Articles Posted in HOA Governance

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SolarThe Governor has signed AB 634 into law changing HOA control over solar energy system (“Solar”) installations. HOAs may no longer adopt policies and guidelines that prohibit Solar installations on common area roofs protecting HOA property and homes from damage and members are stripped of the right to protect common area property by membership vote. HOA’s must conform to a statewide, one-size-fits-all Solar policy summarized here.

Civil Code § 714.1 now provides that Associations are prevented from . . .

  • Establishing a solar energy system policy that prohibits condominium owners from installing solar panels on the common area roofs of condominium buildings or the owner’s adjacent garage/carport (exclusive use common area);
  • Requiring membership approval for an owner’s encroachment for Solar equipment on the common area.

New Civil Code § 4746 declares HOAs reviewing requests for Solar installations on common area roofs of multifamily dwellings . . .

MUST require:

  • Applicants to notify each owner in the building of the proposed solar installation, AND
  • Owners/successive owners to maintain homeowner liability coverage, providing the HOA with proof of insurance within 14 days of approval and annually thereafter;

MAY impose reasonable provisions that:

  • Require owners to provide a survey of “usable solar roof area” prepared by a licensed contractor/knowledgeable salesperson;
  • Require survey to include equitable allocation of usable solar roof area for all owners sharing the roof/garage/carport;
  • Require owners/successive owners to be responsible for:
    • Costs for damage to any common area resulting from installation/maintenance/repair/removal/replacement of Solar installation;
    • Costs for maintenance/repair/replacement of Solar installation until its removal;
    • Restoration of all common area and separate interests after removal;
    • Disclosing the Solar installation to prospective buyers and all related responsibilities

Civil Code § 4600 now includes Solar installations as an exception to the rule requiring approval of 67% of members before the HOA can grant exclusive use of any portion of the common area to a member.

California HOA lawyers In light of AB 634, HOAs should have their legal counsel review their current architectural guidelines with respect to the installation of solar energy systems.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Terri A. Morris, Esq.

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governing-docs*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our documents were created in 1981 and have not been updated since that time.  I imagine that we are out of legal compliance with some of the items listed within both documents.  The HOA membership does not want to pay to have them rewritten and brought up to the codes and I am not sure what the implications are if we do nothing.

Answered – This a common question asked by many of our clients, especially those with governing documents that look like they were typed on a typewriter and digitally stored on microfiche.  However, it is important to note at the outset that just because your documents are old, does not mean that it is necessary to amend/restate them.  Nevertheless, there are several reasons why an association may want to update its documents.

The first, and most obvious, reason why an association may want to update its documents is to address particular issues affecting the community. While an association’s operating rules can easily be amended to tackle many of these issues, not all can be addressed through adopting an operating rule.  Thus, certain situations may require a CC&R or Bylaw amendment.

The second common reason why an association may want to update its CC&Rs is to remove developer-specific provisions. When an association is formed, the developer’s attorney prepares the governing documents, including the CC&Rs. And while the California Bureau of Real Estate exercises some oversight, many of the provisions are drafted to benefit the Developer and not necessarily the individual homeowners. Accordingly, it may be worthwhile to remove these provisions and reallocate the rights and responsibilities to the Association and its members.

Other reasons why an association may want to update its documents is to reduce quorum and membership approval requirements, and to address changes in the law. For example, a recent change to the Civil Code further defined the maintenance and repair responsibilities of the association and owners concerning Exclusive Use Common Area (“EUCA”) components. For condominium associations that have traditionally held owners responsible for EUCA repairs, changes in the law may require them to change that position if the provisions in their CC&Rs fail to address the issue.

California HOA lawyers Board members should be aware that amending an association’s governing documents can be an expensive endeavor. The expense is often exacerbated by the difficulty experienced in obtaining membership approval, either because of the unpopularity of the proposed amendments, or membership apathy. The foregoing is meant to underscore the importance of discussing potential updates with the association’s legal counsel to determine if they are necessary and/or advisable.

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

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Director-LiabilityOn September 25, 2017, Governor Brown signed AB 1412 (effective January 1, 2018) which seeks to clarify Civil Code Section 4041 (Annual Notice of Owner Contact Information) and Civil Code Section 5800 (Limitation of Director and Officer Liability).

Under current law, Civil Code Section 4041 requires the Association to solicit, on an annual basis, mailing addresses from the Members for purposes of providing notice.  Members are required to state the primary and secondary addresses to which notices from the Association are to be delivered, among other things.  If no such notice is provided, that Section 4041 provides that the default mailing address for purposes of delivery shall be the Member’s property address within the Association.

