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Last time we checked, the mortality rate was 100%. This means that owners of real property within homeowners associations (“HOA’s” or “Associations”) will inevitably pass away at some point. This leaves many questions for Boards and management about how to navigate issues surrounding the separate interest still titled in the name of the deceased.

Enforcement of Governing Documents Against Deceased Owners

For obvious reasons, dead owners usually do not maintain their properties in good condition and are often ineffective landlords if their separate interest is occupied by a tenant. Management and Boards may not even know that an owner has passed away such that they continue to send violation letters and fine these deceased owners to no avail.

If an owner is ignoring fines and other enforcement action combined with not paying monthly assessments or maintaining a property, it is wise to investigate whether the owner is still living. This is especially important because there is a one-year statute of limitation from the date of an owner’s death to pursue enforcement or collection-related action per Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 366.2. This strict deadline applies even if the HOA had no knowledge the owner was deceased. Law firms can assist Associations with public records searches to detect an open probate or a death certificate.

Court Order or Consent Required to Enter Onto Property

Although many CC&Rs have provisions allowing an HOA and its agents to enter onto a property upon prior notice to cure certain compliance issues, it is recommended for the protection of the HOA and its vendors that a court order first be obtained before entering property without advance express consent. This is the case even if the HOA believes the property is unoccupied because California case law holds that a contractual right to self-help is not a defense to a claim for forcible entry. (Glass v. Najafi (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 45, 48–49, 92; See also Daluiso v. Boone (1969) 71 Cal.2d 484, 493, “Regardless of who has the right to possession, orderly procedure and preservation of the peace require that the actual possession shall not be disturbed except by legal process.”)

Collection Methods Against a Deceased Owner

Since unpaid regular and special assessments may attach to the property, the lien-related collection process is similar for living and deceased owners, except that with a deceased owner, you are dealing with the administrator or personal representative of the decedent’s estate instead of with the living owner.

If an Association wants to sue a deceased owner or make a claim against their estate for monies owed as a creditor, it must pursue these remedies against the deceased owner’s estate.  Suing an estate of a decedent or making a claim for monies owed against them requires an open probate action in superior court. The problem is that sometimes, an owner passes away with no will or next of kin in which case a probate of the owner’s estate may not be opened.

In such cases, management may contact the public administrator of the county in which the decedent’s property is located and request that they open a probate. If the public administrator fails to do so or drags their feet, the HOA can open a probate action as a creditor to make sure the probate case is opened and the claim for monies owed is timely submitted.

Once a probate is open, a creditor has only four months from the date the executor or administrator is appointed to file a claim in probate. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 377.40; Prob. Code §§9100 et seq.). An HOA should be mindful that the one-year limit to file a claim against a deceased owner is not extended by this four-month deadline.

Thankfully, an HOA’s ability to foreclose on a secured lien via the nonjudicial foreclosure process set forth in Cal. Civ. Code §§ 2924–2924h is not affected by the aforementioned one-year statute of limitations to seek money judgments, injunctive relief, and/or judicial foreclosure against a deceased person. This is because such debt is secured by the property and is not attached to the deceased person.

Evicting Tenants

Deceased owners can leave occupants behind who may not be compliant with the HOA’s governing documents or who may create nuisance conditions as is frequently the case with squatters. The law provides an owner with the standing to evict tenants via an unlawful detainer action. When the owner is deceased, the HOA can and should call the estate (through its administrator) to a hearing and fine it for violations of the occupants. The administrator of the estate has the authority to gain tenant compliance via eviction or otherwise. Fining the estate can be an effective way to gain the estate’s compliance. Some governing documents even have provisions assigning the standing to evict tenants who violate the governing documents to the HOA via an unlawful detainer action. These provisions usually allow the HOA to charge the owner (or their estate) for the fees and costs incurred to evict non-compliant tenants if the owner or their estate fails to act.

Biohazard Cleanup

It is a macabre reality that occupants can and do pass away in the property. If the occupant lived alone and had no close friends or family, it can be weeks until the death is discovered. An HOA may first learn about such an occurrence via a report of unpleasant odors or vectors emanating from the property. If a dead occupant is suspected, law enforcement should be called. Once the body has been transported by the coroner, the biological materials left behind can pose a risk to the health and safety of the community’s residents such that the Association may consider calling in a biohazard clean up vendor to handle the situation. Depending on the language in the governing documents, the cost of the cleanup may become a charge against the deceased owner’s estate provided the proper processes are followed pursuant to the HOA’s enforcement policy and the laws applicable to probate claims.

