Posts by Category : Law

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GOVERNING DOCUMENTS SUPERSEDE THE NEW AIRBNB LAW 0

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

Clients ask whether San Francisco’s new Airbnb law (effective February 1, 2015) supersedes their declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions’ (“CC&Rs”) short-term rental provisions or whether they need to amend the CC&Rs to address Airbnb.  The brief answers to both questions are “No.”

Airbnb is a website for people to rent out lodgings, usually on a daily basis.  The new Airbnb law, San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 41A legalizes short-term rentals but imposes a number of restrictions, discussed below.  San Francisco’s Planning Department will enforce the new law.

The new law does not change CC&Rs’ current restrictions; it imposes additional restrictions.  Your association should send notices to its homeowners to familiarize them with the new law’s important requirements, including the following:

 

  • The 90 Day Rule. The law limits rentals where the host is not present in the unit to a maximum of 90 days per year. Violators who continue to rent out their apartments beyond 90 days would be subject to a $416-a-day fine for the first offense and $1,000 a day thereafter.
  • Only Primary Residence May be Rented. Permanent residents (those residing in their units for at least 275 days per year) are allowed to rent out their primary residences, but not locations in which they don’t live or second or vacation homes. If you are a new resident, you must have occupied this specific unit for at least 60 consecutive days prior to your application. If you own a multi-unit building, you may only register the specific residential unit in which you reside.
  • Registry and Permits. Hosts must register and obtain a permit from the planning department to engage in short-term renting and pay a $50 fee every two years. Hosts will also need to obtain a city business license. Short-term rentals will be listed and tracked by the city in a registry. This information will not be available to the public unless a public records request is filed.
  • Insurance Requirement. Hosts must be covered by liability insurance with at least $500,000 in coverage. Alternatively, they may offer their units for rent through a hosting service that offers at least this much coverage.
  • Hotel Taxes Must Be Paid. The 14% San Francisco hotel tax must be collected and paid to the city. Airbnb has already started collecting and remitting such taxes for its San Francisco hosts. Your association should also send reminders to homeowners regarding the CC&Rs’ rental restrictions. Typically, CC&Rs prohibit rentals of less than 30 days and require the Owner/landlord to provide certain tenant information to the association. The reminder should also advise homeowners that they will be subject to a fine, suspension of membership privileges, and/or a lawsuit for injunctive relief and attorney’s fees incurred to enforce the rental restrictions in the CC&Rs if they violate these provisions. If you need assistance in preparing reminders to the homeowners or summarizing the Airbnb law to them, please contact our firm.

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Anyone obtaining information on this site should consult with an attorney. The information herein is generalized and not related to any specific set of facts. Neither this article’s content nor any transmissions between you and our firm through this article are intended to provide legal or other advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. In communicating with us through this article, you should not provide any confidential information to us concerning any potential or actual legal matter you may have. Before providing any such information to us, you must obtain approval to do so from one of our lawyers.

By choosing to communicate with us without such prior approval, you understand and agree that our firm will have no duty to keep confidential any information you provide.

 

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AB 1783: Potential Changes to the Dispute Resolution Process relating to Common Interest Developments

By Jeff Cluett, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

The California Assembly and California Senate passed AB 1738 unanimously and forwarded it to Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. on August 27, 2014. Governor Brown has not yet acted on this bill.

AB 1738 would amend California Civil Code Sections 5910 and 5915, which are part of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, by clarifying that resolutions to disputes be in writing and that members shall not be charged for participating in informal dispute resolutions.

Section 5910 currently discusses the minimum requirements for a dispute resolution procedure between an association and an owner. AB 1738 would amend Section 5910 to require that any resolution of a dispute between a homeowner and an association be in writing and signed by both parties.  A verbal agreement would no longer suffice.