The existing version of Civil Code Section 4041 potentially inconveniences non-resident Members because they must annually notify the Association of their current mailing address.  If they fail to do so, Management is then legally obligated to change the Members’ mailing address back to the Members’ Association address.

AB 1412 removes those administrative burdens by stating that the default mailing address shall be the last address provided in writing by the Member to the Association, if any.  Under that circumstance, the Association no longer needs to annually update its Member address records if the Members forget to supply their existing mailing address to the Association.

Civil Code Section 5800 provides liability protections to volunteer Directors and Officers if certain conditions are satisfied (i.e. the act/omission was performed in good faith and within the Director/Officer’s Association duties, etc.).  Current law provides that such protections are only available to Directors/Officers in common interest developments that are exclusively residential.  The protections previously offered by Section 5800 were unavailable to volunteer Directors/Officers in mixed use settings, such as common interest developments with residential and commercial units.

In view of the growing number of common interests developments throughout the state, the California legislature recognized that Section 5800 did not provide liability protection to Directors/Officers in mixed use common interest developments.

As such, AB 1412 seeks to expand the breadth of Civil Code Section 5800 because it now generally applies to volunteer Directors/Officers in mixed use settings.  Such protection is limited to those Directors/Officers who are tenants of a residential separate interest or who own no more than two (2) residential separate interests.

California HOA lawyers AB 1412 will save time and money because the Association is no longer burdened with the duty to update Member address information if a Member fails to provide Management with his or her mailing address. 

Mixed use common interest developments may experience increased Board participation by volunteer Directors/Officers because liability protections are now available under Civil Code Section 5800.

AB 1412 does not address whether volunteer commercial unit owners or Members who own three (3) or more residential units are immune from liability under the same liability protections.  A review of the legislative history for AB 1412, coupled with general principles of statutory construction, suggests that those individuals may be excluded in that regard.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Kumar S. Raja, Esq.

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hoa-campaign-meeting

New Civil Code 4515 will be added to the Davis-Stirling Act to ensure that homeowners association residents may exercise their rights of peaceful assembly and political speech.

HOAs are playing an increasing role in the lives of California’s residents as compared to the roles traditionally played by cities and counties. HOAs are growing in number, size and sophistication. As a result, a HOA’s actions and governance structure often have more immediate effects on the issues homeowners feel “closest to home,” such as property values and community services. This is why California law will at times hold HOAs—which are private corporations—to the standards of “quasi-governmental entities.”

An example of this was seen several years ago when legislation was enacted to grant every HOA member the right to use common area meeting spaces for purposes related to a HOA’s election. The intent was to promote constitutional principles of freedom of speech and assembly; to allow HOA members to meet for purposes related to an ongoing HOA campaign (i.e., a HOA board election), and to do so without any unreasonable impediment imposed on them by their HOA.

SB 407 (Wieckowski) is a newly signed bill that takes this idea much further. It was introduced in response to what California’s legislators felt to be a continuing abuse of power by HOAs in using non-solicitation rules to prohibit non-commercial free and political speech:

“Blanket prohibitions on commercial solicitation are often so broadly written that they could be interpreted to prohibit non-commercial free and political speech.”

“Significant anecdotal evidence demonstrates that HOAs have extended the restrictions of door-to-door solicitation to political speech.”

“Overly broad rules and policies discourage the civic participation of HOA members and criminalize free political expression.”

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conflict-of-interest

The Governor has signed AB 690 into law, which modifies several Code sections and adds two new Civil Code sections to the Davis Stirling Common Interest Development Act. Here is what you need to know about the new requirements:

New Civil Code Section 5376 provides that the manager, management firm, or third-party contractor must facilitate the delivery of escrow documents pursuant to Civil Code Section 4530, as required by the management contract.

New Requirements: Escrow Document Disclosure Form

The “Charges for Documents Provided” form described in Civil Code Section 4528 must be modified to include the following:

  • All information in at least 10-point type;
  • The statement: “The seller may, in accordance with Section 4530 of the Civil Code, provide to the prospective purchaser, at no cost, current copies of any documents specified by Section 4525 that are in the possession of the seller.”;
  • The statement: “A seller may request to purchase some or all of these documents, but shall not be required to purchase ALL of the documents listed on this form.”;
  • The fee for each document in the “Fee for Document” column of the form;
  • Fees must be separately stated and billed to distinguish them from other transfer fees; and,
  • A copy of the escrow document disclosure form must be included in the Annual Budget Report sent to members.

