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3-5_aba_little_tots*New Legislation

Governor Newsome recently signed into law Senate Bill 234 (“SB 234“), also know as the “Keeping Kids Close to Home Act.”  The new law will take effect on January 1, 2020.  SB 234 permits large daycare homes, which provide care for up to 14 children at one time, to operate within HOA communities regardless of contrary language in their CC&Rs.  The purpose of SB 234 is to increase the availability of childcare for families across the state by making it easier for daycare homes to operate in residential neighborhoods.

“It is the intent of the Legislature that family daycare homes for children should be situated in normal residential surroundings so as to give children the home environment that is conducive to healthy and safe development. It is the public policy of this state to provide children in a family daycare home the same home environment as provided in a traditional home setting.”

The California legislature previously declared that small daycare homes (those providing care for up to 8 children) were immune from HOA restrictions, like those against commercial use. (See H&S Code, section 1597.40(c).)  Prior to SB 234, local governments could decide whether to classify large daycare homes like small daycare homes or to subject the large daycare operators to additional restrictions and requirements.

In effect, SB 234 voids CC&R provisions that prohibit Owners from utilizing their properties as large daycare homes, so long as those Owners follow the necessary state licensing requirements and provide care for no more than 14 children.  The bill also informs those wishing to open daycare homes that remedies are available if the local governments or HOAs discriminate against them.

HOAs across the state should be aware that Owners have the right to open large daycare homes within the community, regardless of restrictions against commercial use or for single family use.  However, the new law does not allow Owners to violate other CC&R restrictions, like those prohibiting noise nuisances.

California HOA lawyers HOAs should always consult with their legal counsel when responding to Owners’ requests to open daycare homes within the communities in order to ensure compliance with the new state law and their CC&Rs.

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

no-kids-allowed*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our Association is seeking legal guidance regarding children playing in the common areas and driveways. Several homeowners have complained about the number of children playing without supervision.  Drivers report their concern for the children’s safety as there have been several reports of children almost hurt. The Board would like to know if they have the authority to restrict children from playing in the common areas and/or driveways? 

Answered – The short answer is that the Association would be exposing itself to a risk of liability under federal and state anti-discrimination laws by adopting a rule or policy that outright prohibited children from playing in the common areas; including the streets and driveways. This risk would extend to other rules that specifically apply to children only, as opposed to all members/residents of the community.    

Generally, an association should proceed with caution when attempting to create and/or enforce rules that specifically apply to children. Federal and state law provides that it is unlawful to limit the use of privileges, services, or facilities associated with a dwelling because of familial status (the law also recognizes other protected classes including those based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and disability). Familial status is generally defined as having one or more individuals under 18 years of age who reside with a parent or with another person with care and legal custody of that individual. The effect of association rules based on familial status is that families with children, and those children, are treated differently and less favorably than households comprised solely of adults.

Federal courts have found that an association engages in actionable discrimination when rules specifically target children without sufficient justification. For example, rules that restrict only children from the benefits and privileges of common areas or amenities (such as pools, parkways, streets, etc.) have been struck down as impermissible restrictions against a protected class; namely familial status.

An association pool rule that restricts children under the age of 16 from using the pool without adult supervision would be an example of an impermissible rule. An association may argue that such a rule is intended to protect children. However, it would be easy to demonstrate that many children that fall under the scope of the rule are far more proficient swimmers than many adults (e.g. junior lifeguards). However, a rule that prohibits children under 5 from using the common area spa without adult supervision would likely fare better if a legal challenge was brought because there is a clear and identifiable safety risk with children under 5, regardless of swimming proficiency. Specific adult-only swim hours would be another example of an impermissible rule.

To avoid the risk of a discrimination claim, associations should strive to craft and enforce rules that apply equally to all members and residents within a community. Facially neutral rules of general applicability are far more likely to withstand judicial scrutiny. Alternatively, if an association has a legitimate and compelling justification for a rule that only applies to children (or other protected class), the rule must be the least restrictive means to accomplish the identified goal. This is a high burden to meet, so counsel should be consulted to avoid unnecessary and costly issues down the road.

California HOA lawyers Associations should be aware that creating and/or enforcing rules that apply only to children (and other protected classes such as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability) exposes an association to federal and state discrimination claims. Associations seeking to address legitimate concerns or issues, such as children’s safety, should work with counsel to create enforceable rules that steer clear of potential discrimination against protected classes.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Tim D. Klubnikin, Esq.