California HOA lawyers Collection and enforcement proceedings against deceased owners in California is a complex area of law such that HOA’s should contact their legal counsel to ensure proper compliance and to avoid missing important statutory deadlines.


Newsletter-Issue-57-300x167In case you missed it, Issue # 57 of our ‘Community Association Update’ newsletter is available now!

Topics covered in this issue include:

  • AB 1410 – Speech on Social Media; Room Rentals; Enforcement During Emergencies
  • AB 1738 – EV Charging Stations in Existing Multi-Family Developments
  • SB 897 – Accessory Dwelling Units
  • Artus v. Gramercy Towers
  • Fowler v. Golden Pacific Bancorp, Inc.

A link to the newsletter is here.

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pexels-photo-2179205There will come a time when a homeowner violates an association’s governing documents (i.e., CC&Rs, Rules & Regulations, Architectural Guidelines…etc).  If there is a possibility those violations will be litigated, the association must have a proper trail of evidence to bolster their claims.

Q:  What are some types of violations that would need evidence?

A:  Unapproved architectural improvements (i.e., walls, patio covers), failing to maintain property exterior in planned developments (i.e., shutters, paint, landscaping), inappropriate parking…etc.

Q:  What should the association or its community manager do when there is this type of violation?

A:  For these violations, the association’s community manager should clearly document in their written records: what the violation was, which governing documents provision was violated, who committed the violation, if known (e.g., an owner, guest, tenant), when the violation occurred (i.e., date and time), where the violation occurred, and anything else that might be relevant.  Additionally, a photo of the violation should be taken on the date it occurred and reoccurred.

Q:  How should the photo be taken?

A:  The photo should be taken directly in front of the violation.  There should be plenty of natural light to clearly see what type of violation it is.  Flash should be utilized if it improves the picture quality.  The photo should not be taken from within a vehicle because there will be light and color distortion; furthermore, the violation photo should not include portions of the vehicle.  If there is a parking violation that occurs in the evening, any photos submitted by the association patrol vendor should be taken from the outside of a vehicle.

It is important that the photo be taken with a high-definition camera, if possible, so as to not be grainy or blurry.  There should be no objects distracting from the violation (e.g., people, pets, vehicles).

Q:  Why so particular about the violation photo and written evidence?

A:  If the matter goes to litigation, the association will need to prove that a homeowner has committed the violation(s) alleged by the association.  A judge will want to see actual physical photo evidence and clear documentation of the homeowner’s violation history.  Without proper evidence, the association might have a hard time winning its case.  If there is a clear violation history and evidence, the judge will be able to order the homeowner to correct the violations.

Even if the matter does not go to litigation, a proper trail of evidence will assist the association’s general counsel in dealing with the matter.

California HOA lawyers The association should request that management take a photo of every violation if they wish to properly retain evidence and enforce their governing documents.  Without a photo, no matter how big or small the violation, the homeowner can always argue that the association was mistaken, and the violation never occurred.  It would be a case of “he said, she said” argument that would go nowhere—it would definitely not hold up in court.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Vivian X. Tran, Esq.

funeral-etiquette-1000x500-getty-1200x675-1When a delinquent homeowner dies, there is a strict one-year statute of limitations to sue them or to continue a lawsuit against their estate. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 366.2). This is true even if the statute of limitations would have been longer had the person survived. This harsh rule applies even if you did not know that the person died so Boards and management should take notice if a homeowner does not respond to communications or suddenly falls in arrears and then investigate further by contacting family members or emergency contacts during circumstances of non-responsiveness and/or extended non-payment.

The second important rule when a debtor dies is that when a probate estate has opened, any creditor has only four months from the date the executor or administrator is appointed to file a claim in probate. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 377.40; Prob. Code §§ 9100 et seq.). Sometimes the decedent has no family or heirs or the heirs fail to open a probate. In this case, the HOA may reach out to the public administrator in the county where the real property is located to request that they open a probate. If this is not done, then it is incumbent on the HOA to open the probate as a creditor to ensure that the above-referenced statute of limitations does not run. (See Prob. Code §§800; 48).

