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Articles Posted in Rules & Regulations

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hoa-garden-rats.jpg*Asked & Answered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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hoa-scooters2.jpg*Asked & Answered

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

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

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

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

Blog post authored by TLG attorney, Terri Morris.

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

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hoa-gateAn easement provides an individual with the legal right to a specific and definable use of another’s property. A homeowners association’s (“HOA’s”) governing documents (i.e., “CC&Rs”) often provide numerous easement rights to its members for access and use of the HOA’s common areas and recreational facilities. While those easement rights are reserved for the benefit of the HOA’s members, their guests and tenants residing in the HOA’s development, it is not uncommon for non-residents and general members of the public to utilize HOA common area facilities such as walkways, trails and parks. HOAs may run into issues when trying to exclude non-residents from those areas, and may be reluctant to take more formal measures needed to do so (i.e., the installation of controlled access gates, the use of security personnel, etc.).

However, if a HOA fails to take such measures and fails to actively prohibit non-residents from accessing the HOA’s common area facilities, the open and consistent use of those facilities by non-residents may ultimately result in the creation of “prescriptive” easement rights for those non-residents. In the recent unpublished decision in Applegate Properties, Inc. v. Coronado Cays Homeowners Association (“Applegate“), the California Court of Appeals held that such prescriptive easement rights had been created over the common area of the Coronado Cays Homeowners Association (“Association”).

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electronic-cigs.jpgThe popularity of electronic cigarettes (“E-Cigs”) has increased in recent years. In light of unknown health risks, many state and local governments are passing laws restricting the sale and use of E-Cigs. Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”) are following this trend and adopting rules prohibiting their use in common areas.

Questions have surfaced regarding the extent to which a HOA’s operating rules that already prohibit smoking in certain areas may be applied to restrict E-Cig use as well. Most sets of operating rules do not explicitly define “smoking.” Additionally, while the California Legislature is attempting to include E-cigs under the traditional restrictions applicable to cigarettes, no statute has been enacted that does so.

HOAs that desire to treat E-Cigs the same as traditional tobacco smoking products should amend their operating rules accordingly. Such action may be done at the Board’s discretion, pursuant to the rule change procedures required under Civil Code Section 4360 (i.e., provide general notice of the proposed rule change at least thirty (30) days before making the rule change, the decision on the rule change must be made at a board meeting, and after the decision is made, general notice of the rule change must be provided to the members within fifteen (15) days). However, prohibiting E-Cig use in the interior of the members’ separate interests (i.e., not just in the common areas or exclusive use common areas) may require a formal amendment to the HOA’s CC&Rs rather than a mere change to its operating rules.

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In light of the trend of state and local governments, as well as the unresolved questions concerning the health impacts of E-Cigs, operating rules that prohibit or restrict E-Cig use in common areas would likely be deemed “reasonable,” and thus valid and enforceable. Additionally, HOA boards and management professionals should not disregard complaints from members regarding E-Cig “vapor” transmission, as we have blogged previously about how disregarding complaints dealing with second-hand smoke transmission can expose a HOA and its management company to substantial liability. In the presence of such complaints, a HOA should consult with its legal counsel for guidance.

Blog post authored by TLG attorneys Matt Plaxton and Steve Tinnelly.

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eviction-hoa.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – A renter/tenant within our community is continually engaging in improper conduct, violating the governing documents, and causing nuisances that are impacting surrounding homeowners. Is there anything the HOA can do to evict the tenant? What steps can the Board of Directors take to prevent situations like this from happening in the future?

Answered – Improper conduct of tenants is a problematic situation commonly faced by homeowners associations (“HOAs”). Tenants often are not as involved in the affairs of the HOA as that of the HOA’s members, nor do tenants feel the same sense of investment in the community. Additionally, members who rent out their homes typically prioritize rental income over the concerns of neighboring homeowners.

