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HOA Held Responsible for Deteriorated Pipes within an Individual Owner’s Unit

The interpretation of a HOA’s maintenance and repair obligations under its CC&Rs resulted in a significant judgment against the HOA…

Under the Davis-Stirling Act, Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are typically obligated to repair and maintain common areas except for those common areas deemed to be “exclusive use” common areas. The repair and maintenance of exclusive use common areas are typically the obligation of the individual unit owners. The issue in Dover Village Association v. Jennison, 4th Dist. No. G042741 (2010) (Dover) was whether certain “fixtures” (specifically, interior sewage and water pipes) constituted “exclusive use” common areas which the homeowner (Jennison) was obligated to repair and maintain.

Under the HOA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs), pipes and other utility installations, except portions located within the physical boundaries of an owner’s unit, were not within an individual owner’s separate interest (not “exclusive use” common areas). A deteriorated sewage pipe under Jennison’s unit had been leaking into the flooring/carpet and was also venting the smell of sewage into his unit. The HOA asserted that it was Jennison’s responsibility to maintain and repair the pipe–which would have cost him roughly $15,000. Jennison disputed this assertion and litigation ensued.

In ruling for Jennison, the court in Dover interpreted several provisions of the CC&Rs as ultimately holding the HOA responsible for the repair and maintenance of the pipe. The court specifically emphasized language in the CC&Rs that indicated common areas–including “exclusive use” common areas–as areas to which the owners generally have access. Because Jennison did not have sufficient access to the sewer pipe at issue, the court refused to hold that the pipe was an exclusive use common areas as contemplated by the CC&Rs. Additionally, the court struck down the HOA’s argument that the determination of whether a portion of sewer pipe was an “exclusive use” common area was within the HOA’s discretion. The court ultimately held the HOA responsible for the expense and repair costs and also awarded Jennison roughly $17,000 in attorney’s fees and costs.

hoa laws This case is an example of the potential impact of the interpretation given to provisions of a HOA’s CC&Rs–especially those governing maintenance and repair responsibilities. Boards of Directors should defer to the assistance of legal counsel when issues arise as to a HOA’s rights and responsibilities under its governing documents.

To read the full text of the holding, click here.

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