Beaumont Tashjian Law Blog

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Recent California Cases in Community Association Law

"Published" court decisions are law, and binding, while "unpublished" court decisions are not law. Although not law, unpublished decisions are extremely valuable as they illustrate how courts address various issues commonly faced by common interest developments.

Lingenbrink v. Del Rayo Estates Homeowners Association, No. D070194 (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2017)

In this unpublished case (i.e., prohibits courts and litigants from citing or relying on this opinion), a homeowner purchased a lot in a common interest development based, in part, on its panoramic views. Approximately a decade later, the homeowner complained to the association’s board that a neighboring lot’s trees were interfering with his view. The neighboring owner regularly trimmed his trees thereafter without a resulting view blockage for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, the homeowner once again brought to the board’s attention the claim that the subject trees blocked his view, and in response the board advised the neighboring owner to trim his trees, which he did. Apparently, the trees were not trimmed to the satisfaction of the complaining owner, and the Board once again requested that he trim his trees. A couple of months later, the board decided that, after “balancing the interests" of these owners, the trees did not “unreasonably interfere” with the view.

The complaining owner filed suit against the association, alleging causes of action for breach of the association's governing documents. In particular, the owner cited to a provision in the CC&Rs which provides, in part, that "no trees, hedges or other plant materials shall be so located or allowed to reach a size or height which will interfere with the view from any Lot. . .”

The trial court ruled that the CC&R provision is unambiguous and should be enforced; that the board erred in requiring that landscaping unreasonably interfere with a view before enforcing the restriction; and the board impermissibly balanced the interests of only these two owners, instead of the community as a whole. The association appealed, but the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The take away here is that the board did not have discretion to ignore the restriction in the CC&Rs relative to view obstructions, especially when the language in the restriction is clear. In other words, a board is prohibited from taking action outside its authority when applying a restriction in a manner inconsistent with the plain language of the same.

Ocean Windows Owners Association v. Spataro, No. D066852 (Cal. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2017)

In this unpublished case, a homeowners association petitioned the trial court under section 4275 of the Civil Code (i.e., allows associations to petition the courts when more than 50% of the members approve of proposed amendments to the CC&Rs, and the court independently determines that the proposed amendments are reasonable), seeking to clean-up various arcane provisions of its CC&Rs and Bylaws. Specifically, the association sought to change the language of those documents to: (1) have them conform to the Association's historical operational practices; (2) make them more user-friendly by eliminating legal jargon; (3) clarify maintenance and repair responsibilities within the association; (4) bring the CC&Rs into compliance with new and existing law; and (5) prevent problems which had plagued the association, including short term rentals, parking issues, and residency restrictions.

An owner in the community objected to the petition, arguing, in part, that she would be required to disclose the identity of her transient tenants, allowed for restrictions to be imposed on the use of association facilities, and otherwise restricted short-term tenancies. Nevertheless, the trial court found that the association had carried its burden to demonstrate that the proposed amendments were reasonable. The owner appealed the trial court’s decision, but the California Court of Appeal found that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in finding that both the procedural and the substantive requirements of section 4275 were complied with by the association, and that the amendment to the original CC&R's was reasonable.

The take away here is that when restated CC&R's are “rationally related to the protection, preservation and proper operation" of the development as a whole, as opposed to just a few objecting owners who, in this case, rented their units out on a short-term basis, it will likely be upheld by the courts. Thus, any burden to enforce the minimum lease term was outweighed by its beneficial value in preserving the residential character of the development.

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