Section 5915 currently provides a dispute resolution procedure for associations that do not otherwise provide a “fair, reasonable, and expeditious dispute resolution procedure.”  It does not apply to associations that meet Section 5910’s requirements.  AB 1738 would amend Section 5915 to state that “[t]he parties may be assisted by an attorney or other person at their own cost when conferring.”  AB 1738 would also amend Section 5910 to state that only a written agreement signed by both parties would be judicially enforceable.  Section 5915 currently does not include this requirement.  Further, AB 1738 would amend Section 5915 to state that “[a] member shall not be charged a fee to participate in the process.”  Section 5915 currently states that “[a] member may not be charged a fee to participate in the process.”

How would these changes affect you?

AB 1738 would amend Section 5910 by requiring any resolution to a dispute between the association and a homeowner to be in writing and signed by both parties.  Therefore, a handshake would not be sufficient.  This adds a layer of formality to the process that is not currently present.  If AB 1738 passes, a verbal resolution would not meet Section 5910’s requirements.

AB 1738 would amend Section 5915, first, to state that an attorney could represent an association or owner, at its own cost, during the resolution process.  This would add another layer of complexity, and potentially cost, to a process which is mean to be simple, inexpensive, and efficient.  Second, AB 1738 would amend Section 5915 to require a resolution to be signed by both parties to be judicially enforceable.  Therefore, once again, a verbal agreement would not be judicially enforceable.  Third, AB 1738 would amend Section 5915 by stating that a member shall not be charged for participating in dispute resolution under Section 5915, thus removing any ambiguity created by the word “may.”

In summary, AB 1738 would require resolutions to disputes to be in writing.  Further, for associations without dispute resolution procedures, AB 1738 would clarify that owners may not be charged for participating in Section 5915’s resolution process and that counsel may represent owners and associations.

This article is informational only and is not a substitute for qualified legal advice.  See an attorney who practices in the areas of construction defects litigation and common interest development law if you have a potential legal issue involving the design of your community.

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LOAR AND CO-COUNSEL WIN LANDMARK SUPREME COURT CASE

By Ann Rankin, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

On July 3, 2014, the California Supreme Court announced its ruling in Beacon Residential Community Association v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, et al.   The case was a big win for Law Offices of Ann Rankin and its co-counsel, Katzoff & Riggs—and for property owners throughout California whose buildings suffer from design errors caused by the negligence of architects and engineers.

 

The Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled in the opinion that principal architects of new residential construction can be held liable to the eventual purchasers of those projects (and their associations) for negligence in performing design services, even where the architects don’t have any written contract with the consumers who purchased the property from the original developer or with their property owners’ association.

 

The case involves a 595-unit development in San Francisco consisting of four buildings (some high rise and some mid-rise) across from AT&T Park.  Its homeowners association, the Beacon Residential Community Association, sued a number of defendants who developed, designed and built the project for common law negligence and for violation of Performance Standards contained in SB 800, codified as Civil code 895 et. seq.  The performance standards set forth minimum standards which for-sale residential buildings sold after January 1, 2003 are required to meet.

 

The Association alleged that the architects were responsible for a number of design errors, including inadequate fire separations, water intrusion and solar heat gain.  Solar heat gain is a well-known phenomenon which, in the case of the Beacon, results in interior temperatures in many of the units being thirty degrees or more higher than the outside air temperature during sunny weather.  The solar heat gain resulted from a design involving large glass windows—many of them floor-to ceiling—in an un-air-conditioned building made of steel and concrete.  The windows were also designed with no low-e coating to cut down on solar heat gain.  Once the building heats up, it often does not cool down for days or weeks—even at night.  This condition is exacerbated by inadequate ventilation.

 

In late 2011, the architectural firms filed a motion asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit, claiming that the Association had no right to sue them because they had no legal duty, either to the association or to the homeowners who purchased the homes within the property.  The trial judge agreed, ruling that the architect had “no control” over the ultimate construction of the project and only made “design recommendations.”  The trial judge also said that the association could make a claim against the architects only if the association could prove that the architects had ignored the instructions of the developer, and had designed the buildings in a manner contrary to the developer’s wishes.  The association argued that this was an incorrect legal standard, and that an architect who is hired by a developer should be accountable for making negligent design decisions even if the architect did not, in so doing, defy the wishes of the developer.