Since a dead person cannot be sued, the HOA must sue the estate of the decedent. If a lawsuit was filed while the homeowner was alive, but they are now deceased, a motion should be timely filed to substitute the deceased person with their estate. (Cal Code Civ. Proc. § 377.31). Counsel should be mindful that the motion must be filed within three (3) months of the rejection of the HOA’s creditor’s claim, which is deemed rejected if not responded to within thirty (30) days of submission. (Prob. Code §§ 9256, 9352, 9353, 9371). It is important to note that once the creditor’s claim is filed, the one-year time bar pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §366.2 is tolled. Nevertheless, the creditor’s claim must be filed within one year of the decedent’s death or the claim is barred entirely.

Thankfully, the above harsh requirements do not apply when the debt is one that can be secured via a lien on real property that may be foreclosed, such as with assessment liens. This is because such debt attaches to the property and not to the deceased person.

California HOA lawyers The death of a delinquent homeowner can pose complex and time-sensitive challenges. This is why HOA’s should promptly contact their counsel or collections professional for assistance in the event of a delinquent homeowner’s death.

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

cs_imageThe rising cost of electricity, environmental considerations, clean energy and tax savings, utility company programs designed to help alleviate the demand on the grid, and the proliferation of affordable residential solar energy systems have made solar power more popular than ever.  Consequently, Associations are seeing a sharp rise in homeowner requests to install solar energy systems.  This presents a particularly unique set of challenges for condominium developments because of their shared roofs and other similar common area components.

Under Civil Code § 714.1, if a condo owner (“homeowner”) wants to install a solar energy system (“solar panels”) on a shared common area rooftop or adjacent garage or carport, Associations can no longer prohibit them.  California law broadly requires Associations to allow homeowners to install solar panels on common area roofs of the buildings in which their unit is located or on the roofs of adjacent carports or garages.  See Civ. Code §§ 714.1, 4600, and 4746.

Moreover, solar panel installations are an exception to the rule requiring 67 percent of membership approval before the Association grants use of any portion of a common area to a particular homeowner.  See Civ. Code § 4600(b)(3)(J).  This Civil Code exception is intended to make solar adoption in condos easier and streamline common area roof installations.

Therefore, any provision of an Association’s governing documents that effectively prohibits or materially impedes the installation or use of solar panels is deemed void and unenforceable.  For instance, Association restrictions that raise the total cost of the solar panels system by more than $1,000 or decrease its performance by more than ten (10) percent from what was originally proposed by the applicant homeowner run afoul of the law and are deemed void.

However, this does not mean that a homeowner can install as many solar panels on the common area roof as he or she desires without consideration of neighbors in the building.  Civil Code § 4746(b) provides that when reviewing a request to install a solar energy system on a multifamily common area roof shared by more than one homeowner pursuant to §§ 714 and 714.1, an Association may impose additional reasonable provisions.

Therefore, if a homeowner wants to install solar panels onto a common rooftop, the Association can require a solar site survey to help determine the breakdown of usable space among all homeowners sharing the roof for potential solar hardware.  See Civ. Code § 4746.  Because each Association is different, it is up to the Board of each Association to decide what is a fair and reasonable equitable allocation of a common area roof.  If practical, each homeowner should get a proportion of the usable roof space that would result in an equal amount of energy output.  This way, rather than the first installer of solar panels utilizing the ideal area(s) of the shared solar roof to the disadvantage of subsequent installers, the above equal allocation approach promotes solar equitable ownership and equal opportunity to the same quantity of solar energy.

If the site survey determines that a rooftop solar system would be impractical or the allocation of shared roof space is untenable, the Association could deny installation.  See Civ. Code § 4746.

In summation, while the Association may not unreasonably restrict an owner’s request and the CA statute expressly allows for such panels on common area roofs, the Association may reasonably attach a series of requirements and conditions pursuant to which the applicant homeowner must: 1) Notify the other homeowners with the shared roof of their desired solar system installation; 2) maintain a liability coverage policy at all times and provide the Association with the corresponding certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval of the application; 3) conduct a solar site survey and provide the Association with a copy of the results, which among other things shall also include a determination of the equitable allocation of the usable solar roof area among all owners sharing the same roof, garage, or carport; 4) bind the owner and all successive owners for costs of maintenance and damages with all repair responsibilities being allocated to the homeowner and his/her successor(s); and 5) require the homeowner’s disclosures to all prospective buyers (and renters) of the restrictions and responsibilities.

