A judge has ordered a group of Edmonton homeowners to change their roof shingles to fit within the rules dictated by a covenant in their south-Edmonton neighbourhood.
After six years and thousands of dollars spent on court fees, Joanne and Doug Britton have lost their fight to put rubber shingles on the roof of their home in Blackburne Creek, a neighbourhood just south of the Anthony Henday.
Doug Britton, a firefighter who works in Leduc, said Edmonton neighbourhoods should learn from the wildfire that tore through Fort McMurray three years ago and reconsider directives that order homeowners to use wood shingles.
"It's simply the esthetics of a wood roof over the common sense and safety of burning the whole community to the ground," Doug Britton said in an interview on Edmonton AM on Friday.
The Brittons purchased their two-storey home in 2006. By 2013, their pine-shake roof needed to be replaced. The couple researched the options and decided wood shingles were not a safe material.
"We back onto a ravine," Doug Britton said.
"We have what's called a wildland-urban interface problem where, behind our home, is a ravine. It's full of trees and a lot of highly combustible dead leaves, dead trees. The potential for fire is so high that I wanted to replace our roof with material that would prevent our home from burning down."
Covenant limits roofing materials
When they decided to replace the roof, the Brittons understood their home was subject to a restrictive covenant caveat. It stipulates that "all roofs are to be wood shakes or shingles only."
The president of the neighbourhood homeowners association immediately noticed the delivery of synthetic rubber roofing materials to the Brittons' house, and notified the couple that the materials did not comply with the covenant.
But the couple felt the clause did not exclude the rubber shingles they had selected. They've also argued the material complies with the intent of the design guidelines.
"It said wood shingles or shakes, so our product is a shake," said Joanne Britton.
"[In the covenant] they further clarify where they exclude certain shakes, so no asphalt shakes, no heavy tile shakes. That type of thing. They were defining certain shakes or shingles that did not belong. Our shingle is not a wood shake or shingle, and it's also not excluded in the sense that it is similar to those but different," said Doug Britton.
But the Blackburne Creek Homeowners Association disagreed. In an interview with the CBC, president Brian Hawrelak said the covenant was initially written by developers to keep a consistent look in the neighbourhood and to "keep the neighbourhood to a certain standard."
"It's on their title and they're bound by it," Hawrelak said. "And we're bound to uphold it. It was our duty. We didn't really have a choice. It was a challenge to the authority of restrictive covenants everywhere."
He thought the neighbours would change their roofing decision once informed the material was not suitable, and before it was installed.
Neighbourhood battle goes to court
The case ended up in court. The Brittons and two other homeowners who also decided to replace their roofs with rubber shingles have spent a total of almost $100,000 in legal fees.
Doug Britton said things have changed since the neighbourhood was first developed in the early 1990s.
"We know a lot more about wildland-urban interface fires now. We burned down part of Fort McMurray because of a wildland-urban interface fire. The covenant needs to be updated, needs to be changed."
In a decision released earlier this month, a judge found the homeowners association has the right to enforce the restrictive covenant and is entitled to a mandatory injunction to compel the Brittons, and the other homeowners, to replace their roofs.
The judge acknowledged it would cost the homeowners a lot of money to change their roofing materials, but said "that burden could have been avoided if they had not disregarded the warnings they received from the Homeowners Association."
The Brittons said they plan to apply for a stay on the decision. They believe their interpretation of the covenant is correct and fair.