Articles Posted in HOA Governance

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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.

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pest-controlOnce again the first of the year brings new legislation impacting common interest developments. The passage of Assembly Bill 2362 adds Civil Code section 4777 to the Davis Stirling Common Interest Development Act effective January 1, 2017.  The intent of this bill was to require the same written notification of pesticide application to separate interests and common areas of common interest developments by a non-licensed pest control operator (i.e., the association’s general landscaper) as residents would receive under the existing law for pesticide application by a licensed pest control operator.

You may recall in 2014 California Code of Regulations (CCR) Sections 6000 through 6619 were adopted to govern pesticides and pest control operations. Under Section 6618(b)(1) association vendors that perform pest control services are required to provide associations with certain information concerning the application of pesticides, and associations are required to distribute that information to their residents on a regular basis.

The new Civil Code section 4777 requires associations applying pesticides to a separate interest or the common area by an unlicensed pest control operator to notify the owner and tenant of the affected separate interest, and if the operator will be using a broadcast application (spreading pesticide over an area greater than two square feet) or using total release foggers or aerosol sprays, to notify the owner and tenants of adjacent separate interests that could reasonably be impacted by the pesticide use.  The notice must contain the pest(s) to be controlled, the name and brand of the pesticide product to be used, the date, time and frequency of application (stating that the date, time and frequency are subject to change), and a healthy and safety statement to be copied into the notice.  A copy of the written notice must also be attached to the minutes of the next association board meeting.

Where pesticides are to be applied to a separate interest, at least forty-eight (48) hours prior written notice must be given to the owner and tenant of the separate interest, along with any adjacent impacted owners and tenants.  For applications to the common area, notice must be posted in a conspicuous place near the area to be treated, if practicable, otherwise, individual notice must be given to the owner(s) and tenant(s) of the separate interests adjacent the common area to be treated.  Notice to tenants may be accomplished using first-class mail, personal delivery to a tenant at least 18 years old, or electronic delivery if the tenant has provided an electronic mailing address.

California HOA laws Section 4777 also provides helpful definitions for terms including pest, pesticide, licensed pest control operator, and broadcast application, and the statute authorizes owners and tenants to agree to immediate pesticide application when necessary.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Terri A. Morris.

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sb-814-california-water-usage-hoa-e1484179755582California is experiencing the worst drought in over a century.  As a result, the California Legislature has enacted a number of laws aimed at water conservation.  Existing law requires the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board to take appropriate actions to prevent unreasonable water use.  To further the goal of preventing unreasonable water use, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law new legislation prohibiting excessive water use by residential customers during a drought (SB 814).

Specifically, SB 814, which adds Chapter 3.3 to Division 1 of the California Water Code, requires “urban water suppliers” to “establish a method to identify and discourage excessive water use.”  (Water Code § 366(b).)  Accordingly, a water supplier may adopt one of the following methods: (1) a rate structure using block tiers, water budgets, penalties for prohibited uses, and rate surcharges, or (2) an ordinance, rule or tariff (collectively, “Ordinance”) that defines the procedure by which water suppliers are to recognize and deal with excessive water use.  A violation of an Ordinance is punishable by a fine of at least $500 per one hundred (100) cubic feet of water, or seven hundred forty-eight (748) gallons, above the established threshold.

California HOA laws In light of the foregoing, Associations should be mindful of the new prohibition against excessive water use, especially in condominium projects where the units are not separately metered.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Matthew T. Plaxton.

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janitorial-e1483995561223AB 1978 creates the Property Services Workers Protection Act.  Adding Part 4.2 (commencing with Section 1420) to Division 2 of the Labor Code, it requires every janitorial business within the State of California to register yearly with the Commissioner of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) and pay a yearly fee of $500.00.  “No employer may conduct any janitorial business without a valid registration.”

It requires employees and employers of janitorial businesses to participate in a biennial in-person sexual violence and harassment prevention training course.  The course is to be developed by the DLSE by January 1, 2019.

Any janitorial business which does not have a current and valid registration is subject to a fine of $2,500.00.  Additional fines may be imposed including a fine of $100.00 for each calendar day that the business is unregistered with a maximum fine of $10,000.00.

Businesses (including Homeowner Associations) which contract with unregistered and unlicensed janitorial businesses are subject to fines of $2,000.00 to $25,000.00.

How will you know if the janitorial business is registered?          

The DLSE is required to maintain an online Janitorial Contractor Registry which is to be a public database of property service employers on the website of the Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”) including the name, address, registration number, and effective dates of registration of all janitorial businesses.

AB 1978 was signed into law on September 15, 2016, and becomes effective on July 1, 2018.

California HOA lawyers Be proactive: Verify online through the Janitorial Contractor Registry that your janitorial workers are employed by a licensed janitorial business.  If you don’t, your Association may be subject to fines of $2,000.00 to $25,000.00.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Bruce R. Kermot.

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street-sweeperThe California Air Resources Board (“ARB”) passed a regulation (“Regulation”) that requires diesel trucks and buses that operate in California to be upgraded to reduce emissions.  The Regulation has a direct impact on HOAs and requires them to take steps to verify that certain vehicles they hire are properly certified with the State.   The Regulation requires lighter and older heavier trucks to be replaced starting January 1, 2015.  By January 1, 2023, nearly all trucks and buses will need to have 2010 model year engines or equivalent.

