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Articles Posted in Contracts & Easements

*Asked & Answered

Worker-Holding-Asbestos-174899441-56a4a1903df78cf7728353b4Asked Our HOA Board of Directors has recently decided to undertake some deferred maintenance projects which require wall renovations, such as re-piping the condominium buildings. Must the Association have an asbestos survey conducted prior to commencing the work?

Answered – Yes. The South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1403 (“Rule 1403”) requires a survey for the presence of Asbestos-Containing Materials (“ACM”) to be conducted and documented prior to the commencement of any renovation. (See SCAQMD Rule 1403(a).) Moreover, Rule 1403 makes it clear that a survey is required regardless of when the structure was built, the size of the renovations, and whether the owner of the structure is aware of the building materials. (See Rule 1403(d)(1)(A).)

Asbestos is a hazardous air pollutant under Section 112 of the federal Clean Air Act. (6 Environmental Law Practice Guide § 46.09 (2019).) Rule 1403 governs work practice requirements for asbestos in all renovation and demolition activities. The purpose of this rule is to protect the health and safety of the public by limiting dangerous emissions from the removal and association disturbance of Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACM). (See SCAQMD Advisory Notice). Due to the serious implications for exposing individuals to ACM, the survey requirement is mandatory with very limited exceptions.

Rule 1403 requires that the survey must be conducted by a Cal/OSHA-certified inspector or, as permitted by Cal/OSHA, an employee of the facility who possesses an unexpired AHERA Building Inspector certificate from a Cal/OSHA approved course. (See Rule 1403(d)(1)(iv).)

Given the serious health risks and liability associated with exposing HOA Members to ACM, HOA Boards should include asbestos surveys within the project budget and/or ensure that the surveys are included in any vendor contract.

California HOA lawyers Your city or county may require you to apply for a permit to conduct asbestos removal, renovation, or demolition. Contact your HOA attorney to conduct an in-depth analysis of your locality’s specific requirements.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Corey L. Todd, Esq.

Expect-the-UnexpectedIf 2020 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. California community associations base their successful and continuing operations on careful planning and budgeting, but Associations must also plan for the unexpected. To that end, association vendor contracts should be drafted to ensure they afford adequate protections for when peril strikes.

Community associations regularly contract with vendors for a variety of services including landscaping and the maintenance and repair of common area components. Vendor contracts are often woefully sparse and fail to contain language to provide the parties with a mechanism to deal with unexpected disasters like war, fire, terrorist acts, or even pandemics like COVID-19.

Force majeure is a Latin phrase that means “superior force.” A force majeure contractual clause defines a set of events or circumstances beyond the contracting parties’ control that may excuse or delay parties’ contractual obligations for performance because performance would either be too difficult, impossible, or impracticable. Without it, the parties are bound to perform even in the face of a deadly viral pandemic which has resulted in shelter-in-place orders and business shutdowns across the state.

Citing Witkin Summary of Law, California courts have specifically held that “force majeure is the equivalent of the common law contract defense of impossibility and/or frustration of purpose: performance of a contract is excused when an (1) unforeseeable event, (2) outside of the parties’ control, (3) renders performance impossible or impractical.” Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Caitac Int’l, Inc., No. B215233, 2010 WL 3007771 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 2, 2010). (emphasis added). In the realm of community association vendor contracts, COVID-19 has made the performance of certain contractual obligations impossible or impracticable. A large non-emergency construction project like a balcony repair which requires access by strangers to the inside of owners’ units comes to mind.

Very few vendor contracts which have not been prepared or negotiated by an attorney contain force majeure clauses. While it is always advisable for Associations to have vendor contracts reviewed by counsel, COVID-19 is an additional reason to seek the advice of counsel before signing a vendor contract. Given that a pandemic and shutdown of this magnitude is, forever more, a foreseeable event, its description should be included in all force majeure contractual provisions moving forward, so as to erase any doubt as to what events constitute the triggering of a force majeure event.

Not all force majeure clauses are created equal. Boilerplate language has been held insufficient in California and other states—a good example being Watson Labs, Inc. v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1111 (C.D. Cal. 2001), where language referring to “regulatory, governmental … action” was found to be too vague and boilerplate to reflect that the parties considered that the shutdown of the Defendant’s plant would be encompassed.

Accordingly, an approach of over-inclusiveness should be adopted in drafting force majeure clauses. This ensures that not just a pandemic, but the effects of a pandemic, such as shelter-in-place orders, quarantines, government shutdowns, and other economic ripples caused by the response to an epidemic or pandemic be included in the definition of a force majeure event.

California HOA lawyers Associations should have all contracts reviewed by counsel and vendor contracts should contain a well-drafted force majeure clause to afford associations protection from liability in the event a pandemic or other force majeure event requires the delay or termination of a contract.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Carrie N. Heieck, Esq.

*Asked & Answered

Contract-ReviewAsked Our HOA community manager always recommends that our vendor contracts be reviewed by our HOA attorneys before we sign them. Is this really necessary?