 

In December of 2012, the First District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the trial court’s order and held that both under the common law and under the provisions of SB 800, the architects owed a duty of care to the owners and their association.

 

In February, 2013, the California Supreme Court granted review of the Court of Appeal decision.

 

The Association contended that there were numerous precedents allowing building owners and their associations to sue negligent design professionals, and that these cases had never been overruled.  The architects had contended that these cases should be disregarded because of a more recent case absolving auditors of liability to investors who purchased shares of stock in reliance on an audit report that turned out to have failed to disclose problems with the corporation’s business.

 

The Association contended that there’s a big difference between an auditor, who may simply fail to realize that his corporate client has “cooked the books,” and architects who earn millions of dollars by designing a large condominium complex.

 

The architects also contended that potential purchasers had the right to inspect the homes before purchasing and, as a result, could obtain more than an “ordinary consumer’s” knowledge about the conditions of the property.

 

The Association explained that when consumers obtain a visual inspection of a unit, they don’t receive enough information to understand whether the common areas are designed or built correctly or incorrectly, and that such inspections don’t include any destructive testing or detailed review of the construction documents.

 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Association and its counsel on all of these points.

 

The architects also pointed out a provision in their contract with the developer that expressly stated that they would not be liable to the eventual purchasers or any homeowners association.  However, none of the people who ended up buying the units had ever agreed to the provision, nor had the owners’ association,  so the association said they should not be bound by a provision that they had never negotiated or agreed upon.  The Supreme Court sided with the association on that argument as well.

 

The Supreme Court concluded that its decision, in favor of the owners’ association, was also sound public policy.  It simply required the architects to perform their services properly and held them to a duty of care to individuals and associations who would eventually live in and manage the properties that those architects designed.  Thus, it unanimously affirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision to reverse the trial court’s ruling.  As a result, the architects are back in the case as defendants, and the case can now go to trial.

 

Since the Supreme Court is the highest California court, the decision in the Beacon sets a precedent which will guide courts in all subsequent cases in which owners and their associations have claims against negligent architects, engineers, and other design professionals.

 

The Executive Council of Home Owners and the Consumer Attorneys of California both filed amicus curiae briefs in support of the Association’s position.  Needless to say, the American Institute of Architects filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the architects’ losing position.

Ann Rankin is the founding principal of the Law Offices of Ann Rankin in Oakland, CA and a member of the ECHO Legal Resources Panel.  She and her firm are counsel for the Beacon Residential Community Association.

 

This article is informational only and is not a substitute for qualified legal advice.  See an attorney who practices in the areas of construction defects litigation and common interest development law if you have a potential legal issue involving the design of your community.

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HOW TO STOP SHORT-TERM VACATION AND CORPORATE RENTALS

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

 

Our firm has received many inquiries on how to stop short-term rentals from being posted on airbnb, which has recently become the most popular website in the Bay Area for advertising condominiums by the night or the week.

 

Short-term rental provisions vary depending on the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (“CC&Rs”), but thirty (30) day or six (6) month minimum lease terms are the most common.  The purpose of these provisions is to reduce the use of residences for hotel or transient use.  Owners do not want homes in their community to be used as a vacation or corporate rental, which may generate excessive noise, late night parties, trespassing, increased traffic, and other disruptive activities.

 

Many of these advertisements are for high-end condominiums with close proximity to the beach, convention center, or downtown.  Owners rightly object to sharing desirable amenities such as a pool, spa, exercise studio and/or sauna with tourists and travelers.

 

Many associations want us to send cease and desist letters to airbnb.  Unfortunately, an association has no contractual relationship with airbnb, which is not bound by CC&Rs.  Thus, the association has minimal leverage to demand that airbnb cease from posting ads from the association’s owners and tenants.  They are similar to Craigslist and vrbo in that they do not have control over persons posting on their website.  However, the terms and conditions on airbnb’s website indicate that each host represents and warrants that a housing accommodation “will not breach any agreements” that the host has entered into with any third parties and will comply with applicable laws, tax requirements, zoning laws, and laws governing rentals of residential and other properties.  Hosts may not read or ignore these terms, which they expressly violate by renting their units in violation of the CC&Rs and local law.

