the pulling vehicle . . . ; (e) any structure placed on the Lot on blocks . . . ; (f) any structure not intended to be temporary, that is, any structure intended not to be readily movable; and (g) any structure designed, intended or used as permanent living quarters.  Provided, this paragraph is not intended to prohibit or limit the utilization of otherwise permissible recreation vehicles as described above . . . .  It is the declared intent of the Developer to exclude mobile homes from being placed on any Lot, and to create and maintain an area designated for maximum beauty and benefit of campers.

Blakeslee and Marvin own travel trailers that are not restricted by the Covenants.  BillyBob presented evidence that Blakeslee lives exclusively in his travel trailer, resided for more than twelve consecutive months on his lot in the resort, and claimed the homestead exemption for his lot.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 12-37-250 (Supp. 2007) (providing real estate taxation relief for dwelling place).  BillyBob likewise alleged Martin used his lot as permanent living quarters.[3]  BillyBob relies on the language prohibiting “permanent living quarters” to argue the Covenants restrict the amount of time a Lot owner may spend on his or her lot.  

Restrictive covenants are contractual in nature and rules of contract interpretation apply.  Hardy v. Aiken, 369 S.C. 160, 166, 631 S.E.2d 539, 542 (2006).  However, restrictions on the use of property are strictly construed with all doubts resolved in favor of the free use of property.  Id. 

Reading Article VIII, section 8.1, of the Covenants as a whole, we agree with the trial court that the covenant is intended to exclude mobile homes and permanent structures so as to prevent the resort from becoming a mobile home park.  The Covenants do not place any limit on the amount of time owners may use or occupy their lots. We do not read the language prohibiting “permanent living quarters” as restricting an owner’s use of their lot to a certain period of time when they are using an otherwise acceptable vehicle on the lot.  We find support for this interpretation in the Covenant’s provision stating: “this paragraph is not intended to prohibit or limit the utilization of otherwise permissible recreation vehicles . . . . It is the declared intent of the Developer to exclude mobile homes from being placed on any Lot, and to create and maintain an area designated for maximum beauty and benefit of campers.”  Accordingly, we find the trial court did not err in finding the Covenants do not prohibit lot owners from permanently residing on their lots.

BillyBob also argues the award of attorney’s fees and costs should be reversed if we reverse the trial court’s orders finding Blakeslee and Martin did not violate the Covenants.  Because we affirm said orders, we likewise affirm the orders granting attorney’s fees and costs.

For the foregoing reasons, the orders on appeal are

AFFIRMED.

HEARN, C.J., and SHORT and KONDUROS, JJ., concur.


[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2]  Some of the facts in this case are as reported in RV Resort v. BillyBob’s Marina, Inc., Op. No. 2007-UP-556 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Dec. 14, 2007).

[3]  Martin presented evidence he does not permanently reside on the lot but travels throughout the year in the trailer and also travels to a home in England.