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hoa-sober-living-home*Asked & Answered

Asked – We have seen several sober living homes surface within our community. What can our HOA do to prohibit these facilities? Aren’t they businesses which violate the commercial use restrictions in our CC&Rs or other HOA laws?

Answered – Regardless of how you feel about sober living homes, it is certainly a hot issue that numerous communities are dealing with–particularly coastal communities. HOA CC&Rs often contain provisions that prohibit the non-residential uses of properties or the use of properties for anything other than “single family” residential purposes. However, the California Legislature has, through the Health & Safety Code, mandated that a sober living home (an “alcohol or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility“) which services six (6) or fewer persons to be deemed “a residential use of property and a use of property by a single family, notwithstanding any disclaimers to the contrary.” (H&S Code § 11834.25.) This was done in order to immunize sober living homes from City, County and HOA restrictions (i.e., CC&Rs restrictions) on the use of properties for non-residential purposes. The Legislature has even declared it to be the public policy of California to “encourage” the development of sober living homes. To learn more about the law in this area, click here to read our article on FindHOALaw.com.

In situations where a HOA could potentially take action against a sober living home, it is usually because the home is continually violating some other provision of the CC&Rs which the HOA can enforce. However, in our experience, sober living home operators are savvy; they know the playing field and how to keep themselves out of trouble. Moreover, these facilities are generating substantial amounts of monthly revenue from insurance companies and private parties who cover the costs for patients to stay at the home. That revenue dwarfs any potential fines that a HOA might be able to impose for other CC&R violations which may stem from the home’s operations.

Efforts which have been taken by cities against sober living homes have also proven ineffective, largely because recovering addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other Federal statutes. For example, the City of Newport Beach in 2015 settled a lawsuit brought against the City by several sober living home operators. The operators sued the City over an ordinance it adopted which sought to restrict the facilities’ operations. The operators asserted that the ordinance violated anti-discrimination and fair housing laws. In addition to spending $4 million in legal fees, the City had to pay the sober living home operators $5.25 million as part of the settlement.

hoa laws Any meaningful restrictions to curb the growth of these facilities within private residential communities will likely need to be enacted at the State level (and potentially the Federal level). California HOAs are virtually powerless to do anything and the current options available to cities in regulating/licensing these facilities are relatively weak. 

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

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familyOn January 20, 2015, a tragic fire ripped through a condominium complex in the city of San Juan Capistrano, killing three, injuring six, and displacing eighty residents living in eight units.  The decedents were three of seventeen individuals living in a four-bedroom condominium.  In light of the deaths and their relation to the number of occupants living in the unit, efforts are now underway to examine state and local occupancy restrictions with an eye towards preventing an incident like this from occurring in the future.  To that end, questions have surfaced with respect to an association’s ability to adopt and enforce state and local occupancy standards, as well as to promulgate operating rules regulating the number of occupants living within a unit.

An association’s “operating rules” are regulations adopted by the board that apply “generally to the management  and  operation  of the  common  interest  development  or the conduct  of the business and affairs of the association.” (Civ. Code § 4340(a)) They relate to things such as the use of common area and separate interests, member discipline, and procedures for elections. (Civ. Code § 4355(a)(1)-(7))  In order to be valid and enforceable, the operating rule must meet several requirements: the rule must be (1) in writing, (2) within the authority of the Board of Directors conferred by law or the governing documents, (3) not in conflict with governing law and the governing documents, (4) adopted in good faith and in compliance with the procedural requirements set forth in Civil Code section 4360, and (5) reasonable. (Civ. Code § 4350) Accordingly, presuming that an occupancy rule is adopted by an association’s board of directors pursuant to the powers granted to it under the governing documents, the primary focus is whether the occupancy rule conflicts with governing law (i.e., California law).

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hoa-pet-restrictionOne problem that arises in the context of enforcing homeowners association (“HOA”) governing documents pertains to how consistently certain use restrictions in the governing documents are enforced over time. For example, if a HOA has historically failed to enforce a particular restriction, a decision to enforce that restriction against a particular owner may subject the HOA to claims of “selective enforcement” and/or that the HOA’s enforcements efforts are being exercised in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. These claims not only hinder the cost-efficient resolution of disputes, but could significantly undermine the HOA’s enforcement authority.

