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*Asked & Answered

workplace-bullying-1024x683-1Asked – How should our HOA handle a hostile homeowner who is being abusive to other residents and overwhelms management staff with endless emails and other harassing communication?

Answered – We previously blogged about workplace harassment and hostile work environments for management professionals.  Unfortunately, harassment in Associations is becoming increasingly common these days. The COVID-19 pandemic-related difficulties has only heightened tensions and exacerbated this problem by further triggering those with a propensity for such hostile behavior and visceral outbursts.

While most Community Managers have had some experience dealing with abusive homeowners, hostile homeowners tend to exhibit unrelenting behavior that is challenging and highly disruptive notwithstanding management’s best efforts and great work on behalf of the community. They tend to inundate management staff with incessant and baseless complaints regarding perceived or self-inflicted issues, frivolously question Board actions, and are frequently the primary source of widespread tensions that lead to controversies with other residents.

One helpful guiding principle when encountering such hostile homeowners, is to step back and remember that the management company was hired to serve as the managing agent for the Association. Thus, Management’s 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 the monthly Board meetings. Recognizing this dynamic can assist management staff and the Board when encountering confrontational homeowners. Thus, when responding to emails or other correspondence from such homeowners, Management can simply  acknowledge receipt of the communication, thank the homeowner, and advise them that the Board values resident communication relating to Association business and that you understand their concerns and will forward their communication to the Board for review at the next Board meeting. Then, timely engage the Association’s legal counsel to deal with the problem and to protect the Association’s interests.

If the compulsive emailing or hostile communications persists, then the homeowner can be informed that his/her emails will be blocked by Management and if they wish to send written communication, they send a letter to Management, and it will be placed in the Board packet to be reviewed by the Directors at the next scheduled Board meeting.

While the hope is that Management can get the hostile homeowner under control while memorializing the Association’s good faith efforts to avoid any escalation, the reality is that an overwhelming majority of homeowners who exhibit hostile tendencies will remain unyielding and continue on their ill-advised path until confronted with more serious financial and/or legal ramifications.

Therefore, it is very important that the Board of Directors and Management get the Association’s legal counsel involved as soon as possible in the process. Particularly, the Board should have the Association’s legal counsel send the offending homeowner a formal Cease and Desist letter that fully articulates the misconduct, outlines the basis for the violation, and puts the homeowner on notice that they will be subject to fines and possible legal action if the troubling conduct and violation are not immediately ceased. The letter should preferably also suggest an alternative means of dealing with the purported underlying problem. While this approach generally reaches a good number of offending homeowners, some will inevitably remain undeterred by the formal letter.

If the hostile behavior persists, the Board should consider holding a hearing and start levying fines. Thereafter, and depending on the severity of the ongoing homeowner misconduct, the Board may consider initiating an Internal Dispute Resolution process, or sending a further demand for compliance coupled with a pre-litigation offer of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These steps will generally resolve the majority of violations and behavioral issues.

California HOA lawyers However, if the homeowner lacks any appreciation for the preservation of his/her financial and legal interests and the bad behavior persists, the Board should seek judicial relief by way of a restraining order, suing the hostile homeowner, and seeking recovery of its legal fees and costs pursuant to the Association’s Declaration. Our expert attorneys stand ready to answer your questions, help resolve your matter involving hostile homeowners or other difficulties, and ensure that the Association’s interests are always protected. 

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Sam I. Khil, Esq.

116390863_l-1024x683-1Neighbor-to-neighbor disputes are on the rise. These types of homeowner conflicts are typically characterized as governing document violation complaints that are personality conflicts between neighboring homeowners rather than legitimate concerns that impact the Association and its membership more broadly. Refereeing these squabbles can quickly become burdensome and costly for an Association and its volunteer Board where the complaining homeowner is attempting to use the Association’s enforcement authority as a weapon against their neighbor. Accordingly, Associations plagued with complaints over these types of homeowner tiffs should consider setting clear limits to their involvement in such matters.