The above requirements notwithstanding, the Association should get ahead of potential future issues involving solar panel systems by adopting guidelines addressing the policies and procedures regarding the application and installation of solar panels.  Additionally, Boards should consider requiring the execution and recordation of a maintenance and indemnity agreement whereby the applicant homeowner assumes responsibility for the costs of repairing damage to, among other things, the common area resulting from the installation, maintenance, repair, removal or replacement of the solar panels and all related hardware.  Such an agreement should also address what happens when the System needs to be removed or re-installed to accommodate community-wide roofing projects the Association may undertake in the future.

There are further concerns and other nuances that should be considered for each individual Association to ensure full compliance with the operative laws and effectively mitigate legal exposure.

California HOA lawyers Contact your HOA attorney to conduct an in-depth analysis for your community to ensure compliance with the legal requirements and help prepare a related Solar Policy and Maintenance & Indemnity Agreement.

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

pexels-kindel-media-7105828Children are usually considered blessings and a joy to be around.  Unfortunately, there is always one slightly rambunctious child who may be prone to causing trouble in Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”).  What should an HOA and/or Board of Directors (“Board”) do in such scenarios?  Is there anything the HOA can legally do?

The U.S. Supreme Court and federal court recognize parents’ constitutional rights to the care, custody, and control of their children.  The Supreme Court explained that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects “the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children.”  (Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) 262 U.S. 390.)

While we understand that disturbances to other members and common areas caused by a child might place everyone in a state of discomfort, the HOA should not interfere in situations where parental rights might be in question—especially in situations where there have been no obvious or implied threats to the community members’ health and safety.

Even should management report the incident(s) to the police (on the theory that the child might be a danger to the community) or child protective services (on the theory that the child might be in an unhealthy home environment causing the child to act in such a way), it is unlikely for the government to take any action beyond filing a report at such an early stage.  Unless the situation is dire, the government usually prefers to remain out of familial matters.  The Second Circuit held “[T]he right of the family to remain together without the coercive interference of the awesome power of the state . . .encompasses the reciprocal rights of both parent and child.” (Duchesne v. Sugarman (1977) 566 F.2d 817, 825.)  The Supreme Court held that even after parents are found unfit in a contested court proceeding, they retain constitutionally protected parental rights. (Santosky v. Kramer (1982) 455 U.S. 745.)

HOAs should not assume the powers of the U.S. government and place themselves in a situation of interference with parental rights.  Such a scenario could cause unwanted liabilities for HOAs.  If the child at question has a disability/special needs, that child and its family would be a protected class under the law.  Protected classes may not be discriminated against and, in most cases, may be granted reasonable accommodations from governing document provisions.  The parents and child might sue the HOA for discrimination and harassment, especially if the parent of the child has already warned the HOA to refrain from approaching the parent and/or child.  Such a lawsuit would not be favorable to any HOAs.

Accordingly, we advise HOAs to proceed with caution and to start with a simple reminder of obligations letter to the Owner of a property within community if the Board believes it would be in the best interests of the HOA to take action (i.e., benefit the health and safety of all HOA members/residents).  It might even be better to wait until another incident with the child occurs before sending the reminder of obligations letter.

California HOA lawyers Of course, should any individual member feel as if their safety is being compromised at any time, we would recommend for the Board to inform that specific member to contact local law enforcement authorities to file an appropriate report.  Barring any such scenario, we would advise for HOAs, as entities, to refrain from all involvement pertaining to parental rights unless absolutely necessary.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Vivian X. Tran, Esq.

Man-yelling-at-women-300x200-1Board Members are tasked with the difficult job of enforcing the Association’s rules and regulations against non-compliant Members. Unfortunately, this often creates tension between Board Members and Members. In some circumstances, this tension turns into unlawful harassment. When this occurs, Board Members should consider the available legal remedies provided under both California law and their homeowners association’s governing documents in order to protect themselves and abate the harassing conduct.

Generally speaking, a restraining order will provide Board Members with the most immediate relief and protection. This is because the California Code of Civil Procedure requires judges to review and rule on requests for Temporary Restraining Orders within the next business day of filing for the same. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc., § 527.6(e).) (Although, Temporary Restraining Orders only remain in effect for a period not to exceed twenty-one [21] days. Before issuing Permanent Restraining Orders, courts must first allow the parties to present their sides of the story at hearings.)