Answered – Yes! Contract review is an integral step to protect the HOA against future contract disputes. Oftentimes, HOA Boards of Directors don’t think twice about a contract until there is a dispute with the other party later on. By this point, it’s too late to negotiate contract terms, and the Board is often left to interpret and navigate poorly written and single-sided provisions that do not provide any support or protection to the HOA.

Contract disputes can be extremely costly and time-consuming. Since contract disputes and related expenses are unpredictable, they aren’t necessarily incorporated into the HOA’s annual budget; this can put a lot of financial strain on the HOA and could lead to special assessments on the membership to cover the costs. Furthermore, contract disputes can leave the HOA tied up with a vendor in which they’d rather part ways. This could leave the HOA without the ability to hire a new, better-qualified vendor to perform the job at hand.

Our HOA attorneys are skilled in the review, revision, and negotiation of contracts specific to HOA needs. Our attorneys can spot concerns that may not be obvious to a Board member, recommend alternative or additional language to provide HOA specific protections, and also communicate these concerns directly with the vendor. Additionally, our attorneys can identify whether the Board may be prohibited from entering the contract pursuant to the HOA’s governing documents. Combined, these efforts will result in a more comprehensive contract and more balanced protections for the HOA.

California HOA lawyers By taking the time up front to work with our expert attorneys, Board members can be assured that they are prudently adhering to their fiduciary duties and feel confident that they have taken appropriate measures to mitigate costly and time-consuming contract disputes in the future.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Joelle M. Bartkins, Esq.

hoa-parking-space*Unpublished Opinion

Homeowners Association (“HOA”) Boards of Directors and management professionals often encounter disputes with homeowners as to who has the right to use common areas parking spaces within a condominium development. Homeowners often believe that such spaces are part of their separately owned units (their separate property or “separate interest”); that the spaces were “deeded” to them and the HOA is therefore is limited in its ability to regulate, restrict, or reassign the use of those spaces.  For most condominium projects, parking spaces are portions of common area which the HOA may—or in some instances must—reserve for a particular homeowner’s exclusive use, based upon the language of the HOA’s governing documents (i.e., the language of its CC&Rs and/or condominium plan).

We have seen instances where the deed to a unit that was conveyed to the homeowner by the initial developer of the HOA does include a reference to a particular common area parking space as assigned to the homeowner for her exclusive use.  However, such deeds often parallel language in the HOA’s CC&Rs and/or condominium plan which support that exclusive use assignment.  In other words, the language of the deed merely reiterates the applicable language of the CC&Rs and/or condominium plan establishing a particular parking space as a portion of common area for which the homeowner listed in the deed has exclusive use easement rights.

The situation becomes more complicated when the exclusive use language in the deed is ambiguous or is not supported by any provisions of the HOA’s governing documents. This was the central issue in Michaelson v. V.P. Condominium Corporation, No. D071215 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2018).  The HOA in Michaelson consisted of an eleven (11) unit condominium development, in which each unit was granted an exclusive right to use an assigned garage parking space as defined in the HOA’s condominium plan. However, the condominium plan also denoted a 12th unassigned garage parking space (“Unassigned Space”).  For some reason, the right to use this Unassigned Space was actually listed in the deed (“Deed”) to a unit (“Unit”) that the HOA’s developer conveyed to the first homeowner of the Unit, which was later conveyed to the Plaintiff homeowner (“Homeowner”).

The HOA accused the Homeowner of fraudulently acquiring the Unassigned Space and demanded that he convey his interest in the Unassigned Space to the HOA. The Homeowner sued the HOA to quiet title on the Unassigned Space based on the following: (1) the Deed included the exclusive right to use the Unassigned Space; or in the alternative, (2) the Unassigned Space was acquired by adverse possession.

The Court quickly disposed of the Homeowner’s adverse possession claim because the tax for the Unassigned Space was paid for by all the HOA’s members and not by the Homeowner (one of the elements for an adverse possession claim in California requires claimant to have paid taxes on the property; See Code Civ. Pro § 325; See also Nellie Gail Ranch Owners Assn. v. McMullin (2016) 4 Cal. App. 5th 982).

With regard to the Deed, the Court found that it was ineffective as to the right of exclusive use of the Unassigned Space despite the fact that the HOA’s CC&Rs specified garage spaces as part of the “exclusive use common area.” This is because the CC&Rs tied the definition of exclusive use common area to the condominium plan, and the condominium plan did not define the Unassigned Space as exclusive use common area. The Court therefore held that the Unassigned Space belonged to the HOA as general common area, and as such the CC&Rs prohibit the transfer of the Unassigned Space without consent of 75% of the eligible mortgagees on the units.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order to grant the HOA’s motion for summary judgment plus attorney’s fees, holding that the Deed was a “wild deed” with ineffective conveyances that conflicted with the reservations contained in the CC&Rs and the condominium plan.

California HOA lawyers This case highlights the often forgotten importance of condominium plans. While CC&Rs will answer most questions regarding ownership and use rights, the CC&Rs for condominium projects will often relate to and reference the development’s condominium plan in significant ways.