Management companies and Boards often receive homeowner complaints for alleged violations that are not easily discernable through a visual inspection of the community. A common neighbor-to-neighbor dispute is a noise complaint like a barking dog or an upstairs disturbance where no other neighbors have complained of the noise and where there are no other witnesses to the alleged ruckus. These complaints are often repetitive, adding to their burdensome nature. Initially, the Board has a duty to investigate the alleged violation, which often falls under a general nuisance provision in the CC&Rs. However, if after investigation, the Board does not find demonstrable or credible evidence that a nuisance or other governing document violation exists, such as where the only evidence is one neighbor’s word against another’s, the Board is well within its authority to deem the matter a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute and to exercise its discretion to decline further action. Failing to exercise restraint in intervening in these disputes could result in problems for the Association by increasing its operational burdens, and by having the balance of its membership subsidize (via their assessments) the resolution of isolated disputes between feuding neighbors that have no bearing on the Association or on a significant portion of its membership.

Declining to intervene in a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute does not leave homeowners without recourse. Each homeowner may enforce the governing documents in their individual capacity against other homeowners (Civ. Code 5975(a)). Depending on the situation, they may also contact local law enforcement, animal control, or request appropriate relief in the civil court. While the complaining homeowner may object to the Association’s use of its discretionary power to decline intervening, “anyone who buys a unit in a common interest development with knowledge of its owners association’s discretionary power accepts the risk that the power may be used in a way that benefits the commonality but harms the individual.” Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association, Inc. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 374.

Due to uncertainties in determining what constitutes a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute and when to (and when not to) intervene, Boards are encouraged to contact their legal counsel to discuss adopting a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Dispute Policy. Such a policy may be drafted in a manner to prevent the Association’s involvement in a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Dispute until such time as the complaining homeowner demonstrates their willingness to expend their own resources in trying to work out a resolution directly with their neighbor through requiring participation in Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) before the Board will consider involvement.

California HOA lawyers Boards are cautioned that legitimate complaints by residents of harassment on the basis of their membership in a protected class are not neighbor-to-neighbor disputes and must be investigated and addressed. See Code of Fed. Reg. §100.7(a)(1)(iii). California HOA’s have been deemed housing providers under the law for purposes of requiring their compliance with this statute. Boards are encouraged to discuss adopting an Anti-Harassment Policy with their legal counsel to address these types of complaints.

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

4e035fcb658a82042cd48a551b4f1b6b*New Case Law

Under California law, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) is a lawsuit brought against a defendant as a form of punishment for engaging in protected activities. When such lawsuits are filed, the defendant may bring an “anti-SLAPP” motion to strike the plaintiff’s suit. In order to prevail on such a motion, the moving party must demonstrate that the plaintiff’s lawsuit arises from its protected activities. Once the moving party has made such a demonstration, the plaintiff may defeat the motion by showing the lawsuit has merit. Such a battle was recently fought in the case of Third Laguna Hills Mutual v. Joslin. ((2020) 49 Cal. App. 5th 336 (“Third Laguna”).)

In Third Laguna, a homeowners’ association, Third Laguna Hills Mutual – an active adult community (“Association”), brought an action against a homeowner, Jeff Joslin (“Owner”), alleging, among other things, violations of the Association’s governing documents. Joslin had apparently rented out his separate interest to unqualified persons (i.e., “nonseniors”) who then caused nuisance violations (e.g., playing loud music). In response, Joslin filed a cross-complaint against the Association, alleging various tort theories. The Association labeled Joslin’s cross-complaint as a SLAPP suit and filed an anti-SLAPP motion.

In support of its anti-SLAPP motion, the Association argued that Owner’s cross-complaint was in response to the Association’s “protected activities and communications;” in other words, the “pre-litigation threats and the filing of” the Association’s lawsuit. The Association further argued that enforcement of the Association’s CC&Rs “is a public issue and an issue of public interest” falling within the ambit of the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court disagreed, siding with the in pro per Owner.

In denying the Association’s anti-SLAPP motion, the Court reasoned that the tort claims alleged in Owner’s cross-complaint clearly “arose from the [Association’s] decisions and actions” (e.g., preventing Owner from renting out his unit), not “from the [Association’s] filing of the complaint.” Moreover, and although the Association is relatively large, enforcement of the CC&Rs “is not a public issue or an issue of public interest within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute.” Because Owner prevailed, he was awarded his costs on appeal.

California HOA lawyers This case is important because it highlights the need for a HOA to perform a careful and thorough evaluation, not only of the merits of a lawsuit prior to filing, but of all subsequent procedural actions taken during the pendency of the lawsuit.

