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Articles Posted in HOA Governance

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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.

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lawyer-hoa-attorney-meeting

Civil Code Section 4925 grants to each member of a homeowners association (“HOA”) the right to attend HOA board meetings (except for executive session meetings). Section 4925 also grants members with rights to speak at board meetings and to address the board during open forum. However, these rights are explicitly granted to the HOA’s “members” (the owners of lots or units within the HOA’s development), not to a member’s agent or attorney. The California Court of Appeal addressed this issue in the 2013 case of SB Liberty, LLC v. Isla Verde Assn. Inc., where it affirmed a HOA’s ability to prohibit a member’s attorney from attending a board meeting on the member’s behalf.

However, Assembly Bill 1720 (“AB 1720”) was just proposed by the California Legislature in order to change this structure by amending parts of Section 4925. If signed into law, AB 1720 will add new subpart (c) to Section 4925 to state:

“The board shall permit an attorney who represents a member to attend any board meeting that the member is permitted to attend, regardless of whether the member attends. Where possible, the member shall give the board at least 48 hours advance written notice that his or her attorney will attend the board meeting.”

AB 1720 follows in the same vein as legislation which became effective January 1, 2015. That legislation (AB 1738) was enacted to grant a HOA member the right to be assisted by an attorney when the member is participating in Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) with a member of the board.

hoa laws AB 1720 could be problematic for HOAs by placing boards in a position of having their meetings observed or disrupted by the attorney of a member whom is, or is likely to become, involved in a dispute with the HOA. Such a situation will likely have a chilling effect on the discussions and actions taken at a board meeting where a member’s attorney is present, especially if the HOA’s attorney is not present. While AB 1720’s language currently requires the member to, “where possible,” give the board at least 48 hours written notice that his/her attorney will attend the board meeting, it does not clearly specify whether the attorney must be allowed to attend regardless of whether the member actually provides such notice. Moreover, this notice requirement is presumably intended to provide the HOA with enough time to arrange for its attorney to attend the meeting as well. A mere forty eight (48) hours notice may not be sufficient in this respect. If anything, members should be required to comply with the same timeline currently imposed upon the HOA when it provides notice of board meetings to its members: four (4) days. We will continue to track AB 1720 as it makes its way through the legislature.

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*New Case Lawhoa-meeting-agenda

HOA board meetings are governed by the “Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act” (“Open Meeting Act”)(Civil Code Sections 4900 through 4955). The Open Meeting Act is designed to bring a sense of transparency to HOA governance, and is similar in purpose to California’s “Brown Act” (Government Code Section 54950 et seq.) which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in public meetings of local legislative bodies (i.e. City Council Meetings). Both the Open Meeting Act and the Brown Act include, among other procedural requirements, language regarding the notice that must be provided in advance of HOA/legislative body meetings, respectively.

In June 2015, the California Court of Appeal rendered an opinion which addressed a notice requirement under the Brown Act. In Castaic Lake Water Agency v. Newhall County Water District, et al, Castaic Lake Water Agency (“Castaic”) moved the trial court to declare void an action taken at a public meeting because the related agenda identified an incorrect Government Code section as the basis for the scheduled action to be taken at that meeting. In dismissing Castaic’s action, the Court held that substantial compliance with the Brown Act is the governing test, and that the notice given by Newhall Water District in the agenda was sufficient to inform the public of the purpose of the meeting.

hoa laws The holding in Castaic applies only to public meetings of local legislative bodies, and therefore is not directly applicable to common interest developments and HOAs. However, that decision could be persuasive in a factually similar HOA context. If an action taken at a HOA Board Meeting is challenged because the agenda incorrectly cites to a provision that does not accurately identify the basis of the Board’s authority to discuss/take such action, the ‘substantial compliance’ test may be considered to rebuff that challenge. Specifically, a HOA could argue that the agenda substantially complied with the Open Meeting Act and was therefore sufficient with respect to informing the membership of the purpose contemplated by the referenced action item set forth in the agenda.

Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Kumar Raja.

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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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