 

In particular, Chapter 41a of San Francisco’s Administrative Code states that renting an apartment or home for less than 30 days is illegal in San Francisco unless you get a bed-and-breakfast permit. Violators may face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail.  Airbnb rentals keep happening under the radar because they’re too hard to police.  Usually, neighbors report the possible violation to the association’s management.

Violations of the minimum lease term requirement can be addressed as would any other CC&Rs violation, by notice and hearing.  The board of directors (“Board”) can have management send the offending owner a cease and desist letter demanding that the owner take down the posting.  If the posting continues, the Board can send a violation notice and call the owner to a hearing in executive session.  If after the hearing the owner is found to be in violation, then the Board can impose a fine according to the fine schedule.

 

If fines do not curtail the rental activity, the Board may want to consider a suit for injunctive relief.  Before a complaint can be filed, however, associations must serve the offending owner with a request for resolution and offer to mediate the dispute.  If the owner accepts the offer to mediate, then mediation is held.  Often, mediation will resolve the dispute.  If it does not, then the association may file a lawsuit for injunctive relief.  If it prevails, then the court can order the owner to pay the association’s legal fees.

 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Anyone obtaining information on this site should consult with an attorney.  The information herein is generalized and not related to any specific set of facts.  Neither this article’s content nor any transmissions between you and our firm through this article are intended to provide legal or other advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  In communicating with us through this article, you should not provide any confidential information to us concerning any potential or actual legal matter you may have.  Before providing any such information to us, you must obtain approval to do so from one of our lawyers.

 

By choosing to communicate with us without such prior approval, you understand and agree that our firm will have no duty to keep confidential any information you provide.

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HOW TO MONITOR OCCUPANCY AND ENFORCE RENTAL RESTRICTIONS

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

 

Our firm has received many inquiries regarding how to enforce rental restrictions.  It seems that renters everywhere host loud parties, or that owners are trying to satisfy lending requirements for lower rental rates.

 

So, what can the association’s board of directors (“Board”) do to enforce the rental restrictions in their declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (“CC&Rs”)?  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to monitor occupancy or to enforce rental restrictions.

 

MONITORING OCCUPANCY

 

Most associations determine whether an owner lives in his or her unit by determining whether the owner has asked that communications such as invoices for assessments should be sent to the property address or to another address that’s not in the property.

 

Another method, which may cost more money and take more time, is to check the Tax Assessor’s records to see where the property tax invoice is sent.  Of course, the fact that the property tax bill is not being sent to an address within the development does not prove that the unit isn’t owner-occupied; some people may have a relative or a CPA who helps with financial matters.  However, the fact that invoices for assessments and bills for property taxes are being sent to an address outside of the complex should cause you to make a further inquiry.

 

A difficult issue arises when an owner allows family members to occupy the unit.  For example, in some situations, parents will purchase a unit and allow their adult children to live there.  In other cases, adult children may buy a unit and allow their older parents to live there.  In these cases, the occupant is often not a “renter” in the sense that the occupant pays rent for the right to possess the premises.  In my opinion, such a situation shouldn’t be treated as a “rental,” but the association should consider this situation and perhaps develop a policy to exempt it from the rental restriction.

 

Of course, sometimes an owner’s neighbor will know when the owner moves out and a renter moves in.  If the association has a move in/move out policy, that may be another source of information.  The association should also consider asking owners for their emergency contact information and their tenant’s information.  Some owners will consider this request an invasion of privacy, but others may provide the information.

