Georgia Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Fall 1981), pp. 33-75


Part I of this Article discusses two questions central to a general account of the problem of meaning in the law of subdivision covenants. First, whose meaning ought to count? The answer to this question is developed principally by contrasting the meaning problem in covenants law with the related problem in other legal realms such as contractual and statutory interpretation. Second, what should be the role in contemporary covenants law of the traditional rule requiring that ambiguity in covenant language be resolved in favor of the free use of land. Here the Article explores the nature of ambiguity and critiques the rationale typically given for the ambiguity/free-use rule. The meaning problem is the centerpiece of a series of recent covenants cases of considerable societal significance. Subdivision residents have invoked covenants restricting lots to single family use in an effort to block establishment in subdivisions of group homes for the mentally retarded or other dependent individuals. Thus, the courts have had to decide whether such group homes count as families within the meaning of single-family-use covenants. Apart from their social importance, the group homes cases are worthy of attention because they show how the subtle interplay of public policy and rights considerations can affect a court's approach to the meaning problem. Part II of this Article is devoted to the group homes cases.