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

*Asked & Answered

temporary-outdoor-fence-privacy-ides-rental-panels-bamboo-backyard_outdoor-patio-and-backyardAsked – Our association has two homeowners that have requested the association’s intervention to assist with resolving a dispute that has arose from damage to a shared wall. Should the Board get involved? Does the Association have any responsibility to cover the cost to repair the shared wall?

Answered – As a general matter, the Association is not obligated to intervene in this neighbor-to-neighbor dispute and is not responsible for covering the cost of the damage to the shared wall (“Party Wall”).

California Civil Code § 4775 provides the general allocation of maintenance responsibilities between associations and individual homeowners as follows, “unless otherwise provided in the declaration of a common interest development, the association is responsible for repairing, replacing, and maintaining the common area.” (Civ. Code § 4775(a)(1). Emphasis added.) The code further provides that “[u]nless otherwise provided in the declaration of a common interest development, the owner of each separate interest is responsible for repairing, replacing, and maintaining that separate interest.” (Id. at (a)(2). Emphasis added.)

In this situation, the damaged Party Wall is located between two private lots, not on the Association common area. As such, absent any provision in the association’s governing documents to the contrary, the association has no obligation to repair the Party Wall.

This point is further clarified by California Civil Code § 841(a), which states, in pertinent part: “[a]djoining landowners shall share equally in the responsibility for maintaining the boundaries and monuments between them.” Which, necessarily, would include the damaged Party Wall. This maintenance obligation extends to “reasonable costs of construction…or necessary replacement of the fence.” (Civ. Code § 841(b)(1).)

There may be circumstances where the Board of Directors (“Board”) may sympathize with the homeowners and want to intervene (eg. the damage to the Party Wall was no fault of the homeowners). While this feeling is valid and shows the Board’s virtues, the Board should remember that they are fiduciaries of the Association and must act in the best interests of the association as a whole.

The Board lacks the authority to expend association funds to repair the damaged Party Wall. The association levy’s and collects assessments from its owners for various reasons including among other things, promoting its members’ welfare, improving and maintaining association property, and discharging association obligations under their governing documents. However, covering the cost of the Party Wall, which is a separate interest, would be outside the scope of the association’s authority.

Thus, the association has no obligation or authority to intervene with this dispute and make the repairs to the damaged Party Wall. That burden lies solely with the homeowners.

California HOA lawyers In addition to the above, prudent associations adopt neighbor-to-neighbor dispute policies to offset many disputes that can likely be resolved with effort between the homeowners.

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

*New Legislation

1200-forclosure-650x405-1

Existing state law provides for the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “Rosenthal Act”), California’s state equivalent of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). Like the FDCPA, the Rosenthal Act prohibits debt collectors from engaging in specified abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect debts. Violations of the Rosenthal Act are enforceable through a private right of action.

Additionally, existing California State law provides for the Fair Debt Buying Practices Act (“FDBPA”; Civil Code Section 1788.50 et seq.), which requires persons that purchase delinquent or charged-off consumer debt to maintain, and provide upon request, specified documentation proving that the alleged debtor is the individual associated with the original contract or agreement, and that the amount of indebtedness is accurate, among other requirements.

On September 25, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 908, the Debt Collection Licensing Act (“SB 908”), which creates a new licensing law applicable to debt collectors and debt buyers, administered by the Department of Business Oversight (“DBO”), effective January 1, 2022. Moreover, SB 908 provides for licensure regulation, oversight of debt collectors, definitions of terms, application requirements (including criminal background checks), maintaining surety bonds, and other related changes.

SB 908, sponsored by Senator Wieckowski, was presented to ensure greater consumer protection through enhanced oversight over debt collectors and debt buying entities within California. The bill utilizes the foundations contained within the Rosenthal Act and FDBPA.

The goal of SB 908 is to add new a layer of regulatory oversight over debt collectors and debt buyers already subject to state law, but not currently subject to licensure. With the adoption of the bill, debt collectors and debt buying entities must apply for and be approved for a license by the Commissioner of Business Oversight. By requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to comply with licensing requirements, the belief is that the State will be better situated to ensure compliance with existing law.

As for remedial measures, the Rosenthal Act and the FDBPA already authorize private rights of action for violations of these acts. As such, SB 908 contains a limited set of administrative remedies, including desist and refrain authority, the ability to order ancillary relief, and the ability to suspend and revoke licenses. According to the Senate, the lack of civil and administrative penalty authority and citation and fine authority in SB 908 is intended to prevent situations where a licensee could be subject to both a lawsuit by a debtor and to an administrative or civil action brought by DBO for the same violation.