 

To address a possible violation, the Board may wish to invite the owner to an internal dispute resolution (IDR) meeting to discuss the Board’s concerns.  The Board can perform an investigation based upon public records, testimony from neighbors, etc. and ask the owner questions.  The Board could also ask for a copy of the owner’s driver’s license or other information with the owner’s principal address to ascertain the owner’s address.  Some owners will decline to provide this information; this will force the association to dig deeper.  The Board will have to make a business decision about how much money to spend on such an investigation after the IDR meeting.

 

ENFORCING RENTAL RESTRICTIONS

 

If a violation is found after the IDR meeting and the owner continues to rent out the unit, the Board can enforce the rental restrictions by providing notice of a hearing to impose disciplinary action in accordance with the governing documents (with no less than 10 days’ notice) and giving the offender an opportunity to present his or her side of the story.

 

Before the hearing, the Board should adopt a fine schedule in the same manner it would adopt any operating rule (e.g., mail the proposed schedule to the members for a 30-day comment period before a Board vote at a duly-noticed meeting).  The fine for each violation must be “reasonable,” which means that it must fit the offense and should include a per diem fine for continued violation of the rental cap (i.e., $200 for each day that the unit is rented in violation of the CC&Rs).

 

Once the hearing notice is issued and the hearing date arrives, the Board merely conducts a fair hearing in which the accused can explain his or her side of the story.  Owners often attempt to circumvent the rules by claiming that long-term guests, friends, or family members are occupying the residence.  If, after investigation, the Board finds that this claim is an attempt to avoid compliance with rental restrictions, the Board may proceed with disciplinary action, including levying a fine, suspending voting rights, suspending the owner and tenant’s privileges to use recreational facilities such as a pool, clubhouse, or fitness room, and/or ordering the owner to commence an unlawful detainer action within a specified period.  If the fine remains unpaid for 30 days, the association can collect it by filing a small claims court action and referring it to a collection agency.

 

If the owner continues to rent out the unit, the association can serve a Request for Resolution asking that the owner agree to participate in mediation of the dispute within 30 days.  If the owner does not respond within 30 days or rejects the Request, the association may file an action for injunctive relief requesting that a court enforce the rental cap and award the association reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to California Civil Code Section 5975(c).  However, if the association proceeds down this road, it faces a heavy burden of proof and the cold realities of a crowded docket and a judge that may not be sympathetic to its action.

 

In addition to enforcement of the rental restrictions, the association should distribute a formal disclosure to all homeowners and prospective purchasers about the rental cap and about the procedure for submitting a request to rent.

 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Anyone obtaining information on this site should consult with an attorney.  The information herein is generalized and not related to any specific set of facts.  Neither this article’s content nor any transmissions between you and our firm through this article are intended to provide legal or other advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  In communicating with us through this article, you should not provide any confidential information to us concerning any potential or actual legal matter you may have.  Before providing any such information to us, you must obtain approval to do so from one of our lawyers.

 

By choosing to communicate with us without such prior approval, you understand and agree that our firm will have no duty to keep confidential any information you provide.

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2014 STATUTES RELATED TO COMMON INTEREST DEVELOPMENTS

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

This blog summarizes new homeowner association statutes which take effect on January 1, 2014, unless otherwise specified below.

 

1.                  Davis-Stirling Restatement (AB 805).  Last year, AB 805 repealed California Civil Code Sections 1350-1378 of the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“Davis-Stirling”) and restated them in new California Civil Code Sections 4000-6150.  In order to give associations, managers and attorneys a year to familiarize themselves with the changes, AB 805 was not going to be effective and operative until January 1, 2014.  Key changes are as follows:

 

(a)                Section 4035 provides that documents to an association may be delivered by e-mail, facsimile, or other electronic means, with association consent.  If an association assents, personal delivery is permitted with written acknowledgement of receipt.  If an association fails to designate to whom document delivery is to be made in its annual policy statement (see Section 5310 below), delivery shall be made to the president or secretary.

