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Residential Development Owner Has No Obligation to Pay Sewer Fees

    The Court of Appeals reversed the master’s holding which allowed Dorchester County to bill the development owner for tenants’ sewer charges. Tranquil Properties, Inc., v. Dorchester County, 387 S.C. 474, 693 S.E.2d 24 (2010).

    This case involves a planned development in Dorchester County consisting of 40 individual units. Title to 39 of the units and the common areas was transferred to Tranquil Properties in 2006, subject to easements, restrictions and covenants of record. Each of the four buildings in the development connects via a feeder line to the main sewer tap located under a slab in the common area. Originally, the development used a private septic tank system, but later switched to the public sewer system.

    Prior to 2007, the County billed each unit individually for sewer use. However, in June of that year the County suddenly began billing Tranquil Properties directly for the entire development’s service. In response, Tranquil Properties brought a declaratory judgment action against the County.

    The master-in-equity referred to the original association covenants. Based on the association’s ability to assess fees “to promote the recreation, health, safety and welfare of the residents and for the improvement and maintenance of Common Areas,” the master determined that as owner of the common areas and successor to the association, Tranquil Properties had the responsibility to provide sewer service to its tenants.

    The court of appeals, however, determined that it was “too great a leap” to require Tranquil Properties to pay monthly sewer service. The court strictly construed the original covenants, and in doing so, found that there was no specific mention of this requirement. The court concluded by finding “no basis in the covenants to redirect that obligation.”

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