The adoption of SB 908 has several important implications for Homeowners Associations (“HOA”). Notably, the new licensing requirement applies to natural persons, partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, trusts, estates, cooperatives, associations, and other similar entities. This includes law firms and management companies involved in the collection of debt, including the collection of delinquent assessments. Thus, this bill directly impacts which entities may manage the HOA’s assessment collections.

California HOA lawyers Considering the foregoing, and to avoid the various penalties provided for in SB 908  (i.e. refunds, restitution, disgorgement, and payment of damages, as appropriate, on behalf of a person injured by the improper conduct) all HOAs should ensure that their designated collection vendors are properly licensed by the DBO by January 1, 2022. 

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

bigstock_Yard_Signs_At_Residential_Stre_229727968As we draw near to the 2020 election, many residents living in HOAs have decided to install yard signs and other displays for their chosen candidate or cause. Many of these “noncommercial” signs have sparked fury in those who oppose such views, calling upon the Board of Directors to have such signs removed. Thus, in recent months, we have received numerous requests from our clients to provide an opinion as to the extent to which a HOA may regulate the display of such non-commercial signs.

It is without doubt that we currently live in a society with varying opinions on political and social issues. Such division has only become more polarized with recent events.  While some might find the opinions espoused by certain groups repugnant, upholding a resident’s right to express those beliefs and opinions through the display of signs on their property is more important than the minor discomfort some may experience in observing such signs. The only other option would be to prohibit residents from displaying any signs concerning issues of politics and social justice, something which the California Legislature has expressly forbidden: “[H]omeowners throughout the state shall be able to engage in constitutionally protected free speech traditionally associated with private residential property” and “shall be specifically protected from unreasonable restrictions on this right in the governing documents.” (Historical and Statutory Notes, 8 West’s Ann. Civ. Code (2007 ed.) foll. 1353.6, p. 184.)

Indeed, under California Civil Code section 4710(a), “[t]he governing documents may not prohibit posting or displaying of noncommercial signs, posters, flags or banners on or in a member’s separate interest, except as required for the protection of public health or safety or if the posting or display would violate a local, state, or federal law.” Some may nevertheless argue that certain noncommercial signs incite terror and/or rioting and therefore must be removed “for the protection of public health [and] safety.” Although such argument is speculative at best, Section 4710’s concern with public health and safety relates to concerns relative to the placement of such signs (e.g., view obstructions), not the fact that some might have an adverse emotional or physical reaction to such signs.

Inquiries have also been made concerning a HOA’s ability to restrict the number of noncommercial signs placed on a resident’s separate interest, as well as the duration of their display. Section 4710 does not address the number of noncommercial signs that may be displayed by a particular resident. However, in Fourth La Costa Condominium Owners Association v. Seith, the Court saw “no problem with allowing only one sign per unit,” and requiring that they be removed after a particular duration. ((2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 563, 581.) While Fourth La Costa pertained to real estate signs (i.e., commercial signs), the Court’s reasoning could similarly apply to restrictions on the number of noncommercial signs as well as the duration of display. (See id. at p. 581 (upholding the HOA’s decision “for aesthetic purposes”).) A HOA’s ability to regulate the number and duration would be further supported if the city/county in which the HOA is located has also promulgated codes/ordinances regulating the installation of political signs on a resident’s separate interest.

Again, it is important to recognize that many residents might find some of the political and social views promoted by their neighbors as offensive. Because they live in a HOA, they must necessarily tolerate differing viewpoints and loyalties. As the California Supreme Court has said, “[t]he very existence of organized society depends upon the principle of ‘give and take, live and let live’….” (San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court. (1996) 13 Cal.4th 893, 937-38.) Therefore, in response to resident complaints, such residents should be informed of the limitation imposed by Section 4710 and directed to “avoid further bombardment of their sensibilities simply by averting their eyes.” (Cohen v. California (1971) 403 U.S. 15, 21.)

California HOA lawyers Residents who object to the content displayed on noncommercial signs should be reminded that HOAs are limited in the ways in which they may restrict residents from displaying such signs on their separate interests. Nevertheless, HOAs should consult with their general counsel to ensure that the HOA’s operating rules are in compliance with California Civil Code section 4710.