 

(b)               Section 4045(a) allows an association to deliver documents to members by “general delivery” or “general notice.”  These include first-class mail, postage prepaid, registered or certified mail, or overnight delivery by an express service carrier; e-mail, facsimile, or other electronic means, if consented to; inclusion in billing statements or newsletters; and posting in a prominent location accessible to all members, if the association has designated the location for the posting of general notices in an annual policy statement.  Under Section 5120(b), election results can be posted in a prominent location within 15 days of an election rather than by mail if the annual policy statement specified said location.

 

(c)                Section 4235 authorizes a board to amend governing documents to correct a changed cross-reference resulting from this re-codification, without member approval.  A corrected governing document may be restated and recorded with a copy of the authorizing board resolution.  This statute only authorizes the board to replace the Civil Code provisions, not to change the governing documents’ text.

 

(d)               Section 4600 authorizes the board to grant exclusive use of common areas to an owner without membership approval for circumstances such as granting a disability accommodation, allowing installation of electric vehicle charging stations, assigning parking spaces which the governing documents were to assign, and to comply with the law.

 

(e)                Section 5260 requires certain member requests to be made in writing, including requests to add second addresses for delivery of notices, to receive a full copy of the budget or annual policy statements, and to opt out of a membership list.

 

(f)                Section 5300 requires the board to prepare and distribute, within 30 to 90 days of its fiscal year’s end, an annual budget report.  It collects Davis-Stirling’s financial statements and insurance requirements and adds new requirements.  The annual budget report must include: (1) a pro forma operating budget; (2) a reserve summary; (3) a reserve funding plan summary; (4) a statement as to whether the board has determined to defer or not undertake repairs or replacement of any major component with a remaining life of 30 years or less, and a justification for that decision; (5) a statement as to whether the board, consistent with the reserve funding plan, has determined or anticipates that (a) special assessment(s) will be required to repair, replace, or restore a major component or to provide adequate reserves therefor; (6) a statement as to the mechanism(s) by which the board will fund reserves to repair or replace major components; (7) a general statement addressing the procedures used for calculating and establishing those reserves to defray the future repair, replacement, or additions to those major components that the association is obligated to maintain; (8) a statement as to whether the association has any outstanding loans with an original term of more than one year; and (9) a summary of the association’s insurance policies and the insurance disclosure set forth therein.

 

(g)               Section 5310 requires the board to prepare and distribute, within 30 to 90 days of its fiscal year’s end, an “annual policy statement.”  This collects in one section Davis-Stirling’s various annual disclosure and notification requirements and adds new requirements. The annual policy statement must include:  the name and address of the person designated to receive communications to the association; the location of the common area where the association is to post general notices; collection policies; enforcement policies; dispute resolution information; and an address for overnight payment of assessments, among other information.  The statement must be delivered to the members by a means of individual delivery described in Section 4040.  Individual delivery does not permit delivery by electronic means UNLESS the owner has previously consented, in writing, to such delivery.

 

(h)               Section 5350 lists conflicts of interest as to which a director (or member of a committee of the board) may not vote.  Examples include decisions regarding discipline of the director/committee member, collection of assessments owed by the director/committee member, architectural changes sought by the director/committee member, and grants of exclusive use of common areas to the director/committee member.  This list is not exclusive and provisions of law relating to so-called “interested transactions” apply to director decisions.

 

2.                  Davis-Stirling Restatement (SB 745).  This omnibus bill would implement minor clean-up amendments to AB 805.  SB 745 would: (a) allow mail delivery of documents to an association; (b) allow a quorum by secret ballot for an election; (c) clarify that the declaration prevails if it conflicts with bylaws or operating rules; (d) allow a board designee to be present at the physical location where members can dial in during a teleconference; (e) clarify that no notice of an emergency or executive session meeting is required if the governing documents do not provide a notice period; (f) disclose a notice of rental restrictions to buyers; and (g) prohibit cancellation fees for a document request if work had not yet been performed, or if work that had been performed had been compensated.  In addition, SB 745 requires the retrofitting of existing toilets, urinals, shower fixtures, and faucets with water-conserving plumbing fixtures for multifamily residential buildings on or before January 1, 2019, unless an addition, alteration, or improvements requiring a building permit triggers earlier retrofitting; (2) replaces National Electrical Code standards with the California Electrical Code for inside telephone wiring; and (3) incorporates the State Fire Marshall’s smoke alarm requirements.

