CA Supreme Court Expands Scope of Attorney's Fees Awards Under Civ. Code Section 5975(c)

March 25, 2015,
*New Case Lawhoa-attorneys-fees.jpg

Litigation can be a time consuming and costly endeavor. These two factors typically weigh heavily against filing a lawsuit, especially where there is no ability for the party prevailing in the lawsuit to recover its attorney's fees and costs. By default, the "American Rule" with respect to attorney's fees awards states that each part must pay for its own attorney's fees and costs unless otherwise provided by statute or contract. (Code Civ. Pro. § 1021.) Fortunately, in the context of homeowners associations ("HOAs"), Civil Code Section 5975(c) allows for a prevailing party in an action to enforce HOA governing documents to recover its reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Section 5975 is a component of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act ("Act")--the principal body of Civil Code sections governing California HOAs and common interest developments ("CIDs").

In the recent case of Tract 19051 Homeowners Association v. Kemp (2015) 2015 Cal.LEXIS 1216 ("Kemp"), the California Supreme Court addressed the question of whether Section 5975(c) allows for a prevailing party to recover its attorney's fees and costs in a lawsuit brought under the Act even where the HOA in the lawsuit is not a CID and thus technically not subject to the Act...

Continue reading "CA Supreme Court Expands Scope of Attorney's Fees Awards Under Civ. Code Section 5975(c)" »

New Client: Spanish Walk Community Association

March 24, 2015,

Spanish-Walk.pngWe are proud to announce that Spanish Walk Community Association has selected Tinnelly Law Group as their associations' legal counsel.

Spanish Walk is a gated, master planned community with condominiums and single family homes. The community amenities include two pools and spas, fitness center, playground areas, billiard room, beautifully designed clubhouse with an equipped kitchen and large greenbelt nestled in Spanish style architecture and landscape.

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Our HOA attorneys and staff look forward to working with Spanish Walk's Board and management.

Expanded Emergency Regulation: Prohibited Irrigation Activities

March 18, 2015,

hoa-irrigation-sprinkler.jpg*New Regulations

The prolonged period of drought in California has resulted in numerous regulatory and legislative changes aimed at addressing the water shortage (i.e., legislation regarding low-water using plants and watering during droughts). On March 17, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted an expanded emergency regulation to safeguard California's remaining water supplies.

Under the expanded emergency regulation, additional prohibitions on potable water use have gone into immediate effect. All Californians are now prohibited from using potable water to:

  • Wash down sidewalks and driveways;
  • Water outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes excessive runoff
  • Washing a motor vehicle with a hose, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle:
  • Operating a fountain or decorative water feature, unless the water is part of a recirculating system; and
  • Irrigating turf or ornamental landscapes during and 48 hours following measurable precipitation (*New)
The newly adopted prohibition on irrigating turf/landscapes during and 48 hours following precipitation (rain) may impact the common area maintenance/irrigation practices of HOAs. Failure to comply with that provision could subject a HOA to a fine of $500 per day.

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To read more about the emergency regulation, click here.

New Client: Cariz Homeowners Association

March 17, 2015,

Cariz.pngWe are proud to announce that Cariz Homeowners Association has selected Tinnelly Law Group as their associations' legal counsel.

Cariz is a brand new community in the Village of Portola Springs in the City of Irvine. Spanish and Santa Barbara architecture create timeless curb appeal at Cariz by TRI Pointe Homes, a fresh collection of attached homes featuring hard-to-find single-level living and three-story plans that blend open design with relaxed sophistication. As part of the Village of Portola Springs, homeowners will enjoy proximity to the new Center Terrace Park with resort-inspired amenities and recreation.

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Our HOA attorneys and staff look forward to working with Cariz's Board and management.

Hardwood Flooring & 'Nuisance' Noise

March 9, 2015,
*New Case Lawhoa-condo-hardwood-flooring.jpg

Homeowners within condominium developments are typically granted broad authority in making improvements to the interior of their respective Units that do not require modification of association common area. However, because of the way in which condominium projects are built, certain improvements made within a Unit may ultimately impact the quiet use and enjoyment of neighboring homeowners (i.e., sound transmissions from hardwood or hard surface flooring). As indicated by the recent case of Ryland Mews Homeowners Association v. Munoz (2015) 2015 Cal.App.LEXIS 161 ("Ryland"), to the extent that a homeowner's interior improvements result in a nuisance to neighboring homeowners, an association does have the authority to compel the homeowner to modify or remove the improvements as necessary to abate the nuisance...

