A Reflection About Dumping by John Patrick
May 26, 2013
After the September 2012 Pennwood Association Annual Meeting, I decided to give some serious thought and do some research into the issue of the dumping occurring at the Green Acres lot next to our home. I thought a good place to start was to speak to George Coutts. In the late 1940s, George and Anna Coutts, parents of George Coutts, purchased a large parcel along the shore of Lake Wallenpaupack as an investment. The land was then developed as the Penn Woods community. George is in his nineties but sounded as sharp as a tack.
When I described what was happening, George was appalled about the dumping of leaves on a common lot owned by the Association. He said the intention of the transfer of the common lots to the Association was for them to remain in their natural state. He described the issue as follows. Leaves falling from the trees on your property is a natural occurrence and when you dump them in your own back yard, they simply decompose. Gathering the leaves that fall from your trees and transporting and dumping them on property owned by the members is not natural and would understandably be offensive to any property owner living across the street or next to the dumping location. When dozens of people dump their leaves on one lot, it can have serious consequences including killing trees, attracting rats, and causing runoff of decomposed material down to the lake. George also said that dumping on a lot reduces the value of the property.
Mr. Coutts suggest I get another perspective on the matter and referred me to Mr. John Stieh, who has been the Coutts family attorney since the 1950s. I spoke with attorney Stieh about the issue. He too said it would be understandable for any property owner to be concerned about others dumping their leaves on a property in their view. Mr. Stieh referred me to the covenants that are linked to all of the deeds of property owners in Pennwood. He was clear that the intended purpose of the common lots was for them to remain natural and not a location for dumping of anything by any other property owner. He said some communities create a community composting pile for the common use of the community, but he has never heard of a situation where a community allowed dumping.
I then called my own attorney and had him get me a copy of the full deed that is applicable to each Pennwood property owner and to the Association as an owner of the common lots. The full deed has many detailed provisions that are not in the short version of the deed that is typically included in the sale; however, all deeds refer to and obligate each of us to the “rights and restrictions”. I have placed a link to a copy of mine on the Pennwood page.
The rights and restrictions make it very clear that none of us are allowed to engage in dumping of any kind. Following are some quotes from the deed. The reference to “seller or her agent” means Mrs. Anna Coutts, who was the owner of all the lots before any of us. For example, paragraph 1 says “nor shall anything be done on the lot or in any building thereon which may be an annoyance or nuisance to the occupiers or neighboring lands”. Paragraph number 4 says that “the lot may not at any time be cleared, excavated, graded or altered without first obtaining approval in writing from the seller provided, however, that the purchaser shall cut the brush on the lot and maintain the lot in a neat condition, and, if after July 1 in any year the lot in the opinion of the seller or her agent is untidy or unsightly, seller or her agent may clear or tidy the lot and charge reasonable cost of such work to the purchaser”. Paragraph 6 says “nor shall the premises be used for garbage disposal, dump or junk yard.”
It is clear that Anna Coutts intended for the lots deeded to the Association to be kept neat. I confirmed this with her son George who, as I mentioned, was appalled that some members would be dumping leaves on Association property. The rights and restrictions provision is what is called “covenants running with the land”. It is made very specific with the following words, “the purchaser covenants with the seller that the said purchaser will forever faithfully observe, keep and perform the said several restrictions, reservations, covenants, conditions and agreements and each of them”. As to the question raised at the May 2013 meeting, the deed also has provisions for enforcement and legal action in the event that any owner fails to observe any one of the restrictions.
Our president and the executive committee stood tall at the May 2013 meeting to protect the value of the members’ investment in Pennwood, including all of the common lots. If we let the common lots deteriorate, we are diminishing the value to all members. This matter does not require a petition or a vote by the members. It is an open and shut case that dumping is just plain not allowed according to the provisions of the deeds that all of us are bound by.