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Articles Posted in Boards of Directors

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hostile-work-environmentAs HOA industry professionals, there are many positive aspects to our occupation.  We work with a diverse group of people, take fulfillment from helping volunteer boards, and are happy when we solve problems through creativity.  Unfortunately, there are situations that can become difficult.

Most association managers (“Manager”) have had some experience dealing with abusive homeowners and demanding board members (“Hostile Actor”).  Typically, the Hostile Actor exhibits unrelenting behavior that becomes obnoxious despite Management’s best efforts.

The purpose of this article is to provide Managers with a brief primer as you experience hostility in the moment – via email correspondence, telephone calls, or direct confrontations.

When you encounter hostile situations, it is important to remember that your Management Company was hired to serve as the managing agent for the Association.  Your primary responsibility is to implement the board’s directives and to serve as a communications liaison between the board and the residents.  For the most part, substantive decisions are made by the board at monthly board meetings.  Recognizing that legal relationship can assist the Manager when confronted with a threatening email or any other form of communication.  Below is a sample response to consider when responding to a Hostile Actor:

Thank you for your email.  The board values resident communication relating to Association business.  I understand your concerns and will forward your communication to the board for review at the next board meeting. 

A phone call is usually the next step if the Hostile Actor is not satisfied with Management’s return correspondence.  You should be able to tell where the call is headed based upon his or her initial tone and word choice.  Hostile situations may be diffused or avoided altogether by giving the caller a chance to be heard; the Manager can use the call for good as an opportunity to further explain why it would be inappropriate and unfair if Management were to respond at that time.

You do not deserve to be the subject of personal attacks.  Phone calls that lapse into volatile language should be ended as soon as possible by stating that all future communication must be sent in writing for board review.  After the call concludes, it is advisable to send an email to the Hostile Actor which politely confirms your prior statement about future communication.  If possible, the Manager should prepare an internal memo which documents what was said with as much detail as possible.  The memo can be used to notify other Management employees regarding the Hostile Actor’s prior phone call and for evidence preservation purposes.  Preserving inflammatory communication can help general counsel with later drafting cease and desist correspondence and, if necessary, filing a temporary restraining order if abusive behaviors later escalate.

With limited exception, there is no need for in-person meetings between Managers and Hostile Actors who have demonstrated a prior pattern of disruptive conduct.  In general, Hostile Actors do not show up at Management’s business office unless they are angry.  For that reason, direct confrontations, which are rarely productive, are not recommended because of the potential for further abuse.  Management’s receptionist, if available, should screen the reason for the visit and then direct the Hostile Actor to forward his or her concerns to the board in writing.  If a Manager interacts with a Hostile Actor, then all meetings should be held in the open presence of at least one (1) other Management professional so that conversations can be witnessed.  One-on-one meetings in a private office are discouraged.

What happens when the Hostile Actor is a board member?  Management’s executive team, if available, should be contacted for assistance to navigate the delicate client relationship.  The board member should be reminded that your ability to support the Association depends upon establishing a professional working relationship.

The appearance of the Hostile Actor at board meetings is not uncommon.  The Manager can reduce the possibility of hostile meeting environments by being proactive.  Distributing policy statements for board meeting conduct and requiring the completion of homeowner speaker cards are effective ways to create a healthy work space.  Those documents can state that homeowner forum will be time limited and interruptions will not be tolerated, among other things.  Unruly board members may be tempered by emphasizing the importance of only discussing agenda items and underscoring the negative consequences to the Association by engaging in harmful dialogue.

hoa laws The Hostile Actor is a frequent character in the business of managing community associations.  Disruptive situations should be identified and handled swiftly by the board and Management on a case by case basis through a collaborative process.  The Manager should consider contacting ‘legal’ if abusive communication intensifies.  General counsel can then offer potential solutions for board review such as sending cease and desist correspondence, initiating the Internal Dispute Resolution process, or seeking judicial relief. 

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Kumar S. Raja, Esq.

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notboss63Previously, we wrote on a decision published by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) wherein the NLRB concluded that, where a contracting party has reserved the authority to exercise control over the employees of another, said contracting party will be found to be the “joint employer” of the other entity’s employees.  In the case of Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (2015) NLRB No. 672 (“BFI”), BFI retained the services of Leadpoint Business Services (“LBS”) to provide staff to one of BFI’s recycling facilities.  Although the contract between BFI and LBS recognized that the personnel staffed by LBS were the employees of LBS, BFI retained some control over the employees. As such, the NLRB concluded that as long as a company retains (e.g., through the execution of a contract) the authority to control the employees of another, said company will be given joint-employer status. (Id. at p. *2.)

The BFI decision caused quite a stir in the realm of common interest developments. As discussed in our prior post, many associations retain a community management firm to facilitate the duties of the association (e.g., solicit bids for common area maintenance and repair). And while the community managers were historically viewed as the employees of the management firm, the BFI case raised some questions with respect to the nature of the relationship between the employees of a management firm and the association.