The degree to which a HOA may take action directly against an unruly tenant will be principally governed by the HOA’s governing documents–specifically, the HOA’s recorded declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (a.k.a. “CC&Rs”). The restrictions in the CC&Rs are “equitable servitudes” that are enforceable against the owners of the “separate interests” within the HOA (the HOA’s members). Civ. Code § 5975. CC&Rs may contain provisions requiring tenants to comply with the HOA’s governing documents. However, those provisions essentially confer obligations upon the members to control the conduct of their respective tenants. Therefore, any remedies available to the HOA in response to tenant violations or nuisance activities must generally be pursued through action against the tenant’s landlord (the HOA member), not the tenant.

However, there are ways in which a HOA may broaden its ability to take action directly against a tenant. For example, a HOA can amend its CC&Rs to require any leases between a member and a third-party tenant to contain language which: (1) requires the tenant to comply with the governing documents, (2) grants the HOA the authority to take action directly against the tenant in response to violations, and (3) holds the landlord-member responsible for the HOA’s attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in taking such action. Such language would make the HOA a “third-party beneficiary” under the lease with the contractual right to enforce its terms through an eviction action or otherwise. Such language will also motivate members seeking to rent out their homes to secure higher-quality tenants at the outset.

hoa laws

In the absence of such language, the HOA should take formal action directly against the tenant’s landlord (the HOA member). Faced with the threat of fines and costly legal action, the member will likely realize that his/her financial interests are better served through securing a different tenant. A HOA dealing with unruly tenants should therefore seek the assistance of its legal counsel to determine the best course of action.

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

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hoa-web-site.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – Is it common for an association to create a website and share certain information via this website with owners/residents of the community? If yes, what are the regulations?

Answered – Yes. A community website can be a valuable and effective communication tool by allowing residents to access homeowner association (“HOA”) information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there are no specific regulations regarding HOA websites, there are a few pitfalls that should be avoided when sharing community information in a public forum.

A typical HOA website will provide informational tools to the residents, including access to HOA documents, calendar of events, board meeting agendas, contact information, etc. The board may post most of these items within a public area of the website. However, some items will need to be housed in a secure location. For example, access to the HOA’s CC&R’s, Bylaws, and other governing documents should be restricted to a “Members Only” location of the site, and be protected via a user name and password.

The board may also consider posting disclosure notices, such as the Annual Budget Report, Annual Policy Statement, and other community-wide disclosures on the site. As noted above, these documents should be contained within the “Members Only” section of the website. The HOA would still be required to provide these notices to the membership per the General Delivery requirements outlined in Civil Code § 4045; however, keeping a copy on the website provides the members with a quick and convenient location to obtain additional copies, if necessary.

If the HOA allows its members to review assessment account information, or pay assessments online, the members will need to able to access a secure area of the website in order to protect their private information. To protect the HOA from liability from data breaches, be sure to utilize a payment vendor that is PCI Compliant. PCI Data Security Standards include requirements to maintain a firewall to protect cardholder data, encrypt transmission of cardholder data, use and regularly update anti-virus software, assign a unique ID to each user, and regularly test security systems, among other things.

hoa laws

Some HOA websites also include a chat room/forum for residents. Keeping your website social can help build a sense of community. However, it can also be a place for members to voice their grievances. Before including this feature, the board should work with the HOA’s legal counsel to create a Terms of Use Policy, and determine any disciplinary action for violations of this Policy. Residents will need to agree to the Terms of Use prior to being allowed access to the chat room/forum. In addition, the HOA should have someone available to moderate the site, so inappropriate comments can be immediately removed. Due to the time and cost associated with monitoring an online forum, the board may find it more beneficial to instead have a list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”), as well as a Contact Form, where residents can have their questions quickly answered. Above all, the HOA needs to ensure that the website’s information is kept up to date and relevant to ensure that residents keep coming back.

Blog post authored by Tinnelly Law Group’s Director of Business Development, Ramona Acosta.