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

Support-animal-1*Asked & Answered

Asked Our Association does not allow pets in the pool area, but a resident has recently begun bringing her emotional support dog to the pool-side lounge area. Do we have to let the dog accompany its owner to the pool?

Answered – Probably. The Federal Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations that may be necessary to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy their housing, including common area spaces. An accommodation is typically considered reasonable if it does not impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the housing provider or fundamentally alter the nature of the provider’s operation. Normally, allowing an emotional support dog to use a common area that is otherwise off limits to pets will not create such a burden on the homeowners association (“HOA”).

In this case, since the HOA’s restriction on pets from the pool area may be serving as a barrier to prevent this resident from using the pool area, making an exception to this rule and allowing her to bring her emotional support dog to the pool deck is likely a reasonable accommodation that the HOA can make.

However, like other dogs within the Association, an emotional support dog must remain under the control of its owner. This means the HOA can require that the dog remain on a leash while it is poolside with its owner unless a specific accommodation to allow the dog off-leash is requested by the dog’s owner and granted by the HOA – there are very limited circumstances when a dog does not have to be leashed or crated. Furthermore, if the dog causes a nuisance (for example, uncontrolled barking) or poses a threat of harm to another person or the property of another person, the HOA can restrict the dog’s presence in order to eliminate the nuisance or threat to other residents of the HOA.

It is worth noting, however, that just because the emotional support dog is allowed in the pool area does not mean the dog may enter the pool. Public health regulations prohibit dogs in swimming pools, and the HOA may not ignore this regulation to allow the dog inside the pool with its owner. If the owner is in the pool, the dog must continue to remain under control, whether the dog’s leash is held by another person capable of controlling the dog or tethered to a stable element.

California HOA lawyers When an HOA receives a request from a resident for an accommodation based on the resident’s disability, the Board should address the request timely and maintain an open dialogue with the resident. The Board should be careful to address these requests in compliance with all applicable laws and should not ask about the nature or extent of the person’s disability. Oftentimes in a request regarding an emotional support animal, the person’s disability and the animal’s related service task is not readily apparent (as may be the case for a dog that helps guide an individual in a wheelchair). HOA’s should consult their legal counsel regarding requests for accommodation of disabled residents.

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

CPSC-Statute-of-Limitations-scaled-e1585591179590*Asked & Answered

AskedIs the Board of Directors required to bring legal action, within a certain timeframe, against a homeowner, who is violating the association’s governing documents?

Answered In most circumstances, the association has five (5) years to bring legal action against violating homeowners pursuant to the Statute of Limitations.  (See Code Civ. Proc., § 336(b).)  The Statute of Limitations begins to run from the time the board discovers the violations or, through exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered the violations. Determining when the Statute of Limitations begins to run is a fact intensive inquiry, which must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The five-year Statute of Limitations tolls (or is extended) in two limited circumstances.  The Statute of Limitations will toll for a period of thirty (30) days after a party (either the HOA or a homeowner) offers Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”). (Civ. Code, § 5945(a).)  The Statute of Limitations will later toll for a period of ninety (90) days after one party accepts ADR, so that mediation can take place. (Civ. Code, § 5945(b).)  This tolling period will also include any extensions agreed to, in writing, by the parties. (Civ. Code, § 5945(b).)

HOAs should keep in mind that even if the Statute of Limitations has not yet expired, the Court has the authority to prohibit an HOA from initiating legal action if it believes that the HOA failed to promptly enforce the governing documents.  These legal defenses are known as the defense of “laches” and “waiver.”  The defense of laches requires a homeowner to prove that he was prejudiced by the HOA’s unreasonable delay in enforcing the governing documents.  Whereas, the defense of waiver requires a homeowner to prove that the HOA failed to promptly remedy a sufficient number of similar violations throughout the community, so that the HOA’s related rules and regulations generally appeared to be waived.  The theory is that by failing to enforce some violations, the HOA induced other similarly situated homeowners to believe the association’s governing documents were no longer subject to enforcement.

To avoid these potential defenses, HOAs should act promptly to enforce the governing documents upon learning of a violation.  Although, it is important to note, that HOAs are not required to initiate litigation for every potential violation.  HOAs can, alternatively, enforce their governing documents without legal action via monetary penalties and/or the suspension of privileges.