Continue reading "Hardwood Flooring & 'Nuisance' Noise" »

New Client: Discovery at Cortez Hill Homeowners Association

March 3, 2015,

Discovery.pngWe are proud to announce that Discovery at Cortez Hill Homeowners Association has selected Tinnelly Law Group as their associations' legal counsel.

Discovery is a luxury high-rise perched at the top of the Cortez Hill neighborhood. It features a three-level parking structure, a business office with fax and computers for residents, 24-hour concierge service, an elegant lobby, rooftop deck, and social lounge. The 10th-floor features a lap pool, outdoor spa and barbecue area, plus an extensive fitness center with sauna and steam room.

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Our HOA attorneys and staff look forward to working with Discovery at Cortez Hill's Board and management.

Personal Food Gardens Becoming a Nuisance?

February 5, 2015,

hoa-garden-rats.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked - Fallen and decayed vegetables from a homeowner's garden are attracting numerous rats and other pests. With the new law permitting personal food gardens, is there anything our HOA can do to address this issue?

Answered - Probably. AB 2561, effective January 1, 2015, added Section 1940.10 and 4750 to the Civil Code. In sum, Section 4750 grants homeowners within HOAs the right to use their backyards for "personal agriculture," regardless of any provisions contained in a HOA's governing documents to the contrary. However, that right is not absolute. HOAs still have some authority to restrict and regulate personal food gardens in the following respects:

  • Personal Use/Donation Only - The crops must be grown for personal use or donation. Crops grown for sale or other commercial purposes do not fall within the definition of "personal agriculture" for the purposes of Section 4750.
  • No Marijuana or Unlawful Substances - There is no right for a homeowner to grow "marijuana or any unlawful crops or substances," as those items do not constitute a "plant crop" permitted by Section 4750.
  • Only on Owner Property or Exclusive Use Common Area - The right to keep and maintain personal food gardens extends only to the owner's backyard or areas designated for the exclusive use of the homeowner (i.e., exclusive use common area patios), not general HOA common areas.
  • Reasonable Restrictions Permitted - The HOA may still impose "reasonable restrictions" on the use/maintenance of homeowner's yard for personal agriculture. "Reasonable restrictions" are those that "do not significantly increase the cost of engaging in personal agriculture or significantly decrease its efficiency."
  • Clearance of Dead Plant Materials and Weeds - Section 4750 still allows for HOAs to apply rules and regulations requiring that "dead plant material and weeds, with the exception of straw, mulch, compost and other organic materials" that encourage vegetation and soil moisture retention, be regularly cleared from the backyard. A rule or regulation requiring such clearance may be successful in resolving your rodent and pest problem.

As indicated above, the right to have a personal food garden would not necessarily insulate a homeowner from his obligation to comply with related provisions of a HOA's governing documents that serve as "reasonable restrictions" on the use of a yard for personal agriculture. For example, virtually every set of CC&Rs contains a provision prohibiting homeowner from conducting any activity on their property that poses a nuisance to neighboring homeowners. If the way in which a homeowner's food garden is being maintained is resulting in a nuisance (i.e., attracting rats and other pest populations), the nuisance provision would likely constitute a "reasonable restriction" that the HOA may enforce against the homeowner.

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In addition to the issues noted above, HOAs may, in some instances, have the authority to restrict food gardens that violate other provisions of the Association's governing documents that serve as "reasonable restrictions" allowable under Section 4750 (i.e., a height limitation within the HOA's landscaping standards may serve to prohibit crops that grow to unreasonable heights). HOA Boards that are encountering problems with food gardens should consult with their legal counsel for guidance as to how their governing documents may be tailored to address these types of issues.

To submit questions to the HOA attorneys at Tinnelly Law Group, click here.

New Client: Antigua Owners Association of Monarch Beach

January 20, 2015,

Antigua.png We are proud to announce that Antigua Owners Association of Monarch Beach has selected Tinnelly Law Group as their associations' legal counsel.

Antigua is set high up on the cliffs of Dana Point in the guard-gated community of Monarch Beach. The community consists of beautiful contemporary architecture around the award-winning St. Regis Golf Course and Hotel. The city is known as "the most romantic spot on the California Coast". With over 7 miles of beautiful beaches and award-winning hotels and golf-courses, Antigua residents enjoy some of the best views in all of California.

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Our HOA attorneys and staff look forward to working with Antigua's Board and management.