It is therefore difficult for a HOA’s Board of Directors to modify the HOA’s enforcement policies over time, especially when it desires to enforce a use restriction that was either never enforced or enforced inconsistently by the HOA in the past. However, the recent unpublished opinion in The Villas in Whispering Palms v. Tempkin (Cal. App. 2015) 2015 WL 2395151 (“Villas”) demonstrates that this difficulty may be overcome through providing proper notice to the HOA’s members and through enforcing the restriction consistently thereafter…

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*New Case Lawhoa-renter-fee.jpg

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

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

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

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*New Case Lawhoa-attorneys-fees.jpg

Litigation can be a time consuming and costly endeavor. These two factors typically weigh heavily against filing a lawsuit, especially where there is no ability for the party prevailing in the lawsuit to recover its attorney’s fees and costs. By default, the “American Rule” with respect to attorney’s fees awards states that each party must pay for its own attorney’s fees and costs unless otherwise provided by statute or contract. (Code Civ. Pro. § 1021.) Fortunately, in the context of homeowners associations (“HOAs”), Civil Code Section 5975(c) allows for a prevailing party in an action to enforce HOA governing documents to recover its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Section 5975 is a component of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“Act”)–the principal body of Civil Code sections governing California HOAs and common interest developments (“CIDs”).

In the recent case of Tract 19051 Homeowners Association v. Kemp (2015) 2015 Cal.LEXIS 1216 (“Kemp“), the California Supreme Court addressed the question of whether Section 5975(c) allows for a prevailing party to recover its attorney’s fees and costs in a lawsuit brought under the Act even where the HOA in the lawsuit is not a CID and thus technically not subject to the Act…

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*New Case Lawhoa-condo-hardwood-flooring.jpg

Homeowners within condominium developments are typically granted broad authority in making improvements to the interior of their respective Units that do not require modification of association common area. However, because of the way in which condominium projects are built, certain improvements made within a Unit may ultimately impact the quiet use and enjoyment of neighboring homeowners (i.e., sound transmissions from hardwood or hard surface flooring). As indicated by the recent case of Ryland Mews Homeowners Association v. Munoz (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 705 (“Ryland“), to the extent that a homeowner’s interior improvements result in a nuisance to neighboring homeowners, an association does have the authority to compel the homeowner to modify or remove the improvements as necessary to abate the nuisance…

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hoa-garden-rats.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – Fallen and decayed vegetables from a homeowner’s garden are attracting numerous rats and other pests. With the new law permitting personal food gardens, is there anything our HOA can do to address this issue?

Answered – Probably. AB 2561, effective January 1, 2015, added Section 1940.10 and 4750 to the Civil Code. In sum, Section 4750 grants homeowners within HOAs the right to use their backyards for “personal agriculture,” regardless of any provisions contained in a HOA’s governing documents to the contrary. However, that right is not absolute. HOAs still have some authority to restrict and regulate personal food gardens in the following respects:

  • Personal Use/Donation Only – The crops must be grown for personal use or donation. Crops grown for sale or other commercial purposes do not fall within the definition of “personal agriculture” for the purposes of Section 4750.
  • No Marijuana or Unlawful Substances – There is no right for a homeowner to grow “marijuana or any unlawful crops or substances,” as those items do not constitute a “plant crop” permitted by Section 4750.
  • Only on Owner Property or Exclusive Use Common Area – The right to keep and maintain personal food gardens extends only to the owner’s backyard or areas designated for the exclusive use of the homeowner (i.e., exclusive use common area patios), not general HOA common areas.
  • Reasonable Restrictions Permitted – The HOA may still impose “reasonable restrictions” on the use/maintenance of homeowner’s yard for personal agriculture. “Reasonable restrictions” are those that “do not significantly increase the cost of engaging in personal agriculture or significantly decrease its efficiency.”
  • Clearance of Dead Plant Materials and Weeds – Section 4750 still allows for HOAs to apply rules and regulations requiring that “dead plant material and weeds, with the exception of straw, mulch, compost and other organic materials” that encourage vegetation and soil moisture retention, be regularly cleared from the backyard. A rule or regulation requiring such clearance may be successful in resolving your rodent and pest problem.