There are two types of restraining orders that Board Members may consider depending on the nature of the alleged harassing conduct. The most common type of restraining order is a Civil Harassment Restraining Order. To prevail and receive a Civil Harassment Restraining Order, the Board Member must prove that the alleged harasser engaged in one of the following forms of unlawful harassment:

  1. unlawful violence (i.e., assault, battery or stalking as defined by the California Penal Code);
  2. a credible threat of violence (i.e., a statement or course of conduct that places a reasonable person in fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family, and that serves no legitimate purpose); or
  3. a course of conduct directed at the Board Member that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the Board Member and causes the Board Member to suffer from substantial emotional distress (and would also cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress), and that serves no legitimate purpose.

On the other hand, homeowners associations (as corporations) may consider filing Workplace Violence Restraining Orders against the alleged harasser on behalf of its Board Members. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure, Board Members are considered “employees” of homeowners associations for the limited purpose of Workplace Violence Restraining Orders. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc., §527.8(b)(3).) To prevail and receive a Workplace Violence Restraining Order, the homeowners association must prove that the Board Members (or any other employee as defined by the Code of Civil Procedure) suffered:

  1. unlawful violence (i.e., assault, battery or stalking as defined by the California Penal Code); or
  2. a credible threat of violence (i.e., a statement or course of conduct that places a reasonable person in fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family), that can reasonably be construed to be carried out or to have been carried out at the workplace, and that serves no legitimate purpose.

If after a hearing on the merits, the Court finds that unlawful harassment has taken place, then the judge may issue a Permanent Civil Harassment Restraining Order for up to five (5) years or a Workplace Violence Restraining Order for up to three (3) years. However, the Code of Civil Procedure only permits Courts to award the prevailing party its attorneys’ fees and costs in lawsuits for Civil Harassment Restraining Orders, not Workplace Violence Restraining Orders.

Finally, in some circumstances, a Member’s harassing conduct toward the Board may constitute a nuisance, as defined by the homeowners association’s CC&Rs. In those situations, the homeowners association may consider bringing an unlimited civil action lawsuit against the offending Member to enforce the homeowners association’s governing documents. Board Members should keep in mind that this type of civil litigation is often more costly and the potential relief is not usually as immediate. Furthermore, the alleged harassment must satisfy the definition of a “nuisance,” as set forth in the governing documents.

California HOA lawyers If Board Members believe that they are being harassed as a result of their service on the Board of Directors, they should consult with the Association’s general counsel to determine the most effective way to address the problem. Each situation must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the facts meet the legal definition of “unlawful harassment” or a “nuisance.” Of course, Board Members should immediately contact their local law enforcement agencies if they believe that their safety and wellbeing is at risk.

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

what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting-backyard-chickens-featureIt is becoming increasingly popular to raise chickens in suburban and even in urban areas. Chickens offer a continuous source of fresh eggs and arguably help with pest control. Conversely, chickens can be loud, messy, attract coyotes, and arguably are best suited for rural, country life. Because many municipalities have legalized raising chickens in residential zones, HOAs are more frequently encountering owners maintaining chickens in their communities, some even allowing their chickens to roam the common area alongside the family dog.

If the HOA’s governing documents prohibit chickens (also referred to as poultry or livestock), the HOA may require residents to remove their feathered friends from the community. It is important to note that while municipalities may allow a limited number of domesticated chickens in residential zones, it is well-established that an HOA’s governing documents may be more restrictive than local ordinances. So, if the county or city allows chickens, but the more restrictive governing documents do not, the governing documents control.

Chickens may also be prohibited by nuisance restrictions contained in the governing documents. The aforementioned noise produced by roosters along with frequent, malodorous, and non-solid waste arguably constitute an ongoing violation of nuisance restrictions sufficient to require the chickens’ removal.

Oftentimes, when an HOA requires the removal of a prohibited animal, requests to allow the animal to remain on the premises as an emotional support animal (“ESA”) arise. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, which applies to homeowners associations, a housing provider is required to make reasonable accommodations for assistance animals including ESA’s even though they are not trained to do work or perform tasks.  Allowing an emotional support animal which would otherwise be prohibited under the Association’s governing documents is a recognized type of reasonable accommodation for a disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. (Auburn Woods HOA v. FEH Commission (2004) 121 Cal App. 4th 1578).

California HOA lawyers Chickens are not typical ESA’s like dogs or cats, but the creativity of Americans is without bounds as evidenced by the wide variety of alleged ESA’s seen on commercial flights including peacocks, turkeys, pigs, monkeys, and hamsters. Due to the complex legal issues and potential exposure to liability associated with reasonable accommodation requests, it is recommended to contact legal counsel immediately if a resident requests to keep a chicken or any other otherwise-prohibited animal due to a disability or medical condition.