Nevertheless, on December 14, 2017, the NLRB did an about-face reversing its decision in the BFI case.  In Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (“Hy-Brand”) the NLRB held that the BFI standard was “a distortion of common law as interpreted by the Board and the courts…[wa]s contrary to the [National Labor Relations] Act…is ill-advised as a matter of policy, and its application would prevent the [NLRB] from…foster[ing] stability in labor-management relations.” ((2017) 365 NLRB No. 156, *2.) Accordingly, the NLRB concluded that a joint-employment relationship will be found where there is evidence demonstrating that an entity has “exercised joint control over essential employment terms (rather than merely having “reserved” the right to exercise control).” (Id. at p. *5 (emphasis original).) Said control must be “direct and immediate,” as opposed to “indirect,” and must be more than control which is “limited and routine.” (Id.)

Although the BFI case has been abrogated restoring the prior position of the NLRB, associations and management companies must continue to exercise caution when hiring vendors to perform services for the association to prevent a finding of a joint-employment relationship. In Heiman v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, the Court of Appeal concluded that the community manager (and by extension, the association) was the joint-employer of an employee of an unlicensed and uninsured contractor. ((2007) 149 Cal. App. 4th 724.)  Under California law, one of the legal consequences for hiring an unlicensed contractor is that the person who hired the unlicensed contractor may be considered an “employer” for tort-liability purposes. (Id. at p. 735.) Since the community manager hired an unlicensed contractor, it was found to be the joint-employer of the injured worker. And, because of the agency relationship between the management company and the association, the association was found liable. (Id. at p. 744.)

California HOA lawyers In sum, despite the shift in position, associations must continue to insulate itself from a finding of joint-employer status by ensuring that it retains only licensed and insured vendors, and adequately sets forth the scope of work and the level of care and skill required to achieve the desired result within its contract with the vendor.  Moreover, the contract must include a provision requiring the contractor to indemnify and hold the association harmless in the event a labor dispute arises between the contractor and its employees.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Matthew T, Plaxton, Esq.

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Director-LiabilityOn September 25, 2017, Governor Brown signed AB 1412 (effective January 1, 2018) which seeks to clarify Civil Code Section 4041 (Annual Notice of Owner Contact Information) and Civil Code Section 5800 (Limitation of Director and Officer Liability).

Under current law, Civil Code Section 4041 requires the Association to solicit, on an annual basis, mailing addresses from the Members for purposes of providing notice.  Members are required to state the primary and secondary addresses to which notices from the Association are to be delivered, among other things.  If no such notice is provided, that Section 4041 provides that the default mailing address for purposes of delivery shall be the Member’s property address within the Association.

The existing version of Civil Code Section 4041 potentially inconveniences non-resident Members because they must annually notify the Association of their current mailing address.  If they fail to do so, Management is then legally obligated to change the Members’ mailing address back to the Members’ Association address.

AB 1412 removes those administrative burdens by stating that the default mailing address shall be the last address provided in writing by the Member to the Association, if any.  Under that circumstance, the Association no longer needs to annually update its Member address records if the Members forget to supply their existing mailing address to the Association.

Civil Code Section 5800 provides liability protections to volunteer Directors and Officers if certain conditions are satisfied (i.e. the act/omission was performed in good faith and within the Director/Officer’s Association duties, etc.).  Current law provides that such protections are only available to Directors/Officers in common interest developments that are exclusively residential.  The protections previously offered by Section 5800 were unavailable to volunteer Directors/Officers in mixed use settings, such as common interest developments with residential and commercial units.

In view of the growing number of common interests developments throughout the state, the California legislature recognized that Section 5800 did not provide liability protection to Directors/Officers in mixed use common interest developments.

As such, AB 1412 seeks to expand the breadth of Civil Code Section 5800 because it now generally applies to volunteer Directors/Officers in mixed use settings.  Such protection is limited to those Directors/Officers who are tenants of a residential separate interest or who own no more than two (2) residential separate interests.

California HOA lawyers AB 1412 will save time and money because the Association is no longer burdened with the duty to update Member address information if a Member fails to provide Management with his or her mailing address. 

Mixed use common interest developments may experience increased Board participation by volunteer Directors/Officers because liability protections are now available under Civil Code Section 5800.

AB 1412 does not address whether volunteer commercial unit owners or Members who own three (3) or more residential units are immune from liability under the same liability protections.  A review of the legislative history for AB 1412, coupled with general principles of statutory construction, suggests that those individuals may be excluded in that regard.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Kumar S. Raja, Esq.