As indicated above, the right to have a personal food garden would not necessarily insulate a homeowner from his obligation to comply with related provisions of a HOA’s governing documents that serve as “reasonable restrictions” on the use of a yard for personal agriculture. For example, virtually every set of CC&Rs contains a provision prohibiting homeowner from conducting any activity on their property that poses a nuisance to neighboring homeowners. If the way in which a homeowner’s food garden is being maintained is resulting in a nuisance (i.e., attracting rats and other pest populations), the nuisance provision would likely constitute a “reasonable restriction” that the HOA may enforce against the homeowner.

hoa laws

In addition to the issues noted above, HOAs may, in some instances, have the authority to restrict food gardens that violate other provisions of the Association’s governing documents that serve as “reasonable restrictions” allowable under Section 4750 (i.e., a height limitation within the HOA’s landscaping standards may serve to prohibit crops that grow to unreasonable heights). HOA Boards that are encountering problems with food gardens should consult with their legal counsel for guidance as to how their governing documents may be tailored to address these types of issues.

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

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HOA-IDR-Lawyers.jpg*New Legislation

Provisions of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (Civ. Code §§ 4000 – 6150) currently require homeowners associations (“HOAs”) to “provide a fair, reasonable, and expeditious procedure for resolving a dispute” between a HOA and its members. Civ. Code §§ 5900, 5905. This procedure is commonly referred to as “Meet and Confer” or “Internal Dispute Resolution” (“IDR”). Its purpose is to provide a non-adversarial forum where a HOA member and a HOA Director can meet informally to see if a resolution to the dispute can be secured short of involving attorneys and taking legal action.

However, the passage of AB 1738 (Chau) will upset this non-adversarial and informal structure through providing a member with the right to have the member’s attorney present at the IDR meeting. While this may not seem problematic, HOAs and industry professionals that are familiar with the IDR process understand that AB 1738 will undoubtedly result in HOAs incurring greater attorney’s fees to resolve member disputes. CAI’s California Legislative Action Committee’s (CAI-CLAC) “Call to Action” on AB 1738 illustrated its inherent problems:

“AB 1738 encourages members to bring attorneys and others to their first meeting with a single board member who has volunteered to help work out the member’s problem or concern. These simple ‘meet-and-confer’ conversations over coffee most often resolve an issue. When they occasionally don’t, either party may pursue a more formal Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process that does involve lawyers. Nothing in law prevents lawyers from attending IDR right now, but AB 1738 actually promotes having them present to argue the issue(s). This will invariably make the discussion adversarial…

…If a member brings an attorney [to IDR], the HOA will very likely bring an attorney. At $300 per hour, each IDR will cost HOAs a minimum of $900 when one considers the lawyer’s time preparing, attending and any follow-up actions. [AB 1378] will end up increasing assessments.”

These sentiments were echoed by the Educational Community for Homeowners (ECHO) in its opposition to AB 1738: “By default, associations will bring their attorneys to IDR. In order to protect themselves, owners will also bring their attorneys. This increases the expenses for both parties, and encourages an adversarial atmosphere.”

IDR is not mediation, but an informal meeting between the member and at least one (1) HOA Director. As such, the communications during the IDR meeting are generally not subject to the confidentiality requirements that cover the more formal “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (“ADR”) process. AB 1738 could allow for the communications and documents discussed at IDR to be admissible in future litigation, and thus serve as a significant problem for the HOA. This is one reason why our office, along with the majority of HOA attorneys, are advising our HOA clients engaged in IDR with a member to close and reschedule the IDR meeting if the member unexpectedly brings their attorney to the IDR meeting. If the member is represented by an attorney, the HOA should ensure that it is as well. Rescheduling the IDR meeting so that the HOA’s attorney can also be present is vital to protecting the HOA’s interests.