 

3.                  Commercial and Industrial CIDs (SB 752).  SB 752 would establish the Commercial and Industrial Common Interest Development Act, which would provide for the creation and regulation of commercial and industrial common interest developments.  Previously, commercial and industrial common interest developments (“CIDs”) were governed by Davis-Stirling, like residential condominiums and planned developments. Starting January 1, 2014, however, non-residential CIDs will look to new statutes starting with California Civil Code Section 6500.  The new statutes omit provisions designed to protect residential owners such as election provisions and disclosure requirements imposed on residential developments.  A commercial association may designate an agent, like a manager, to receive information.

 

4.                  Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors (SB 1394).  This bill changes smoke detector and alarm requirements when a building permit is issued on or after January 1, 2014, for alterations, repairs, or additions exceeding $1,000.  It deletes the requirement that a smoke detector be installed in apartment complexes and other multiple-dwelling complexes’ common stairwells.  It also requires that on or after January 1, 2014, when a building permit for alterations, repairs, or additions exceeding $1,000 is issued, all required smoke alarms shall display the manufacture date, provide a place for the installation date, incorporate a hush feature, and incorporate an end-of-life feature that provides notice that the device needs to be replaced, and, if battery operated, contain a non-replaceable, non-removable battery that is capable of powering the smoke alarm for 10 years. Remember that existing law requires the installation of carbon monoxide devices in each existing single-family dwelling unit by July 1, 2011, and all other dwelling units by January 1, 2013.

 

I hope that this information is helpful.  Please be advised that this letter is intended as an update on pertinent California law and is not intended as legal advice.  Should you have any questions or concerns regarding specific matters, please call me.

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“CLEAN UP” OMNIBUS LEGISLATION FOR THE NEW DAVIS-STIRLING ACT

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

Before the Legislature is Senate Bill (SB) 745, an omnibus bill that would implement minor clean-up amendments to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“Davis-Stirling Act”).  Though the changes are technical, not substantive, the following may be relevant and important to your Association:

 

  • Delivery of Documents to Association:       Civil Code Sections      4035(b)(1) and (2) allow the      Association to receive documents by e-mail, if it assented to email      delivery, and by personal delivery.       Section 4035 is amended to add subsection (b)(3) to allow      delivery “[b]y first-class mail, postage prepaid, registered or      certified mail, express mail, or overnight delivery by an express service      center.”  Thus, this provision      would authorize the delivery of documents to the Association by mail      delivery.

 

  • Quorum in a Duly Held Election:  Civil      Code Section 4070 is amended to read:  “If a provision of this act requires      that an action be approved by a majority of a quorum of the members, the      Davis-Stirling Action shall be approved or ratified by an affirmative vote      of a majority of the votes represented and voting at a duly held meeting      at in a duly held election in which a quorum is present      represented, which affirmative votes also constitute a majority of the      required quorum.” This amendment applies to any lawfully conducted member      election, whether conducted at a meeting, by secret ballot procedures      pursuant to Civil Code Sections 5100-5145, or by any other lawful      means.

 

  • No Conflict with Governing Documents:  Civil Code Section 4205 provides      guidance on the relative authority of the law and the most common types of      common interest development governing documents.  In response to public comments      expressing concern that Section 4205’s terminology might be read more      strictly than intended, the bill amends Section 4205, as follows:

 

“4205. (a) To the extent of any inconsistency conflict between the governing documents and the law, the law controls shall prevail.

(b) To the extent of any inconsistency conflict between the articles of incorporation and the declaration, the declaration controls shall prevail.

(c) To the extent of any inconsistency conflict between the bylaws and the articles of incorporation or declaration, the articles of incorporation or declaration control shall prevail.

(d) To the extent of any inconsistency conflict between the operating rules and the bylaws, articles of incorporation, or declaration, the bylaws, articles of incorporation, or declaration control shall prevail.”

