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Common HOA Disputes

January 19, 2018

There are many Homeowner Association ("HOA") disputes that arise from: negligence, board decisions, litigation and miscellaneous common area matters. 

 

Negligence

 

Under California law, an HOA has a duty to exercise due care in the maintenance of common areas. In this way, an HOA may be held to a landlord's standard of care and under Frances T. v. Village Green Owners Assn., (1986) 42 Cal. 3d 490, a homeowner may sue an HOA for failure to maintain common areas and resulting damage to individual units. 

 

Board Decisions

 

HOAs are often authorized under the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions ("CC&Rs") to make decisions that may benefit the Association. Courts may enforce these decisions further where they are not arbitrary, discriminatory, or illegal. The HOA board has a say in whether a homeowner may paint exterior doors, parking matters, landscaping, fences, budgets and much more. 

 

However, in Lamden v. La Jolla Shores Clubdominium Homeowners Assn., (1999) 21 Cal. 4th 249, the California Supreme Court created a formula to determine whether a board decision is appropriate and within its discretion. The Court held:

 

Where a duly constituted community association board, upon reasonable investigation, in good faith and with regard for the best interests of the community association and its members, exercises discretion within the scope of its authority under relevant statutes, covenants and restrictions to select among means for discharging an obligation to maintain and repair a development's common areas, courts should defer to the board's authority and presumed expertise. Thus, we adopt today for California courts a rule of judicial deference to community association board decision making that applies, regardless of an association's corporate status, when owners in common interest developments seek to litigate ordinary maintenance decisions entrusted to the discretion of their associations' boards of directors.

 

Litigation

 

Recently, many HOAs have waited for a homeowner to initiate litigation in order to make changes or repairs to the home. The HOAs have then stated that homeowners that prevail in such suits are not entitled to attorney's fees. In Molski v. Arciero Wine Group, (2008) 164 Cal. App. 4th 786, 790, “A plaintiff may ‘prevail’ for purposes of [Civil Code] section § 55 if the lawsuit was the catalyst motivating the defendant to modify its behavior or the plaintiff achieved the primary relief sought.” Thus, homeowners who bring suit to instill a change in the HOA's actions and subsequently prevail may not be denied attorney's fees that many HOAs are depriving.

 

Plumbing Fixtures as Common Areas

 

There are many HOA disputes involving failing pipes and resulting water damage to units. Most often, the CC&Rs include plumbing fixtures as part of common areas under the control of the HOA. Sometimes, HOAs will restrict certain plumbing fixtures as the responsibility of each individual homeowner. As such, the homeowner will be responsible for any damages caused. In Dover Village Assn. v. Jennison, (2010) 191 Cal. App. 4th 123, the court determined that sewer systems are interconnected and cannot be said to be exclusive to individual units. And, that "the portion of piping coming from one unit is no more affixed to that unit than it is to the sewer system and other pipes or piping within that system." The court also opined that the Board does not hold the deference to decide whether an owner is responsible for plumbing damage to the development. Rather, the court does. 

 

If you are a concerned homeowner subject to an HOA, please contact Aziz Legal by phone at (408) 203-4627 or email us at abid@azizlegal.com.

 

This article is merely informational and is not intended to be used as legal advice. Use of any information from this article is for general information only and does not represent personal legal or tax advice, either express or implied. Readers are encouraged to consult Aziz Legal, or another attorney, for any specific legal matters.  

 

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