16106042-10158060050850114-2869680242197711700-n-1484846578*New Legislation

On July 30, 2019, SB 652 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsome in response to several incidents in which a homeowner’s association (HOA) asked a resident to remove a mezuzah from their unit’s entry door or doorframe.  A mezuzah is a small scroll that is affixed to the doorframe of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment).  For observant Jews, this is not a choice, but rather, a religious duty.  Attempts to bar them from fulfilling this duty violated their religious freedom, argued Jewish residents.

In Connecticut, an HOA threatened to fine a resident fifty ($50) dollars if she did not remove the mezuzah affixed to her doorframe.  The HOA permitted religious displays (e.g. Christmas wreaths) on doors, but restricted any adornments from being placed on exterior walls.  The HOA argued that doorframes are considered exterior walls.

In Florida, an HOA ordered a resident to remove a mezuzah, citing its bylaws prohibiting owners and occupants from attaching, hanging, affixing or displaying anything on the exterior walls, doors, balconies, railings and windows of the building.

In New York, an HOA fined a resident fifty ($50) dollars for affixing a mezuzah to her doorframe shortly after she moved in.  The HOA cited its bylaws prohibiting residents from altering the exterior of their home without approval from the Association.  The rule included affixing of signs, advertisements or statuary.

While there were only a handful of instances nationwide in which a resident was asked to remove a mezuzah, the bill was designed to have a broader scope in protecting any displays of religious items on doors and doorframes so long as the display reflects “sincerely held religious beliefs.”  Specifically, SB 652 prohibits a “property owner” (defined to mean an HOA, an HOA board, or landlord) from adopting or enforcing any rule that prohibits the display of one or more “religious items” on an entry door or doorframe.  The bill defines “religious item” to mean any item displayed “because of sincerely held religious beliefs.”  The bill also identifies reasonable exceptions, such as allowing an HOA or landlord to prohibit the display of anything that threatens public health or safety, violates existing law, contains obscenities, hinders the opening or closing of any entry door, or is larger than 36” by 12” inches.  Also, an HOA may require a separate interest owner to remove a religious item as necessary to perform maintenance on a door or doorframe.

Prior to SB 562, federal and state law provided some protections against religious discrimination in housing, but the author of the bill believed that these protections were not sufficient enough to protect the display of religious items.   For example, the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of religion.  Likewise, the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it unlawful for the owner of any housing accommodation to discriminate against or harass any person because of the religion of that person. (Gov. Code § 12955.)  The Davis-Stirling Act, which regulates homeowner’s associations and common interest developments, contains a provision that prohibits the HOA governing documents from prohibiting the posting or displaying of noncommercial signs, posters, flags, banners, on or in an owner’s separate interest, subject to certain exceptions.  (Civil Code § 4710.)  To the extent that a “religious item” is a sign, poster, flag, or banner, one could argue that existing law already prohibits an HOA from adopting or enforcing any rule that bans the display of religious items.  But arguably there is a question of whether a mezuzah or cross hung from a door is a “sign.”  SB 562 eliminates that ambiguity by protecting any “item” which is displayed because of a sincere religious belief, whether or not it is a “sign.”

SB 652, which takes effect January 1, 2020, will likely conflict with many HOA policies, which have aesthetic and architectural rules that bar hanging anything on an entry doorframe.  According to the author of the bill, such restrictions from HOAs leave the affected people unable to freely practice their religious obligations and in some instances are forced to leave their residence and seek another place to live.  By passing this bill, California’s legislature has followed the recent trend in caselaw suggesting that the religious freedom of individuals should take precedence over the communal interests of homeowner’s associations.

California HOA lawyers Notwithstanding, it is important to note that the right afforded to HOA members and tenants in this bill is extremely limited, only applying to a “religious item” and, even then, only when the item is posted on an entry door or doorframe.  For instance, the bill would not provide protection to an owner who wanted to post a similarly-sized religious item in a window, or a door other than an “entry” door.   

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Reuben D. Kim, Esq.

residential-packageAs security technology becomes less expensive and more accessible to average consumers, homeowners are provided with an exponential increase in available options for exterior security devices. A cursory Amazon search reveals hundreds of such devices including motion sensor lights and home camera offerings that can be accessed remotely from the convenience of one’s smart phone. Given the benefits and low cost, many homeowners have installed security systems in and around their residences to mitigate the risk of theft, property damage, and other criminal activity. As purchases and installations of these devices increase, associations and architectural committees are increasingly confronted with the conflict between the owners’ interest in safety and security, and the association’s interest in uniform aesthetics and neighborhood privacy.

Association Regulation and Liability

Most common interest developments are structured and organized where the association maintains the residence/building exteriors and has the ability to regulate improvements attached and/or integrally related to them. This authority generally includes the ability to approve or deny owner applications to install exterior security devices. Some associations with strict architectural approval procedures may be inclined to significantly limit or outright reject owner installed exterior security devices. However, this approach can expose an association to potential liability, especially where there is a demonstrated need for such devices.