New Manager and Management Company Disclosures

Business & Professions Code Section 11504 and Civil Code Section 5375 have been amended to provide that, in addition to a CID manager’s disclosure within 90-days of providing management services of their name, address, certification, real estate license, and fidelity insurance coverage, managers and management firms must annually disclose, in writing, to HOA boards the following:

  • Any referral fee or other monetary benefit the manager or management firm receives from companies that provide escrow documents and annual budget reports;
  • Acknowledgement that the records listed in the escrow document disclosure form are the property of the HOA, not the manager or management firm; and,
  • Any business or company in which the manager or management firm has an ownership interest, receives profits or other monetary incentives.

New Civil Code Section 5375.5 provides that, when presenting a bid for vendor services to a board, the manager or management firm must disclose, in writing:

  • Any referral fee or other monetary benefit that could be derived from a business or company serving the HOA (i.e., vendor the HOA board may contract with); and
  • Any ownership interests or profit-sharing arrangements with service providers recommended to, or used by the HOA.
California HOA lawyers Although managers have long been advised to disclose any potential conflicts of interest to an association’s board of directors, AB 690 now codifies how and when a manager or management company must make that disclosure.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Terri A. Morris, Esq.

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mechanics-lien

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

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

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

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

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

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short-term-rental*Unpublished Case

Recently, many residential common interest developments have experienced an influx in the number of short-term rentals within their community. This problem is exacerbated by the increased popularity of websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway. Although profitable, short-term rentals have a significant negative impact on community associations, such as increased damage to common area and violations of the Association’s governing documents. To address these concerns, many associations are amending their CC&Rs to include restrictions imposing a minimum lease period (e.g., thirty days). In a recent unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal upheld such a restriction as reasonable.

In Ocean Windows Owners Association v. Spataro, the Court affirmed the decision of the trial court granting the Association’s petition to reduce the requisite approval necessary to amend their CC&Rs pursuant to Civil Code section 4275.  The proposed amended CC&Rs included, among other things, a provision imposing a minimum lease term of “thirty (30) consecutive days in any one (1) calendar year….” A homeowner filed an objection to the petition stating that the record was void of any facts sufficient to support a conclusion that the amendments “were necessary for the good of the community.” The Court of Appeal rejected this argument for two reasons.

At the outset, the Court noted that the homeowner had misstated the standard under Civil Code section 4275. Specifically, Civil Code section 4275(c)(5) requires that the “amendment is reasonable.” Reasonableness has been defined as:

Not arbitrary or capricious, rationally related to the protection, preservation and proper operation of the property and the purposes of the Association as set forth in its governing instruments, and is fair and non-discriminatory.

(Fourth La Costa Condominium Owners Assn. v. Seith (2008) 159 Cal. App. 4th 563, 577; see Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Assn. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 382 (citations omitted).)

Using the appropriate standard, the Court concluded that the rental restriction was reasonable. The Court’s decision was predicated, in large part, on the declarations of the Association’s community manager and its general counsel. Both averred that short-term rentals had resulted in damage to the common area, increased costs and violations of the governing documents, and the inability or difficulty with obtaining financing due to the association’s appearance as a “condotel.” As such, the Court concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the rental restriction contained in the amended CC&Rs was reasonable (i.e., rationally related to the protection, preservation and operation of the community as a whole).

California HOA lawyers Although unpublished, this case underscores the courts’ awareness of problems affecting communities with short-term rentals, and their willingness to assist associations in addressing the issue.  HOA Boards that are dealing with these types of issues should consult with their HOA’s legal counsel for guidance and recommendations.

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

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Swallows-Nest*Asked & Answered

Asked – I’m receiving calls regarding swallows nests. Folks want them removed. Pest control is reminding everyone they are protected and removing is punishable by law. We are in high time for swallow activity! Is there anything our HOA can do to address this issue?

Answered – All swallows and their nests are fully protected under the “Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918” by state and federal regulations. It is illegal for any person to intentionally kill, injure, take, possess, transport, sell, or purchase them or their parts. It is illegal to intentionally destroy the nest, eggs or young of a swallow without a permit. If an adult swallow is occupying a half-built nest, or a fully built nest without eggs, then the law protects it. A permit is not required to remove swallow nests under construction that do not contain an adult, any new eggs or young, or nests abandoned after the breeding season. Permits to kill swallows or destroy swallow nests are only issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and only in very extreme cases. An example would be concerns for aircraft safety from a nesting colony at an airport. In most cases a permit for lethal control of swallows will not be issued for swallows nesting on a residence or other buildings and causing aesthetic damage.

The best strategy appears to be preventing nest building by “exclusion”, meaning methods that deny physical access to the nest site area. Exclusion represents a relatively permanent, long-term solution to the problem, and California does not require a permit for this method if it is done before the birds arrive, during nest building when there are no eggs or young in the nest or after the birds have left for the winter.

California HOA lawyers For methods of exclusion, please see the article “Living with Wildlife” published by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Terri A Morris, Esq.