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

hoa-condo-solar

The California Solar Rights Act (“Act”), found at Civil Code §§ 714 and 714.1, provides certain protections for homeowners seeking to install Solar Energy Systems (i.e., solar panels) on their properties (“Systems”). The intent of the Act was to prevent associations from broadly banning Systems for aesthetic reasons—whether through an explicit ban, or through onerous architectural restrictions that greatly increase System costs or reduce performance. To that end, the Act rendered void and unenforceable any provision of an association’s governing documents that “effectively prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system.” Civ. Code § 714(b). The Act does permit associations to place “reasonable restrictions” on the installation or use of Systems, as defined in Civil Code § 714(b).  However, in reality, those “reasonable restrictions” are extremely limited in scope.  To illustrate, any restriction which increases the cost of a System by more than $1,000, or which decreases its performance by more than ten percent (10%), from what was originally proposed by the homeowner is not a “reasonable” restriction and therefore unenforceable. Civ. Code § 714(d)(1)(B).

For planned developments with detached homes, the application of the Act is relatively straightforward because it applied to Systems that were installed on a homeowner’s “separate interest.”  However, what was less clear was the extent to which the Act applied to homeowners within condominium developments.  In a condominium development, a System would not be installed within or upon a homeowner’s separate interest.  Rather, the System would be installed on common area components such as the roofs, garages or carports.

This issue was at the heart of AB 634 which was signed into law in 2017. AB 634 amends Civil Code § 714.1 and adds Civil Code § 4746. Under the new law, which became effective January 1, 2018, associations are prohibited from establishing policies prohibiting the installation or use of Systems installed on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use. It also adds an exemption to the membership approval requirements associated with granting exclusive use of common area to allow for such grants for System installations. Civ. Code § 714.1(b)(1)-(2).  In simple terms, condominium associations are no longer able to broadly prohibit Systems from being installed on common area roofs, garages or carports.

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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.

mechanics-lien

Vendor professionals frequently provide a variety of services on behalf of community associations and individual homeowners.  Under California’s Constitution, unpaid vendors possess a legal right to lien the property upon which they work for the value of their rendered services or furnished material.

AB 534 (Gallagher), effective January 1, 2018, seeks to clarify how mechanic’s liens are to be used in common interest developments by amending Civil Code Section 4615 and by adding new Civil Code sections.

Under existing law, if a vendor intends to preserve the ability to impose a mechanic’s lien at a later time for work performed at a property, then such entity must first secure advance authorization from the property owner. Similarly, under existing law, a vendor seeking to enforce its claim to payment by way of a mechanic’s lien must notify the owner of the property which will be subject to a lien.

In the context of community associations, ownership of common area property can take a variety of forms: that property can be owned by the association, or it can be owned by all of the homeowners jointly, as tenants in common.  As such, the vendor is often burdened by the obligation to identify the legal owner of the common area property when attempting to obtain that advance authorization and when seeking to provide legal notice of an impending lien.

AB 534 circumvents the challenges associated with identifying property ownership by imputing association authorization for a common area improvement to all members, and by making the association the agent for the members for purposes of receiving notices and claims during the lien enforcement process.

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*New Case Lawhoa-boundary-dispute

Rural, equestrian, and large-scale planned developments may include properties with spacious lot sizes bordered by common area lots and open spaces. When property lines are not clearly delineated or easily identified in these communities, there may be instances where a homeowner seeks to expand his property by constructing yard improvements that extend beyond his property line and encroach onto adjacent, HOA-owned common area. If this is not discovered and addressed by the HOA in a timely fashion, there are avenues under California law through which the homeowner may assert that he has obtained an easement over (and in extreme circumstances, actual ownership of) the encroached area. The thought of a homeowner annexing common area for his/her own use is a scary thought, as is the prospect of the HOA failing to prevail in costly litigation that may be needed to reclaim its common area.

Fortunately, the recent holding in Nellie Gail Ranch Owners Association v. McMullin (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 982 (“McMullin”) helps strengthen a HOA’s ability to defeat a homeowner’s attempt to encroach onto common area and claim it as his own…
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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.

hoa vendorsOne of the primary purposes of any homeowners association (HOA) is to manage, maintain and repair the common areas throughout the HOA’s development. This naturally requires the HOA to contract with third-party vendors to furnish goods or services to the HOA (e.g., landscaping, construction, remediation, painting, plumbing, etc.). We are consistently surprised at how some Board members and management professionals fail to recognize how the HOA’s use of improperly vetted vendors can result in potentially significant legal and financial implications for the HOA, among other problems. Therefore, the need to properly vet vendors—and their contracts—is critical before the Board executes any vendor’s contract on behalf of the HOA.

We previously drafted a library article entitled “HOA Concerns in Contracting with Vendors” that provides some guidance as to how a HOA’s Board and Managing Agent can protect the interests of the HOA and its members. This blog post touches on some of the information contained in that article, and sets forth some recommended procedures which should be utilized before any vendor begins work at the HOA’s development.

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