AB 2430 Signed: HOA Transfer Disclosure Docs; Seller Paid Fees

January 12, 2015,

hoa-transfer-fees.jpg*New Legislation

Civil Code Section 4530 sets forth the responsibility of homeowners associations ("HOAs") to provide copies of governing documents, financial disclosures and other documents to a homeowner (or a homeowner's authorized agent) within ten (10) days of a receipt of a request for those documents. This applies in the context of a sale of a property (a unit or lot) within a HOA. The documents to be produced are identified in Civil Code Section 4525, and are commonly known as "Transfer Disclosure Documents."

Section 4530 does provide a HOA with the right to "collect a reasonable fee" based upon its efforts in producing, preparing and delivering Transfer Disclosure Documents. However, in satisfying this request and in seeking reimbursement, disputes would sometime arise as to whom should pay the fee (i.e., should it be the seller of the property or the prospective purchaser).

Fortunately, AB 2430 (Maienschein), effective January 1, 2015, has amended Section 4530 to specify the seller's obligation to compensate the HOA for the aforementioned fee. Other notable changes in the law that will result from AB 2430 include:

  • The HOA must provide an estimate of the fees that will be assessed in producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents, prior to producing them.
  • The fees must be "separately stated" and "separately billed" from all other fees, fines or assessments that are billed as part of the transaction.
  • The Transfer Disclosure Documents may not be bundled with any other documents.
  • If the seller is in possession of any Transfer Disclosure Documents, the seller is required to provide copies to the prospective purchaser at no cost.
  • The form used for estimating the fees, as described in Civil Code Section 4528, is amended to include the following within the rightmost column of the form: "Not Available (N/A), Not Applicable (N/App), or Directly Provided by Seller and confirmed in writing by Seller as current document (DP)."

hoa laws

AB 2430's primary benefit is in clarifying the party responsible for a HOA's costs in producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents (the seller). This should prevent needless billing disputes that hinder property transfers within HOAs. However, HOA Boards and especially management professionals should recognize the need to provide the estimate of fees via the Section 4528 form before producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents, and that failing to do so may inhibit the HOA's ability to ultimately recovery them.

HOAs Required to Accept Partial Payments from Delinquent Homeowners

January 8, 2015,
*New Case Lawhoa-partial-payments.jpg

Collecting delinquent assessments remains one of the more challenging and frustrating aspects of a homeowners association's ("HOA's") operations. Once a delinquent file is forwarded to a HOA's collection company or law firm, industry practice has been to reject any partial payments made by the delinquent homeowner (i.e., to reject any payments that do not cover all of the delinquent assessment amount, including late fees, interest, collection costs, etc.) that have accrued on the homeowner's account. That approach has been based upon the language set forth in Civil Code Sections 5655 and 5720. Civil Code Section 5720 allows for a HOA to foreclose on a delinquent assessment lien only where the delinquent assessment amount is $1,800 or greater, or are more than 12 months delinquent. Civil Code Section 5655, however, sets forth the way in payments made by a delinquent homeowner must be allocated (i.e., first to the delinquent assessment amount, then to collection fees, late charges, etc.).

Accordingly, if a homeowner is allowed to make a series of partial payments that must first be applied to the delinquent assessment amount, the homeowner could structure a way in which to avoid foreclosure of his property (i.e., through keeping the delinquent assessment amount under $1,800 or under 12 months delinquent), while not paying all or any of the amounts necessary to cover the HOA's collection fees and costs it has incurred in connection with the homeowner's delinquency. This would ultimately place the HOA in a difficult position of having to incur more collection fees and costs solely to collect the unpaid collection fees and costs which the HOA has already incurred. Thus, collection companies and firms have traditionally rejected partial payments in order to avoid this problem--especially in light of the absence of any language in the Civil Code explicitly requiring HOAs to accept partial payments. If the homeowner desires to provide partial payments, the only opportunity to do so would be pursuant to a payment plan executed between the homeowner and the HOA.

However, a recent decision from the Fourth District, Division Three, of the California Court of Appeal has indicated that HOAs do indeed have an affirmative obligation to accept partial payments notwithstanding the concerns referenced above...