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

*Asked & Answered

chapter-13-bankruptcy-filing-rules-1068x713-1Asked – Our HOA Board of Directors has been advised that a homeowner who is delinquent in their payment of assessments has filed bankruptcy. If the homeowner obtains a bankruptcy discharge does the HOA have to write off the delinquent account as a bad debt?

Answered – Not necessarily. While a homeowner declaring bankruptcy affords them various protections from creditors attempting to collect debts, such as the imposition of an automatic stay, the Association is not necessarily without recourse if the Homeowner achieves a discharge.

The most common two (2) types of bankruptcy actions that may impact an HOA’s collection of delinquent assessments are Chapter 7 (liquidation) and Chapter 13 (repayment plans). Each type of bankruptcy filing has varying attributes that may uniquely apply to an HOA.

Regardless of which type of bankruptcy a homeowner files, the Association should immediately split their account into two (2) pre-petition debts (i.e. those that occurred before the bankruptcy filing) and post-petition debts (those accrue after the filing). This is an important action because a discharge can only relieve a homeowner of the personal obligation to pay the pre-petition debts. However, the homeowner would still be obligated to pay the HOA all post-petition debts. (See 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(16).)

For a homeowner who achieves a discharge of the homeowner’s personal obligation to repay pre-petition debts, a discharge would not affect the HOA’s assessment lien or judgment lien with the right of judicial foreclosure that was recorded prior to the bankruptcy filing. Because the liens are recorded against the homeowner’s property, they are non-dischargeable in the bankruptcy case. As a result, once the homeowner achieves the discharge, the HOA can still proceed with foreclosure of the property and satisfy the delinquency through that mechanism. This may also incentivize the homeowner to enter into a reaffirmation agreement to voluntarily repay the pre-petition debts to avoid foreclosure of the HOA’s lien.

Considering the foregoing, it is incumbent on all Boards to ensure that they secure a homeowner’s debt through an assessment lien to ensure, among other reasons, that the HOA still has recourse against a homeowner who declares bankruptcy and obtains a discharge.

California HOA lawyers Contact your HOA attorney to conduct an in-depth analysis of the specific bankruptcy case to determine how the HOAs interests will be best served, including the filing of proof(s) of claim to receive disbursements under the active bankruptcy plan.

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

cost-of-DWI*Asked and Answered

Asked – How long should homeowners associations levy compliance fines against non-compliant Members before transferring the files to legal counsel?

Answered – Monetary penalties (also known as “fines”) should be levied against non-compliant homeowners so long as the purpose of the fines is to deter the homeowners’ unwanted behavior and resolve their outstanding violations.  Fines should never be levied to punish the homeowners or raise money for the association.  As soon as it becomes clear that fines are not effectively compelling compliance with the governing documents, the Board of Directors (“Board”) should consider alternative enforcement strategies, like Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) or litigation, in lieu of continued fines.

Associations have a duty to enforce their governing documents. (Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 383.) Typically, the governing documents also grant the Board with rulemaking authority, which impliedly authorizes the Board to compel compliance with those rules by imposing monetary penalties. (Liebler v. Point Loma (1995) 40 Cal.App.4th 1600, 1613.) All fines must be levied in accordance with the association’s published fine schedule, which should be distributed to Members in the annual policy statement.

In order for compliance fines to be enforceable, the Board must ensure that the fines are reasonable.  There is no bright line rule to make this determination.  Instead, the Board must consider whether the fine amount actually serves to deter homeowners from violating the governing documents.  This requires Boards to tailor the fines to the demographics of their communities. What is reasonable in one community may not necessarily be reasonable in another.

If, after imposing several fines, an association is not able to compel a homeowner to comply with the governing documents, then the Board should not continue to levy additional fines. Otherwise, the association may be unable to collect those fines, as they were not reasonably levied to compel compliance.  Similarly, Boards should consider waiving previously imposed fines after homeowners comply and resolve their outstanding violations, as the fines served their intended purpose.

California HOA lawyers Homeowners associations should ensure that they adhere to their reasonable fine schedules, which were designed to compel homeowners to comply with the governing documents.  However, as soon as it becomes clear that monetary penalties are not effective deterrents, then the outstanding matters should be transferred to legal counsel for further review and advisement.

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

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