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

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hoa update 2014Our “Annual Legislative & Case Law Update” newsletter for the year 2014 is now available in our library!

The Legislative & Case Law Update provides an overview of the new legislation and case law impacting California Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”) as we head into 2014. The new legislation includes, among other items, the re-organization of the Davis-Stirling Act (now in effect), and a bill that clarifies contractor licensing requirements for HOA managers. The new case law includes rulings that may impact HOA election rules, membership rights to attend Board meetings, use of HOA media outlets during election campaigns, insurance defense coverage, attorney’s fees recovery in HOA disputes, and assessment collection procedures.

Click here to read our Annual Legislative & Case Law Update (2014)

Have questions on any of the new legislation or case law? Click here to send us a question online.

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rules and regulations california hoa assocaition.png*Asked & Answered

Asked – Are there recognized models of well-written rules and regulations for homeowners associations?

Answered – No, there are not, and the reason is because homeowners association (“HOA”) CC&Rs typically leave the drafting and amending of rules and regulations to the HOA’s Board of Directors. The types of rules and regulations (defined as “operating rules” under the Civil Code) that a HOA may adopt will depend on the language contained in the HOA’s governing documents as well as the unique characteristics of the common interest development. For example, the CC&Rs for condominium developments usually contain provisions explicitly addressing the Board’s ability (and in many cases, the Board’s obligation) to adopt a set of parking rules that regulate the HOA’s finite number of common area parking spaces. By contrast, CC&Rs for single family home projects may broadly state the Board’s ability to adopt rules governing the use of the HOA’s streets.

Here are the common issues that HOA Boards should address in drafting a good set of rules and regulations: common area rules, parking restrictions, noise and nuisance guidelines, trash can rules, pet restrictions, tenant rules, sign restrictions, pool and clubhouse hours, and the association’s disciplinary policy. Many of our clients also choose to include within their rules and regulations a restatement of some of the important restrictions contained in their HOA’s CC&Rs. This provides a valuable “quick reference guide” for residents who may not take the time to read through the entire set of the HOA’s CC&Rs.

The Board may also include a copy of the following policies that are provided to members in the Annual Policy Statement pursuant to Civil Code § 5310 as part of the “quick reference guide:” Architectural Guidelines and Application Procedures, Neighbor-to-Neighbor Dispute Policy, Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures, Election Policy, and Assessment Collection Policy.

hoa laws

Rules and regulations are a valuable tool for resolving certain issues that are not explicitly addressed in a HOA’s CC&Rs. However, a Board must be aware of the limitations placed upon its rule-making authority under its HOA’s governing documents as well as the Civil Code. Therefore, where a Board’s authority to adopt or amend any particular rule or regulation is unclear, the Board should consult with the HOA’s legal counsel.

Blog post authored by Tinnelly Law Group attorney, Terri Morris.

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

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service animal hoa law accomodation attorneys disability.png*Asked & Answered

Asked – Our high-rise condominium association does not allow dogs weighing over 40 pounds, but we have an owner that has requested an exception for her “companion” dog that is a 70 pound Golden Retriever. Does our HOA have to allow the homeowner to have her companion dog?

AnsweredProbably. The HOA may not discriminate against individuals with disabilities by prohibiting a “companion” animal or a “service” animal. The HOA’s weight restrictions for pets in the community does not apply to companion or service animals because they are not “pets.” Companion animals provide psychiatric support to individuals suffering from a mental disability such as depression, claustrophobia, certain types of autism, and other disorders that are mental in nature, while service animals assist with physical disabilities.

The Board must be careful to properly address the request for an accommodation due to a disability. If the homeowner can provide documentation of her diagnosed need for the animal, the Association must permit her to keep the animal in the community. The request should be handled quickly and with respect for the individual.

hoa attorney Handling requests for accommodation can be challenging. For more information on this topic, please visit our library and review our article titled “Responding to Requests for Accommodation.”

Content provided by TLG attorney Terri Morris

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