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Articles Posted in Construction Defect

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arbitration-judgeIt is well settled that an association’s CC&Rs (“Declaration”) establishes and controls, among other things, a board’s authority to govern an association provided that the CC&Rs do not conflict with California law and regulations (i.e., Davis-Stirling Act). In such cases, the plain language of the CC&Rs control. (Franklin v. Marie Antoinette Condominium Owners Assn. (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 824, 829.)  This was the case in Branches Neighborhood Corporation v. CalAtlantic Group, Inc. (2018), where Branches Neighborhood Corporation’s (“Association”) Declaration required the same to obtain a membership vote of fifty-one percent (51%) or more prior to the initiation of its construction defect claim (“Claim”) against CalAtlantic Group., Inc. (“Developer”).

In Branches, the Association properly followed all procedural requirements under California law in the initiation of the Claim, however, failed to obtain the prerequisite vote in accordance with its Declaration. Approximately two years after the initiation of the Claim, the Association obtained a membership vote in excess of fifty-one percent (51%), approving and ratifying the Claim. Taking into consideration these undisputed facts, the arbitrator assigned to the Claim granted Developer’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the “after the fact expression of consent cannot be transmuted into the prior consent required by the CC&Rs…when such a result would adversely impact the rights of a party to the agreement by which the CC&Rs were created…[t]he Developer is such a party.”

In its opposition to Developer’s motion to confirm the award, the Association based its argument on the theory that the arbitrator exceeded its powers under Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) § 1286.2(a)(4), which requires a court to vacate an arbitrator’s award if it determines that the arbitrator has exceeded its powers. Specifically, the Association argued that the arbitrator exceeded its powers by (1) depriving the Association of its unwaivable statutory right to affirmatively ratify the Claim, and (2) overriding public policy in favor of ratification. Both trial and appellate courts (collectively, “Court”) confirmed the arbitrator’s award.

The Court predicated its decision on the established foundation of the “Rule of Finality,” which in short, provides extreme deference to an arbitrator’s decision, subject to limited exceptions such as CCP § 1286.2(a)(4).

In support of its first argument, the Association provided the Court with several sections of the Davis-Stirling Act (“Act”) that provided the Association with the ability to retroactively ratify its actions, claiming that it is its “statutory right.” As such, the Association asserted that the provision in the Declaration that requires membership approval prior to the initiation of the Claim (“Provision”) is unenforceable as it waives said right. The Court quickly disposed of this argument because all the statutes mentioned by the Association provided the right to ratify only if a provision of the Act required an action to be approved by a majority vote. (See Civil Code §§ 4065, 4070.)  Here, the Court found no provision of the Act that required the Association to obtain a majority vote prior to the initiation of the Claim, holding that “absent a specific requirement in the Act to hold an election, the association’s governing documents control.” Branches, at 6.

The Association then went on to argue that public policy supports its position due to the Legislature’s “clear pronouncement of public policy favoring ratification.” Branches, at 8.  The Court disagreed with this proposition, stating that the Act was created to regulate the governance of homeowners associations, placing a system of checks and balances (“System”) against the Association and its board of directors (“Board”). The Court noted Civil Code § 6150 (requiring an association to provide notice to its members 30 days prior to the filing of a claim, unless such requirement would cause the statute of limitations to run) as an example of the System the Act is intended to establish. The Court found the Provision to go a “step further” by requiring the Association to obtain membership approval prior to the initiation of the Claim, as opposed to the mere requirement of providing notice of same. Id.

Retroactively approving the Claim went against public policy as it stripped Association members of their ability to “check” the authority of the Board (i.e., provide authorization to file the Claim); even if the members had the ability to disapprove the Claim, the Association would suffer damages in the form of legal costs and expenses already expended in the Claim, going further against the System, Act, and Declaration. Accordingly, the Court found no violation of public policy and thus, no violation committed by the arbitrator.

Branches emphasizes the importance of the plain language of an association’s Declaration. So long as the Declaration does not conflict with existing law (i.e., Act) and/or goes against public policy, the plain language of the Declaration controls, to which a homeowners association must strictly abide by.

hoa laws It is of crucial importance for a homeowners association to thoroughly interpret, analyze and understand its authority under its governing documents, in particular, its CC&Rs, prior to the taking of any action in order to avoid unnecessary consequences.  For the same reason, it is of equal importance for homeowners associations to obtain general legal counsel that specializes solely in HOA law and related matters to provide unfettered and sound legal advice from an objective perspective.  Law firms that specialize in multiple areas of law (e.g., HOA and construction defect) may overlook certain provisions of an association’s governing documents and inadvertently guide associations in a direction that may prove to be detrimental, such as the outcome in Branches.  For more information and guidance related to the interpretation and/or amending of CC&Rs and other governing documents, please contact us.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Andrew M. Jun, Esq.

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*New Case Lawhoa-construction-defect-meeting.jpg

Civil Code Section 6150 requires that a homeowners association (“HOA”) make various disclosures to its membership in the context of construction defect litigation. The HOA is further required to hold a meeting of its membership to “discuss problems that may lead to the filing” of a construction defect action, as well as the options available to the members to address those problems.

Such a meeting will likely involve communications between the HOA’s construction defect attorney and individual members of the HOA whom are not the attorney’s direct clients. Therefore, the extent to which those communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege may be uncertain. Fortunately, the recent case of Seahaus La Jolla Owners Association v. La Jolla View LTD addressed this issue and clarified the privileged nature of communications between a HOA’s attorneys and its membership in the context of construction defect litigation…

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California’s 1st District Court of Appeal recently ruled that “design professionals” may be liable under both common law and Senate Bill No. 800 (“SB 800”) to third party purchasers for construction defects.