The Regulation requires that any party (including HOAs, board members, and managing agents) that hires or directs the operation of any vehicle subject to the Regulation, must verify that each hired company is either in compliance with the regulation or has reported compliance to the ARB.  The Regulation does not apply where the party does not hire or direct the operation of any vehicle subject to the Regulation.  The types of vehicles that an HOA or its managing agent may encounter include but are not limited to the following: street sweepers, dump trucks, pumper trucks, crane trucks, charter buses, lift trucks, concrete pump trucks, and tow trucks.

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first-time-homebuyerWe previously blogged about H.R. 3700, the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016”, which was signed by the President on July 29, 2016.  H.R. 3700 required the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to streamline the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) recertification process, provide regulations for commercial space exemptions, allow for deed-based transfer fees, and lower the owner-occupancy requirement within ninety (90) days of the bill’s approval.  In response to these provisions and changes in the condominium market, HUD proposed a new rule governing the certification requirements for condominium associations.  The proposed rule includes the following reforms:

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*New Case LawBusiness Judgment Rule HOA

Volunteer homeowners association (“HOA”) directors are fiduciaries who are held to high standards of conduct when making decisions or taking actions on behalf of the communities they represent. Sometimes those decisions, which may seem reasonable at the time, ultimately lead to problems for the HOA or its members. If volunteer HOA directors were made personally liable for the consequences of their erroneous decisions, it would be virtually impossible for any HOA to recruit individuals to serve on its board. For this reason, HOA directors are afforded several liability protections under California law.  One of those protections is a legal doctrine known as the “Business Judgment Rule.”

The Business Judgment Rule generally shields directors from personal liability that may result from their erroneous decisions, provided that the decision was made (1) with care, (2) in good faith, and (3) was based upon what the director believed to be in the best interest of the HOA. Making a decision “with care” generally requires that directors exercise reasonable diligence to investigate the issues surrounding the decision so that they are able to act on an informed basis.

But how broad are the protections of the Business Judgment Rule? Does it automatically shield a director who chooses to remain willfully ignorant as to the issues surrounding her actions or the scope of her authority? According to the Court of Appeal in the recent case of Palm Springs Villas II Homeowners Association v. Parth (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 268, that answer appears to be no… Continue reading

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Labor-Unions-Preventive-Practices-1024x683On August 27, 2015, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) published its decision in the Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. case (“BFI Case”). In that case, Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (“BFI”) retained the services of Leadpoint Business Services (“LBS”) to provide staff to one of BFI’s recycling facilities. The contract between BFI and LBS recognized, and the parties understood, that the personnel staffed by LBS were the employees of LBS. Nevertheless, given the fact that the contract granted BFI with some control over the employees of LBS, the NLRB concluded that BFI was a joint-employer of LBS thereby obligating BFI to comply with federal labor laws.

In adopting a new legal standard for determining joint-employer status, the NLRB emphasized that such a determination should not be based solely on actual control over the employees of another, but the “existence, extent, and object of the putative joint employer’s control.” (Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (2015) 2015 NLRB No. 672, *12 (Emphasis added).) Otherwise, employers would be able to insulate themselves from their responsibility to comply with federal labor laws. (Id. at p. *21) Accordingly, as long as a company retains (e.g., through the execution of a contract) the authority to control the employees of another, said company shall be given joint employer status. (Id. at p. *2.) This is true even if control is exercised indirectly (e.g., through an intermediary). (Id.)

Many associations retain a community management firm for the purpose of executing the duties of the association. These community management firms in turn employ community managers and support staff to manage these associations. While historically recognized as the employee of the community management firm (and an independent contractor of the association), the BFI Case raises some questions with respect to the nature of the relationship between the employees of a community management firm and the association. Accordingly, associations must be cognizant that a Court may find that it is a joint employer of the community manager (and support staff), notwithstanding the fact that it exercises no direct and immediate control over said manager.

Similarly, associations and management companies must take care when hiring maintenance and service providers for the community.  When managers, committee members, or board members are conducting job walks with a contractor’s employee, reviewing specifications, or receiving invoices, the management company and the association may become joint employers. In Heiman v. Worker’s Compensation Appeals Board, Cal: Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 3rd Div. 2007 (“Heiman”), a community association manager hired an unlicensed and uninsured contractor on behalf of the association to install rain gutters on the condominium buildings.  An employee of the contractor was seriously injured on the first day of the project and sued the contractor, management company, and association for workers’ compensation.  The Court held that the contractor, the association, and the management company were all joint employers because the contractor hired the injured employee, and the management company, as agent of the association, hired the contractor.  The BFI Case seems to affirm this decision.

California HOA laws In order to insulate the association from a possible finding of joint-employer status, the association should ensure that its contract with independent contractors, requires all proper licenses and insurance, adequately sets forth the desired results, and sets forth the level of care and skill to be used in accomplishing the desired results. (See Id. at p. 12 (“mere ‘service under an agreement to accomplish results or to use care and skill in accomplishing results’ is not evidence of an employment, or joint-employment relationship”).) The agreement should also include a provision that requires the contractor to indemnify and hold the association harmless in the event a labor dispute arises.

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Matthew T. Plaxton.