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trees-e1497461819768

*Unpublished Case

ISSUE:

Is an HOA Board of Directors (“Board”) entitled to protection under the Business Judgment Rule (“BJR”) when it applies an unambiguous view restriction contained in the governing documents in a manner other than written?

RULE:

No.  In Lingenbrink v. Del Rayo Estates Homeowners Association, 2017 WL 1075062 (“Lingenbrink”), the Court of Appeal concluded the BJR only applies to matters that are within an HOA Board’s discretion.  A Board does not have the discretion to interpret or re-write a restriction where the meaning of the restriction is perfectly clear.

ANALYSIS:

The HOA consists of eighteen (18) “high end” homes in Rancho Santa Fe built on 21 lots, each with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.  The CC&Rs contain very specific language that protects each Lot’s view as follows:

“No tree, hedges or other plant shall be so located or allowed to reach a size or height which will interfere with the view from any Lot and, in the event such trees, hedges or other plant materials do reach a height which interferes with the view from another Lot, then the Owner thereof shall cause such tree(s), hedge(s) or other plant material[(]s) to be trimmed or removed as necessary.”

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*New Case LawBusiness Judgment Rule HOA

Volunteer homeowners association (“HOA”) directors are fiduciaries who are held to high standards of conduct when making decisions or taking actions on behalf of the communities they represent. Sometimes those decisions, which may seem reasonable at the time, ultimately lead to problems for the HOA or its members. If volunteer HOA directors were made personally liable for the consequences of their erroneous decisions, it would be virtually impossible for any HOA to recruit individuals to serve on its board. For this reason, HOA directors are afforded several liability protections under California law.  One of those protections is a legal doctrine known as the “Business Judgment Rule.”

The Business Judgment Rule generally shields directors from personal liability that may result from their erroneous decisions, provided that the decision was made (1) with care, (2) in good faith, and (3) was based upon what the director believed to be in the best interest of the HOA. Making a decision “with care” generally requires that directors exercise reasonable diligence to investigate the issues surrounding the decision so that they are able to act on an informed basis.

But how broad are the protections of the Business Judgment Rule? Does it automatically shield a director who chooses to remain willfully ignorant as to the issues surrounding her actions or the scope of her authority? According to the Court of Appeal in the recent case of Palm Springs Villas II Homeowners Association v. Parth (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 268, that answer appears to be no… Continue reading

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Labor-Unions-Preventive-Practices-1024x683On August 27, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) published its decision in the Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. case (“BFI Case”). In that case, Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (“BFI”) retained the services of Leadpoint Business Services (“LBS”) to provide staff to one of BFI’s recycling facilities. The contract between BFI and LBS recognized, and the parties understood, that the personnel staffed by LBS were the employees of LBS. Nevertheless, given the fact that the contract granted BFI with some control over the employees of LBS, the NLRB concluded that BFI was a joint-employer of LBS thereby obligating BFI to comply with federal labor laws.

In adopting a new legal standard for determining joint-employer status, the NLRB emphasized that such a determination should not be based solely on actual control over the employees of another, but the “existence, extent, and object of the putative joint employer’s control.” (Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (2015) 2015 NLRB No. 672, *12 (Emphasis added).) Otherwise, employers would be able to insulate themselves from their responsibility to comply with federal labor laws. (Id. at p. *21) Accordingly, as long as a company retains (e.g., through the execution of a contract) the authority to control the employees of another, said company shall be given joint employer status. (Id. at p. *2.) This is true even if control is exercised indirectly (e.g., through an intermediary). (Id.)

Many associations retain a community management firm for the purpose of executing the duties of the association. These community management firms in turn employ community managers and support staff to manage these associations. While historically recognized as the employee of the community management firm (and an independent contractor of the association), the BFI Case raises some questions with respect to the nature of the relationship between the employees of a community management firm and the association. Accordingly, associations must be cognizant that a Court may find that it is a joint employer of the community manager (and support staff), notwithstanding the fact that it exercises no direct and immediate control over said manager.

Similarly, associations and management companies must take care when hiring maintenance and service providers for the community.  When managers, committee members, or board members are conducting job walks with a contractor’s employee, reviewing specifications, or receiving invoices, the management company and the association may become joint employers. In Heiman v. Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board, Cal: Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 3rd Div. 2007 (“Heiman”), a community association manager hired an unlicensed and uninsured contractor on behalf of the association to install rain gutters on the condominium buildings.  An employee of the contractor was seriously injured on the first day of the project and sued the contractor, management company, and association for workers’ compensation.  The Court held that the contractor, the association, and the management company were all joint employers because the contractor hired the injured employee, and the management company, as agent of the association, hired the contractor.  The BFI Case seems to affirm this decision.