In the case of Frances T. v. Village Green Owners Assn. (1986) 42 Cal.3d 490, the California Supreme Court held that a homeowners association stands in relation to owners as a landlord and can be liable for breaches of traditional landlord duties such as failing to address unreasonable risks of criminal activity. The Court found that there was ample evidence to place the association on notice of an unreasonable risk to the plaintiff’s safety, and the failure to act or to allow the owner a self-help remedy subjected the association to liability.

In light of the holding in Frances T., associations should avoid outright prohibitions on owner installed exterior security devices. Instead, associations should develop and implement a comprehensive policy that governs the application, approval, and installation process for such devices. Such a policy allows the association to control the aesthetic characteristics, installation locations, and fields of view (for cameras) necessary to preserve the aesthetic appearance of the community, while preventing the devices from intruding into the seclusion of other residences and infringing privacy rights.

Exterior Security Device Policy

When developing an exterior security device policy, one of the primary considerations should be to limit the risk of invading the privacy of other residences. Generally, there is no recognized right of privacy in common areas. However, California acknowledges that privacy interests can be infringed through devices that provide a technological intrusion from otherwise lawful vantage points. Civil Code section 1708.8(b) states in pertinent part:

A person is liable for constructive invasion of privacy when the person attempts to capture, in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person, any type of visual image . . . or other physical impression of the plaintiff engaging in a private, personal, or familial activity, through the use of any device, regardless of whether there is a physical trespass, if this image . . . or other physical impression could not have been achieved without a trespass unless the device was used.

Under the guidance of the foregoing prohibition against such privacy infringement, any approval of exterior security devices should be focused on ensuring that the primary purpose of the device is to advance the security interests of the applicant owner, and the device does not present an unreasonable risk of privacy invasion to other residences.

To limit the risk of privacy intrusions, a security device policy should contemplate the following requirements:

    1. An installation plot plan/map should be submitted by the applicant to indicate the intended installation locations and their corresponding fields of view for any visual recording devices such as cameras.
    2. Such fields of view should not be permitted to observe neighboring residences, exclusive use, or common areas. Depending on the development/community layout, some installations may not be possible without capturing some of the foregoing areas (such as a doorbell camera that points towards common area). The association body tasked with the review and approval of security device installations should ensure that in such cases, the primary purpose is to advance the security interests of the applicant and that any common area field of view is merely incidental and as limited as possible.
    3. Cameras must be “fixed view”, without panning capabilities.
    4. Finally, any approved installations should be revocable if the device violates the privacy of neighboring residences so as to constitute a nuisance.
California HOA lawyers Given the limitless permutations of common interest developments and their various layouts, there is no one size fits all approach to resolving the complex issues surrounding owner installation of exterior security devices. As such, consult with legal counsel to develop workable solutions to advance the association’s interests, while preserving the owners’ interest in security and privacy.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Tim D. Klubnikin, Esq.

Neighbor-Disputes-8-Smart-Tips-to-Legally-Deal-with-Nuisance-Caused-by-Nasty-Neighbors*Unpublished Opinion

The Court of Appeals recently rendered an unpublished opinion in  Harbour Island Condominium Owners Association, Inc. v. Alexander (2019), which provides some clarity regarding a tenant’s right to attend board meetings and the ban on noxious activities within the community.

The Harbour Island Condominium Owners Association (“HOA”) sought a restraining order (known as a preliminary injunction) against two tenants and their landlord to abate the tenants’ noxious behavior.  The HOA relied on the provision in the CC&R’s, which stated that residents cannot disturb the neighborhood or occupants of a neighboring property or create a nuisance.

Neighboring residents made several complaints to the HOA about the tenants’ excessive and purposeful noise: the tenants consistently stomped on their floors and slammed their doors.  In addition to the noise complaints, tenants permitted their dog to urinate in the Common Area, despite the posted “No Dogs” signs.  Lastly, the tenants engaged in aggressive behavior against the Board of Directors in an apparent attempt to intimidate Board Members.  For example, the tenants secretly photographed a Board Member at the pool on different occasions.

The trial court granted the preliminary injunction, ordering the tenants and their landlord to install throw rugs throughout the unit and a sound-muffling device on the doors; to cease photographing Board Members; and to prevent their dog from urinating on the Common Area.  The trial court ruled in favor of the HOA because the tenants’ noxious behavior unfairly oppressed the rest of the community, while the ordered corrective measures were minimally oppressive to the tenants.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.  Despite the fact that the HOA’s nuisance provision did not mention dogs, the Court broadly interpreted the existing provision to encompass the exclusion of dogs from the Common Area for health and safety reasons.