Despite overwhelming HOA industry opposition to AB 1738, it was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 18, 2014, and will take effect January 1, 2015. To read the text of AB 1738 and how it will amend the current provisions of Civil Code Sections 5910 and 5915, click here.

hoa laws

AB 1738 represents a tremendous setback for HOAs and their members in their efforts to resolve disputes in a quick and cost-effective manner. Where those efforts fail, the parties are free under current law to move to ADR (a form of mediation) in order to involve attorneys and see if a resolution can be secured short of litigation. As a result of AB 1738, HOA Boards of Directors and management professionals must be cognizant of the problems that could arise if a member’s attorney attends the IDR meeting without the HOA’s attorney also being present. HOAs seeking specific guidance and recommendations on this issue should consult their legal counsel.

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low-water-plants-HOA.jpg*New Legislation

We have previously blogged about several bills being considered by the California Legislature relating to drought relief. Among them was AB2104 (Gonzales), which has now been signed by Governor Brown and will take effect January 1, 2015. In sum, AB2104 will expand upon the limitations placed upon Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”) in their efforts to regulate “low water-using plants,” as well as incorporate an Executive Order signed by Governor Brown in April of 2014 that prohibits HOAs from fining homeowners for reducing/eliminating the watering of lawns during declared drought periods.

Section 4735 of the California Civil Code previously stated that any provision of a HOA’s governing documents is void and unenforceable to the extent that it “prohibits, or includes conditions that have the effect of prohibiting, the use of law-water using plants as a group.” AB2104 will expand on this language by also voiding any governing document provision (including those contained in a HOA’s architectural or landscaping guidelines) that “prohibits, or includes conditions that have the effect of prohibiting, the use of low-water using plants as a group or as a replacement for existing turf.” (Emphasis added.) Additionally, the inability for HOAs to fine homeowners for failing to adequately water vegetation or lawns during state or local government-declared drought periods will be codified under new subpart (c) to Section 4735.

To read the chaptered text of AB2104 and the portions of Section 4735 which will be amended, click here.

hoa laws

In the wake of AB2104, questions have surfaced regarding the extent to which HOA’s may still restrict or prohibit the installation of artificial turf. We have previously blogged about this issue, and how artificial turf likely does not constitute a “plant” within the meaning of Section 4735. Additionally, bills which have been proposed by the California Legislature in the past to require HOAs to permit the installation of artificial turf have been vetoed by California governors and ultimately never made it into law. It is unlikely that AB2104 addresses this issue or will otherwise limit the authority of HOAs to regulate or restrict the installation of artificial turf within their communities.

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hoa-scooters2.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – We have continued problems with unruly, unsupervised, and destructive children in our community’s common areas. They ride motorized scooters, skateboards, bikes, etc. all throughout our walkways and have collided with people and animals on several occasions. Our property manager said that nothing can be done because any rules aimed at restricting such conduct would be “discriminatory” against children. What are our HOA’s options?

Answered – It is true that Federal and California courts have applied anti-discrimination laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, to homeowners associations (HOAs) in order to prohibit them from discriminating against families with children. There are exceptions, however, in instances where a seemingly discriminatory policy/rule is designed to address legitimate health or safety concerns. Thus, for example, the HOA should be able to adopt a set of operating rules restricting scooters, skateboarding, bicycling etc. in certain common areas where those activities represent a significant threat of personal injury or property damage. Provided that those rules do not single out “children,” but instead apply to all persons in the community, they would likely be deemed reasonable and enforceable pursuant to Civil Code Section 4350.

Additionally, most sets of CC&Rs contain provisions restricting acts which constitute a nuisance. Thus, even in the absence of specific operating rules of the type referenced above, your HOA may still have the ability to address the activities at issue through enforcement of the nuisance provision contained in its CC&Rs.

hoa laws

Your HOA’s Board of Directors should evaluate the situation and determine if there are legitimate health and safety concerns resulting from the activities and/or if those activities are resulting in a violation of the nuisance provision contained in the CC&Rs. If the Board makes a good faith determination that the HOA should take action, it should consult with the HOA’s attorney for guidance as to what enforcement options are available, and how the HOA may adopt or modify its operating rules to restrict specific activities in the common areas.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Terri Morris.

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