Continue reading "HOAs Required to Accept Partial Payments from Delinquent Homeowners" »

AB 2188 Signed: Reducing HOA Authority to Restrict Solar Energy Systems

December 17, 2014,

solar-panels-CA-hoa.jpg*New Legislation

The California Solar Rights Act ("Solar Rights Act"), found at Civil Code Sections 714 and 714.1, provides certain protections for homeowners seeking to install solar energy systems (i.e., solar panels) on their properties. The intent of the Solar Rights Act is to prohibit homeowners associations ("HOAs") from broadly banning solar energy systems for aesthetic reasons--whether through an explicit ban or through onerous architectural restrictions that greatly reduce the performance of solar energy systems, or increase their costs. To that end, the Solar Rights Act renders void and unenforceable any provision of a HOA's governing documents that "effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system." Civ. Code § 714(a).

The Solar Rights Act does, however, allow for a HOA to place "reasonable restrictions" on the installation or use of solar energy systems. "Reasonable restrictions" are those which do not "significantly increase the costs of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specified performance." Civ. Code § 714(b). In determining what constitutes a "significant" increase in cost or a "significant" decrease in performance in the context of solar panels, the Solar Rights act currently sets those thresholds at a $2,000 and 20%, respectively. Civ. Code § 714(d)(1)(B). Thus, under the text of the current Solar Rights Act, if complying with a provision in a HOA's governing documents would, for example, only result in a 14% decrease in the system's performance, that provision would be valid and enforceable. This issue was addressed in the Tesoro case that we blogged about in 2011.

However, the passage of AB 2188 (Muratsuchi) will serve to cut those thresholds in half. Effective January 1, 2015, AB 2188 will amend the term "significantly" to mean an amount not exceeding $1,000 or deceasing the efficiency of the system by more than 10%. AB 2188 will also reduce the thresholds for other types of solar energy systems (i.e., solar heating systems) in a similar fashion. AB 2188 further shortens the timeline for a HOA to review and approve/disapprove a solar energy system application (from 60 days down to 45 days), as well as modify various certification requirements affecting proposed systems.

hoa laws

The current language of the Solar Rights Act severely limits the degree to which a HOA may restrict the installation and use of solar energy systems. However, as a result of AB 2188 and its reduced cost increase/performance decrease thresholds, the ability for HOAs to restrict solar energy systems will be effectively nullified. With the increasing prevalence of solar panels, HOA Boards of Directors and management professionals must be aware of the Solar Rights Act and the likelihood that any substantive architectural restriction on the use of solar panels may not ultimately be enforceable.

New Client: Jacaranda I & II Maintenance Corporations

November 25, 2014,

Jacaranda.png We are proud to announce that Jacaranda I & II Maintenance Corporations have selected Tinnelly Law Group as their associations' legal counsel.

Jacaranda is a brand new neighborhood in the city of Stanton being developed by MBK Homes. The community features five versatile floor plans with classic Spanish architecture and an urban park area. Residents will enjoy proximity to major employment centers, recreation destinations, shopping, dining, and more.

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Our HOA attorneys and staff look forward to working with Jacaranda's Board and management.

Owner Held Liable for Property Damage on 'Nuisance' Grounds

November 20, 2014,

HOA-water-intrusion-patio.jpgMost every set of Homeowners Association ("HOA") CC&Rs contain a provision prohibiting conduct which constitutes a "nuisance." That conduct often includes "noxious, illegal or offensive activities," anything which "unreasonably interferes with a resident's right to quiet enjoyment" and/or "endangers their health or annoys or disturbs" them. We have blogged about how such nuisance provisions may be employed to resolve issues such as the conduct of tenants, activities in the common area, and second-hand smoke transmission. However, a recent unpublished ruling of a California appeals court indicates how nuisance provisions may also extend to situations involving improvements constructed or maintained by a homeowner.

In PGA West Residential Association, Inc. et al., v. Mork (2014) Cal. Ct. App. No. E054276 ("PGA West"), the Defendant homeowners (the Morks) and the Plaintiff homeowners (the Wyatts) owned adjacent, freestanding condominium units within the PGA West Residential Association ("Association"). In 2008, the Wyatts discovered the presence of mold and moisture damage within the interior of their unit. The Wyatts concluded that the water had entered into their unit through an exterior common area wall ("Common Wall") separating their unit and the Morks' patio ("Patio"). The Wyatts then sued both the Morks and the Association for violating the restrictive covenants set forth in the Association's CC&Rs. The Association also sued the Morks for breach of the CC&Rs, breach of contract, and negligence--alleging that the Morks had altered the drainage in the Patio and, as a result, caused water to flow under the Common Wall and into the Wyatts' unit.