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water-rain-raindrops-drops

On April 7, 2017, Governor Brown signed Executive Order B-40-17, ending the drought state of emergency in most of California.  Drought restrictions will remain in effect in Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolomne counties, which continue to face drinking water shortages and diminished groundwater supplies.  The new Executive Order rescinds the emergency proclamations from January and April 2014, along with four drought-related executive orders.

Over the last few years, the California legislature has passed several bills aimed at water conservation within community associations. AB 2100 amended Civil Code Section 4735 to prohibit associations from fining or threatening to fine an owner for failing to water vegetation or lawns during a state or local government-declared drought.  SB 814 also authorized penalties for excessive residential water use during periods of government-declared droughts. Now that the state of emergency has been lifted, these laws are no longer in effect, provided the local jurisdiction has not declared a local drought.

AB 2104 further amended Section 4735 to restrict an association from prohibiting low-water using plants as a group, and AB 349 amended Section 4735 to restrict an association’s authority to prohibit artificial turf.  Although the drought restrictions have been lifted, this legislation protects homeowners from having to reverse or remove any landscaping measures that were installed in response to the government-declared drought.

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) also adopted emergency regulations that subject associations to fines of up to $500 per day for violating the provisions of Section 4735.  These regulations will remain in effect until November 25, 2017, or until they are modified or repealed by SWRCB.

The decision to lift drought restrictions was partly based on unprecedented water conservation.  Californians saved more than 20% of urban water since the Governor mandated water use reductions in 2015.  Despite the record levels of water conservation, the State cautions, “This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” said Governor Brown. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Executive Order B-40-17 continues the provisions in the previous Executive Order, “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.”  Permanent restrictions prohibit the use of potable water for:

  • hosing off sidewalks, driveway and other hardscapes;
  • washing automobiles with hoses not equipped with a shot-off nozzle;
  • using non-recirculated water in a fountain or other decorative water feature;
  • watering lawns in a manner that causes runoff, or within 48 hours after measurable precipitation; and
  • irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians.
California HOA lawyers The SWRCB will continue to plan for future droughts and promote water conservation as a way of life, which may result in more legislation.  

Blog post authored by TLG Director of Business Development, Ramona Acosta.

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*New Case Lawhoa-records-inspection

As part of the ongoing management of a homeowners association (“HOA”), the HOA is obligated to prepare and maintain certain “association records,” most of which must be made available for inspection by the HOA’s members. However, the right to inspect and copy certain association records is not absolute, as some records may be withheld from a member for confidentiality concerns, as well as in situations where the member requesting the records is doing so for an “improper purpose”:

“association records, and any information from them, may not be sold, used for a commercial purpose, or used for any other purpose not reasonably related to a member’s interest as a member.” (Civ. Code § 5230; see also Corp. Code §§ 8330, 8333.)

This “proper purpose” requirement was recently the focus of a challenge brought by a member of a HOA who sought to inspect and copy the HOA’s membership list. In Tract No. 7260 Association, Inc. v. Parker (2017) 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 265 (“Parker“), the Court of Appeal concluded that the HOA was justified in withholding the membership list despite the member’s offering of a facially valid reason for his request to inspect the membership list. The member was involved in a corporation that the HOA was suing, called “Fix the City.” The member claimed that he sought the membership list “for possible communication with the [HOA’s] members to ascertain whether there had been corporate misdeeds.”

The HOA denied the request, arguing that the member was seeking inspection of the membership list in order to give Fix the City an unfair advantage in the lawsuit between it and the HOA. The trial court considered the facts at issue, and concluded that the member’s request was indeed improper, stating that “a reasonable conclusion is that [the member] is using his membership status to aid Fix the City in defending the [HOA/Fix the City] lawsuit.”

This aspect of the trial court’s ruling was affirmed on appeal. The Court in Parker noted that, while the HOA has the burden of demonstrating that the member will use the record for an improper purpose, and that mere speculation of an improper purpose is insufficient to justify withholding records, the HOA provided sufficient evidence that the requesting member did indeed seek the information for an improper purpose—namely, to aid Fix the City’s defense in the lawsuit brought against it by the HOA.

California HOA lawyers The Parker case underscores the importance of evaluating a member’s request for association records to determine whether the requested record(s) will be used for an improper purpose (i.e., to advance the member’s interests at the expense of the HOA’s). If the purpose is improper, and that conclusion is supported by more than simple conjecture, the HOA may lawfully deny the request. HOA Boards and managing agents that are concerned about the underlying motivations of a member’s request for association records should consult with the HOA’s legal counsel as to what records may (and indeed should) be withheld in order to protect the HOA.

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