When the board of directors discovers a violation, or is notified of the same, it should promptly investigate the matter to determine the best course of action to compel the homeowner’s compliance.  Before resorting to litigation, HOAs should always weigh the costs of litigation, the seriousness of the violation, and the likelihood of success at trial.  The board of directors possesses wide discretion to determine whether or not to move forward with litigation, so long as the board is acting in good faith and in the best interests of the association.  In the case of Beehan v. Lido Isle Community Association, the Court of Appeal held:

“The power to manage the affairs of a corporation is vested in the board of directors. Where a board of directors, in refusing to commence an action to redress an alleged wrong against a corporation, acts in good faith within the scope of its discretionary power and reasonably believes its refusal to commence the action is good business judgment in the best interest of the corporation, a [Member] is not authorized to interfere with such discretion by commencing the action…. ‘Every presumption is in favor of the good faith of the directors. Interference with such discretion is not warranted in doubtful cases.” (Beehan v. Lido Isle Community Association (1977) 70 Cal.App.3d 858, 865.)

California HOA lawyers If an HOA is uncertain as to whether the Statute of Limitations has expired for an outstanding homeowner violation, the board of directors should consult with its legal counsel to determine whether the HOA has the ability to remedy the outstanding violation through legal action, or to address such violation through alternative means.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Sarah A. Kyriakedes, Esq.

photo-1529567591152-9abba27ab13b*Asked & Answered

Asked – Can a homeowners’ association prohibit owners from smoking within the interior of their units?

Answered – The California Legislature has recognized that homeowners associations (“HOAs”) require flexibility in adopting and enforcing “operating rules” governing the use of common areas and “exclusive use” common areas (or “Restricted Common Areas”) such as parking spaces, patios and balconies.  The California Civil Code provides this flexibility by granting HOAs authority to adopt and enforce such operating rules without requiring a formal amendment to the HOA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”). (See Cal. Civ. Code § 4350.

However, a HOA’s authority to adopt operating rules is not absolute.  For an operating rule to be valid and enforceable it must satisfy various requirements.  One of those requirements is that the operating rule must be “within the authority of the board conferred by law or by the declaration.” (Cal. Civ. Code § 4350(b).)  In other words, for the board of directors (“board”) to implement rules regulating conduct within the units, either the CC&Rs or prevailing law must confer upon the board the authority to implement such rules.

Most CC&Rs provide that the board’s rule-making authority extends to activities affecting “the Common Area and the facilities thereon.” Such a provision therefore does not authorize the board to promulgate new operating rules regulating conduct inside the units.   Notwithstanding that fact, many CC&Rs also contain a use restriction prohibiting residents from engaging in activities within their units which would constitute a “nuisance.” Indeed, such a provision may read something like:

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bigstock-Election-Campaign-Election-Vo-131448176-1-1140x660-1We have just passed the two-year anniversary of California Civil Code 4515. This is the law that protects certain rights of members and residents to political speech and peaceful assembly within California community associations. With election season in full swing, it is important for Boards and management to be reminded that the rights afforded to members and to residents by Civil Code 4515 to utilize Association common area facilities and to campaign are not unlimited.

For many associations, Civil Code 4515 comes into play when members or residents (the code applies to both) seek to use common area facilities to hold campaign or political rallies. Rules that previously required the payment of a deposit and/or fee plus proof of liability insurance to reserve a facility for an event needed to be revised in light of the new law, which prohibits such fees, deposits, and insurance for those using the common area facilities for assembly purposes. Managers and Boards were left with the burden of determining how to differentiate between those wishing to use the common area facilities for private events such as birthday parties where a fee can still be charged and those who desired to use those same facilities for assembly purposes where fees cannot be charged.

Reasonable Restrictions on the Use of Common Area Facilities for Assembly Purposes. Association rules & regulations and facility use agreements are useful tools in balancing the requirements of the law with reasonable restrictions that protect the Association. Possible restrictions on the use of facilities for assembly purposes are as follows:

  1. Not open to the public: Both the rules and facility use agreements may require that any 4515-related meetings or events be restricted to members, residents and their guests only so as not to open the Association’s facilities to the public. If the Association is open to the public, it must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a costly endeavor that exposes the Association to potential significant liability if the strict ADA requirements are not met.
  2. Occupancy restrictions: The fire department of each city typically sets maximum occupancy limits for association facilities such as clubhouses. Those reserving the facilities should be required to limit their events to no more than what is permitted by the fire code or to any other reasonable number determined by the Board as the maximum capacity for each facility. Attendance beyond capacity burdens Associations with traffic, potential for unruliness and nuisance, and excess strain on common area components such as restrooms.
  3. Responsibility for damages: Although no fee or deposit may be charged upfront, this does not mean members cannot be held responsible for damage caused to the common area by their residents and guests during 4515-related gatherings. A facility use agreement may be required for anyone reserving the facilities. Reservations should be required in advance and a stated purpose should be required when making the reservation that the meeting is for proper assembly purposes pursuant to Civil Code 4515. If a non-member resident wishes to use a facility for a proper assembly purpose, the member who owns the Lot/Unit where the resident resides may be required to sign such an agreement assuming responsibility for any damage caused at their event. Additionally, most CC&Rs contain a provision that makes members responsible for damage caused to the common area by them, their tenants or guests and many of these damages can be levied as a reimbursement assessment, depending on the language of the Association’s CC&Rs.
  4. Cleaning fees. A facility usage agreement can also require that a member and/or resident reserving a common area facility return the facility in the same condition in which they received it, which includes cleaning and the disposal of trash. If the individual fails to return the facility in the same condition, the Association can charge the responsible member for cleaning fees as required by a facility usage agreement.
  5. Parking: Parking is a concern for many associations and the scheduling of a large rally poses a potential strain on Associations where parking is limited. Civil Code 4515 does not afford members or residents with additional parking rights. That means that the existing parking rules and regulations apply to attendees of an event for assembly purposes. Once the guest spaces are all occupied, attendees must make arrangements to park elsewhere to avoid being cited and/or towed as provided in the Rules.  This should be made clear in any facility use agreement so advance arrangements for parking for their guests if necessary. Compliance by all attendees with the governing document provisions, not just its parking provisions, should be required by the rules and/or a facility use agreement for assembly-related events.
  6. Alcohol use: The Association may ban the use of alcohol at events for assembly purposes – even if alcohol is allowed at private events. Because procuring insurance cannot be required for those reserving facilities for assembly purposes, it is reasonable to ban alcohol or other activities which may increase legal exposure to the Association at these gatherings. Likewise, items such as sound equipment that may be used for private events can be withheld from assembly events with no deposit so long as this limitation is made clear in the facility use agreement and/or rules.
  7. Compliance with the governing documents. Members and residents and their guests using common areas must still comply with the provisions of the Association’s governing documents including as to noise levels, parking, cleaning up after service animals, etc. This can be made clear in a well-drafted facility use agreement.
  8. Reasonable hours: Holding a political rally does not give members and residents 24-hour access to the Association’s facilities or rights above members who request to use the facilities for their private events. Rules should be adopted that ensure all members have equal access to these facilities, including for private events, and that the events end at a reasonable time to ensure noise levels are not interrupting residents’ quiet enjoyment of their property.
  9. Designated Areas. Often, an Association’s clubhouse is near a pool or to other facilities and guests of the assembly event spill out into other areas not reserved for the event. A facility use agreement can require that the event must be contained within the reserved facility and that guests may not migrate beyond said designated area.

What is a Proper “Assembly” Purpose Under Civil Code 4515?  Most Associations are concerned about the potential abuse of this statute in the form of members reserving facilities without paying a fee stating it is for assembly purposes when it is really just a private event. Examples of qualified purposes of assembly are to discuss common interest living, association elections, legislation, election to public office, or any initiative, referendum, or recall process involving the Association or other political body. If the stated purpose for reserving a facility does not fall into one of these categories, then it is a private event.

Limitations on Canvassing and Petitioning. While Associations cannot restrict canvassing, petitioning, or the circulation of materials for political purposes, they can place reasonable restrictions on these activities such as requiring that it take place only during certain hours. This type of political speech often gives rise to complaints by members disturbed by such unsolicited campaigning and door-knocking, but the Association may not bar such free speech activities when done in a reasonable manner.

California HOA lawyers To implement reasonable and common-sense restrictions on political speech and assembly without violating Civil Code 4515, HOAs should have their legal counsel review their current rules and policies with respect to campaigning, solicitation and common area use and to prepare agreements concerning the use of common area facilities. Rules or policies which violate Civil Code 4515 subject the HOA to court action and fines.

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

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