At trial, both the Wyatts and the Association presented evidence that the Morks had altered the original grade of the Patio in the Morks' course of constructing a swimming pool, sprinkler system and other improvements in the Patio area. The Morks' conduct resulted in surface water which drained away from the Morks' unit ultimately collecting into a 2' wide planter ("Planter") that extended the length of the Common Wall. In their defense, the Morks argued, among other things, that they were not responsible under the CC&Rs for maintaining the Patio or the Planter--that those areas were designated as "Limited Common Areas" under the CC&Rs to be maintained by the Association...

Continue reading "Owner Held Liable for Property Damage on 'Nuisance' Grounds" »

Tinnelly Law Group Accolades - November 2014

November 18, 2014,

accolade ribbon-blog.pngWe are privileged for the opportunities we have to build relationships with our HOA clients throughout the state of California. We are humbled when board members and managers take the time to express their appreciation for the work we provide to their communities:

"Thank you for such a thorough response to our questions. Your opinion is understandable and contains excellent background material supporting your opinion and appears to support nearly all of the recommendations should we decide to go forward with them. Every HOA should have the kind of professional service we get from you and your team."
(Board President, Master Association in Victorville)

"You go above and beyond the call of duty, as always."
(Board President, Luxury Homes Association in Burbank)

"We are very grateful for the work Tinnelly Law Group has done. Your direction and advice has been very valuable to us and will continue to be."
(Board President, Condominium Association in Claremont)

"I wanted to tell you that the Board was very complimentary of the Rules and Regulations as drafted. Great job."
(Community Manager, Condominium Association in Anaheim)

"This is exactly what we needed. Thank you for the fast response. I am so pleased we are now using your firm for our legal issues. Outstanding work."
(Board President, Gated Community in Laguna Niguel)

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Our firm strives to serve our clients with the utmost care and attention. We are committed to building lasting relationships with our clients and to advancing the professional standards of our industry.

AB 968 Signed: Clarifying Repair/Replacement of Exclusive Use Common Area

November 7, 2014,

hoa-balcony-repairs.jpg*New Legislation

A common legal issue affecting Homeowners Associations ("HOAs") deals with determining the extent of the HOA's maintenance and repair responsibilities versus those of its homeowners. Most sets of HOA CC&Rs address the maintenance and repair responsibilities for HOA common areas, the individual units/lots ("separate interests") owned by the homeowners, and any common areas reserved for a particular homeowner's exclusive use ("exclusive use common areas"). In the event that the CC&Rs are inadequate or ambiguous in this respect, Civil Code Section 4775(a) sets forth the following default structure:

Unless otherwise provided in the CC&Rs: (1) the HOA is responsible for "repairing, replacing, or maintaining the common area, other than exclusive use common area"; and (2) the homeowner is responsible for "maintaining [the homeowner's] separate interest and any exclusive use common area appurtenant to the separate interest."
However, there is an ambiguity within this language with regard to exclusive use common area. While "maintaining" exclusive use common area is the homeowner's responsibility, Section 4775 fails to state who exactly is responsible for "repairing" or "replacing" the exclusive use common area. This ambiguity is often problematic for condominium developments that may have numerous exclusive use common areas, such as exterior windows, reserved parking spaces, patios, balconies, etc.

Industry practice has held that the homeowner is only responsible for the basic upkeep/maintenance of the exclusive use common area's usable surfaces, while the HOA would be responsible for any major or structural repairs to the exclusive use common area. We previously blogged about this issue in response to a question on balcony repairs within a condominium development.

Fortunately, the passage of AB 968 (Gordon) will serve to codify industry practice. Effective January 1, 2017, Section 4775 will be amended to read, in part, that:

"Unless otherwise provided in the [CC&Rs] of a common interest development, the owner of each separate interest is responsible for maintaining the exclusive use common area appurtenant to that separate interest and the association is responsible for repairing and replacing the exclusive use common area."

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HOA Boards and management professionals must still be aware of the fact that Section 4775's default structure does not supersede any conflicting provisions in the CC&Rs. Moreover, even when an exclusive use common area is to be repaired or replaced by the HOA, there may be instances where a homeowner should be held responsible for the repair or replacement costs. For example, if damage to common area or exclusive use common area is sustained as a result of the acts of a homeowner, his guests or tenants, most CC&Rs contain provisions allowing (and even requiring) the HOA to levy what is commonly known as a "reimbursement" special assessment against the homeowner to recover the HOA's repair costs. The authority for a HOA to take such action is also supported by Civil Code Section 5725(a).