Furthermore, the Court held that the nuisance provision bans acoustic nuisances that interfere with a neighbor’s right to quiet enjoyment.  In this case, the nuisance claims were supported by credible witness testimony that the tenants’ noise was excessive.

Lastly, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the tenants that their due process rights had been violated since the tenants were not permitted to challenge the violation notices at hearings.  The Court held that only Owners with vested property rights are Members of the HOA.  As such, only Members may participate in HOA meetings.

California HOA lawyers The Harbour Island case highlights the broad reach of nuisance provisions in CC&Rs and serves as a reminder that Owners, not tenants, have the right to attend and participate in HOA meetings. 

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

BikeExhaust-e1534522784547*Asked & Answered

Asked – We have several vehicles that are “extremely loud” due to their exhaust systems. Even with all windows and doors closed and these vehicles 1/2 way across the complex, there is NO PROBLEM hearing them when they start them. They even set off car alarms near them. Can we ask them to address the noise they cause?

Answered – Noisy neighbors are a frequent occurrence in common interest developments, especially in dense housing communities (e.g., condominiums). And while the California Supreme Court has indicated that individuals “in a community must put up with a certain amount of annoyance, inconvenience and interference,” (San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court (1996) 13 Cal.4th 893, 937), that does not extend to situations which have a substantial impact on residents’ use and enjoyment of their separate interests.

Indeed, residents of a common interest development are generally entitled to the peaceful use and enjoyment of their respective separate interests as well as the common areas. Ensuring such peaceful use and enjoyment is what underlies many of the provisions set forth in an association’s recorded Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”). Residents purchase or rent their separate interests within an association in reliance on those restrictions being consistently and faithfully enforced.

The peaceful use and enjoyment to which residents are entitled is typically reflected in the association’s CC&Rs under the heading “use restrictions.” The following is a common example of a use restriction preserving the right of residents to the peaceful use and enjoyment of their separate interest:

No Condominium shall be used in such a manner as to obstruct or interfere with the enjoyment of occupants of other Condominiums or annoy them by unreasonable noises or otherwise, nor shall any nuisance be committed or permitted to occur in any Condominium.

This provision, alone, can serve as a basis to prevent residents from operating vehicles in the community that are “extremely loud.” However, some associations go a step further and adopt operating rules identifying what constitutes an “unreasonable” noise. For example, an association may adopt an operating rule prohibiting residents from operating vehicles that exceed a certain decibel level; or, more commonly, adopt an operating rule prohibiting residents from operating vehicles that produce “excessive” noise thereby providing the Board of Directors with the broad discretion to determine what constitutes “excessive.”

hoa laws In sum, the ability to regulate conduct or activities that constitute a nuisance is well within the scope of authority granted to an association. This power extends to prohibiting residents from operating extremely loud vehicles within the community. Associations facing such issues can and should commence enforcement efforts to remedy the violation, and, if the association has not done so already, adopt operating rules addressing such conduct. 

Content provided by TLG attorney Matthew T. Plaxton, Esq.

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

hoa-membership-id-cards*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our HOA makes us take a photograph which they put on an ID card to use at the various amenities on site. Upon move out, they make us turn in the IDs. I found out that they don’t destroy the cards that have our name and photograph and what unit we are in. The HOA keeps it in the “unit file” in perpetuity. I don’t feel comfortable with this, but I turned mine and my husband’s in to avoid paying $25 each for not handing them in. My step-daughter has lost hers and I’m being charged $25. In finding out the fee does not go to defray any costs incurred by the board. This does not sound legal/in-line with privacy laws. Suggestions?

AnsweredThe HOA’s practice of retaining photo ID cards does not violate the law; however, the ID cards do not contain information that HOA’s are required to retain as HOA “records” such as copies of the HOA’s governing documents, minutes, financial records, and litigation files. There is no arguable reason for the HOA to retain photo ID’s of past members, so it would be our recommendation that rather than retain the photo ID cards the HOA shred them once they are surrendered, thereby preventing any opportunity for misuse of the information and photographs contained in the cards.

hoa laws The charge of $25 for members who fail to turn in their ID cards upon moving out of the community is probably a penalty charge listed in the HOA’s Fine Schedule.  As a fine, the charge is not required to be used to defray costs incurred by the HOA, but is a penalty designed to motivate members to surrender their cards, so they are not used for entrance to the HOA’s amenities by unauthorized individuals. The amount of the fine is not “unreasonable,” so it does not violate the Civil Code that governs homeowners associations.

Content provided by TLG attorney Terri A. Morris, Esq.

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

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.

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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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.