California HOA laws In order to insulate the association from a possible finding of joint-employer status, the association should ensure that its contract with independent contractors, requires all proper licenses and insurance, adequately sets forth the desired results, and sets forth the level of care and skill to be used in accomplishing the desired results. (See Id. at p. 12 (“mere ‘service under an agreement to accomplish results or to use care and skill in accomplishing results’ is not evidence of an employment, or joint-employment relationship”).) The agreement should also include a provision that requires the contractor to indemnify and hold the association harmless in the event a labor dispute arises.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Matthew T. Plaxton.

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*New Case Lawhoa-renter-fee.jpg

In the landmark case of Lamden v. La Jolla Shores Clubdominium Homeowners Assn. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 249 (“Lamden“), the California Supreme Court established what is known as the “Rule of Judicial Deference” or “Lamden Rule” that, in sum, requires courts to defer to decisions made by a HOA’s Board of Directors regarding “ordinary maintenance:”

“…We adopt today for California courts a rule of judicial deference to community association board decisionmaking that applies, regardless of an association’s corporate status, when owners in common interest developments seek to litigate ordinary maintenance decisions entrusted to the discretion of their associations’ boards of directors.” (Lamden, at 253.)

However, in a recently published opinion, the Court of Appeals expanded the scope of the Lamden Rule to include additional decisions made by a HOA’s Board, such as those to adopt rules and impose fees on members relating to short-term renters…

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*New Case LawHOA-parking-structure.jpg

It is not uncommon for a homeowners association (“HOA”) to enter into contractual arrangements with a third party where the rights and responsibilities under that arrangement are between the third party and each of the HOA’s members. Under such circumstances, the HOA’s involvement may be limited solely to collecting fees from the members and passing them on to the third party. Because the HOA (as an entity) is not the beneficiary of the contract, there is uncertainty as to whether the HOA has standing to assert claims against the third party on behalf of the HOA’s members. California Civil Code Section 5980 provides a HOA with standing to initiate legal action “in its own name as the real party in interest and without joining with it the [HOA’s] members” in matters relating to enforcement of the HOA’s governing documents, as well as matters involving or arising out of damage to the common area and/or to a separate interest which the HOA is obligated to maintain or repair. However, there is no statutory provision clearly addressing whether a HOA has such standing in matters pertaining to the rights of the HOA’s members in contracts with third parties.

Fortunately, the recent case of Market Lofts Community Association v. 9th Street Market Lofts, LLC (2014) 222 Cal. App. 4th 924 (“Market Lofts”) provides some guidance on this issue.

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hoa-committee-meeting.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our HOA has established several working committees such as Finance and Compliance. Do these committees have to conduct meetings open to the public? Neither one has power to spend money but merely makes recommendations to the Board of Directors.

Answered – No. The provisions of the “Open Meeting Act” (Civil Code §4900) requiring open meetings apply only to “board meetings.” A “board meeting” is defined as “a congregation, at the same time and place, of a sufficient number of directors to establish a quorum of the board, to hear, discuss, or deliberate upon any item of business that is within the authority of the board.” Civil Code §4090(a) (Emphasis added). Therefore, provided that the committee is not comprised of a sufficient number of directors so as to constitute a quorum (typically a majority) of the board, the committee’s meetings are not required to be open to the membership.

As illustrated in your question, most committees are purely advisory in nature and provide their findings/recommendations to the board in an open board meeting. Even where a committee does have some decision-making authority (i.e., to approve homeowner architectural applications or expenditures for an ongoing HOA construction project), an “item of business” contemplated by the Open Meeting Act does not include “actions that the board has validly delegated to…. [a] committee of the board comprising less than a quorum of the board.” Civil Code §4155 (Emphasis added). Therefore, if the board has delegated an action or decision to a committee comprised of less than a quorum of the board, the committee’s decision-making authority would not in itself trigger the Open Meeting Act’s requirements.

hoa laws

Even if your committee is not required to hold open meetings, it may be beneficial for committees with decision-making authority to provide notice to the membership and to post an agenda. Doing so will help prevent claims of impropriety on the part of the committee or the board in situations where a member may object to a decision or action by the committee. You should also refer to your HOA’s Bylaws to determine if there are any additional committee requirements.

Blog post authored by Tinnelly Law Group attorney, Terri Morris.

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

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hoa update 2014Our “Annual Legislative & Case Law Update” newsletter for the year 2014 is now available in our library!

The Legislative & Case Law Update provides an overview of the new legislation and case law impacting California Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”) as we head into 2014. The new legislation includes, among other items, the re-organization of the Davis-Stirling Act (now in effect), and a bill that clarifies contractor licensing requirements for HOA managers. The new case law includes rulings that may impact HOA election rules, membership rights to attend Board meetings, use of HOA media outlets during election campaigns, insurance defense coverage, attorney’s fees recovery in HOA disputes, and assessment collection procedures.

Click here to read our Annual Legislative & Case Law Update (2014)

Have questions on any of the new legislation or case law? Click here to send us a question online.