In Beacon Residential Community Association v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP et al., the defendants (the “Architects”) had performed architectural and engineering services, as well as construction administration and construction contract management, for a 595 unit condominium project located in San Francisco. The plaintiff homeowners association (the “HOA”) alleged that multiple construction defects in the project were caused in part by negligent architectural and engineering design. Included in those defects was the presence of “solar heat gain” allegedly caused by the Architects’ approval of cheap and non-functional windows paired with a defective design that failed to provide for adequate ventilation within the units. During periods of high temperatures, the solar heat gain had rendered many of the units “uninhabitable, unhealthy and unsafe.”

The Architects successfully argued at the trial court level that they could not be held liable for the alleged defects because, under common law, the Architects owed no duty of care to third parties (to the HOA or its members). The trial court agreed, holding that the Architect could not be held liable for negligent design and that the HOA was required to show that the Architects had “control” in the construction process; the Architects had to have “assum[ed] a role beyond that of providing design recommendations to the [developer].” Accordingly, the trial court sustained the Architects’ demurrers and the HOA then appealed…

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hoa lawsOur annual “Legislative & Case Law Update” newsletter for the year 2013 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 2013. The new legislation includes, among other items, bills that impact Bank foreclosures, the re-organization of the Davis-Stirling Act, EV Charging Stations and fees charged by HOAs in producing certain records. The new case law includes rulings that may impact the architectural restrictions placed on the installation of solar panels, arbitration provisions for construction defect disputes, “no-cost” HOA collections contracts, election disputes and defamation claims. The Legislative & Case Law Update also addresses some new Fannie Mae and FHA regulations impacting condominium insurance and certification requirements.

Click here to read our Legislative & Case Law Update (2013)

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

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*New Case Lawhoa law firm

On August 16, 2012 the California Supreme Court announced its decision in a case that will undoubtedly impact homeowners associations (“HOAs”), developers, owners and insurers in disputes arising from construction defects. The ruling in Pinnacle Museum Tower Association v. Pinnacle Market Development (US) LLC sets the stage for construction defect disputes to be resolved via binding arbitration as opposed to jury trials.

The Court’s ruling in Pinnacle reverses the lower courts’ decisions which previously hampered the enforceability of arbitration provisions contained in recorded Declarations of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”). Central to the Court’s ruling was its recognition that CC&Rs constitute a contract and that there is strong public policy favoring arbitration/alternative dispute resolution over litigation–a public policy which is embodied in various Civil Code provisions pertaining to HOAs.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court reasoned that “the Davis-Stirling Act ensures that [CC&Rs]–which manifest the intent and expectations of the developer and those who take title to property in a [HOA]–will be honored and enforced unless proven unreasonable. Here, the expectation of all concerned is that construction disputes involving the developer must be resolved by the expeditious and judicially favored method of binding arbitration.” Accordingly, unless an arbitration provision contained in the CC&Rs is deemed “unreasonable,” a developer is entitled to rely on the terms of the contract and the enforcement of the arbitration provision.

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The ruling in Pinnacle will create far-reaching and immediate impacts in the HOA industry. Depending on the terms of the CCRs, HOAs and owners seeking to pursue claims against the original developer may now be contractually obligated to forego litigation for binding arbitration. However, Developers wishing to compel binding arbitration may be precluded from doing so to the extent that the binding arbitration provision at issue fails to meet the “reasonableness” test implied by the Court.

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hoa attorney*New Resource

As communities mature, the need for major repairs or renovations can become a major concern. Often because of unforeseen problems or insufficiently funded reserves, community associations (associations) are not capable of funding the necessary repairs immediately. In order to avoid a piecemeal repair effort in such situations, or the possibility of additional problems arising from the postponement of the repairs, it may become necessary for an association to borrow money. Fortunately, many banks have recognized this need and are willing to lend to associations for major repairs and renovations.

This blog post addresses some of the more frequently asked questions and important issues relating to association borrowing, such as the common reasons for borrowing, what a bank uses for collateral, and what effect the loan has on individual homeowners.

Our HOA attorneys have also published this information in our new resource entitled “Association Repair and Renovation Loans”, available for download from our library.

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Binding arbitration provisions contained in a HOA’s CC&Rs may not be enforceable in a construction defect action against the HOA’s developer…

In Pinnacle Museum Tower Association v. Pinnacle Market Development (US), LLC, 187 Cal.App.4th 24 (2010), a HOA sued its developer for construction defects. Both the HOA’s CC&Rs and the homeowners’ purchase and sale agreements required binding arbitration instead of a jury trial. These documents were prepared by the developer and could not be modified without the developer’s consent.

In response to the developer’s motion to compel arbitration of the case, the court held that the binding arbitration provision of the CC&Rs was not enforceable to the extent of denying a jury trial, because the CC&Rs did not constitute an “agreement” to waive the HOA’s fundamental right to a jury trial. Though CC&Rs typically have the force of contract, the court asserted that the developer is the only actual “party” to the agreement when disputes arise between the HOA and the developer.

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Though this case is being appealed, if the ruling stands it will effectively invalidate most binding arbitration provisions contained in CC&Rs with respect to HOA disputes with developers.

**Note: The ruling in Pinnacle has been expanded by the even more recent case of Villa Vicenza HOA v. Nobel Ct. Dev. LLC (2011). To read our blog post on this new development, click here.

To read the full text of the holding, click here.