 

Civil Code Section 4350, regarding operating rules, was amended to conform to Section 4205(c)’s terminology, as follows:

 

“4350.  An operating rule is valid and enforceable only if all of the following requirements are satisfied:…(c)  The rule is not inconsistent in conflict with governing law and the declaration, articles of incorporation or association, and bylaws of the association.”

 

Therefore, the provisions governing inconsistencies between the governing documents and the law now apply only if there is a conflict, rather than an inconsistency, between the two.

 

  • Notice of Teleconference Meetings:       Civil      Code Section 4090 is amended so that the Board’s notice of teleconference      meetings must identify a physical location where Association members may      attend and requires that at least one director “or a person designated      by the Board” be at that location.       Thus, if all directors are unavailable, the Board may designate its      manager or another member to be present at a physical location to connect      the Association members by teleconference to the other Board members.

 

  • Notice of Executive and Emergency      Meetings:  Civil Code Section 4290 provides      guidance on notice requirements for Board meetings.  In response to concerns that Section      4290 could require the Board to provide more notice for emergency and      executive session meetings if the governing documents impose a longer      notice requirement, Section 4290 was amended as follows:

 

“(3) If the association’s governing documents require a longer period of notice than is required by this section, the association shall comply with the period stated in its governing documents, except for a notice of an emergency meeting or a meeting held solely in executive session when the governing documents do not specifically provide a period of notice for these meetings.”

  • Disclosure of Rental Restrictions: Civil Code Section 4528 is amended to add the required      notice of rental restrictions (per Section 4525(a)(9)) to the form that      lists the documents that an owner in a common interest development who      wishes to sell her unit must provide to the buyer.  Thus, the Association’s form for billing      disclosures must include any rental restrictions.

 

  • Cancellation Fee:       Civil Code Section 4530 is amended to prohibit cancellation fees      for a document request if work had not yet been performed, or if work that      had been performed had been compensated.

 

In addition, SB 745 makes the following changes:

 

(1)           requires the retrofitting of existing toilets, urinals, shower fixtures, and faucets with water-conserving plumbing fixtures for multifamily residential buildings on or before January 1, 2019, unless an addition, alteration or improvements requiring a building permit triggers earlier retrofitting;

 

(2)           replaces standards under the National Electrical Code with the California Electrical Code for inside telephone wiring; and

 

(3)           incorporates the State Fire Marshall’s requirements for smoke alarms.

 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Anyone obtaining information on this site should consult with an attorney.  The information herein is generalized and not related to any specific set of facts.  Neither this article’s content nor any transmissions between you and our firm through this article are intended to provide legal or other advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  In communicating with us through this article, you should not provide any confidential information to us concerning any potential or actual legal matter you may have.  Before providing any such information to us, you must obtain approval to do so from one of our lawyers.

 

By choosing to communicate with us without such prior approval, you understand and agree that our firm will have no duty to keep confidential any information you provide.

 

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NEW FORMAT FOR BUDGETS AND ANNUAL DISCLOSURES UNDER AB 805

By Hanh Pham, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

As their fiscal year’s end approaches, some associations are asking whether they need to update their budgets and annual disclosures to comply with AB 805.

 

Yes!  Associations and managers should learn the new formats of the “Annual Budget Report” under new California Civil Code Section 5300 and the “Annual Policy Statement” under new California Civil Code Section 5310’s and use them to insure full compliance with the new law.

 

AB 805 restated and re-codified the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“Act”).  The Act took effect on January 1, 2013 but becomes enforceable on January 1, 2014, which gives managers, boards, and attorneys one year to familiarize themselves with the reorganized Act.

 

Many clients are also concerned that they need to overhaul their governing documents to comply with AB 805.  The law does not require associations to update their governing documents.  However, if they do not, existing and future boards of directors will lack guidance as to what the law requires and may rely on superseded provisions.  Since the new law mostly affects corporate matters such as notice, delivery of documents, the budget, and disclosure requirements, the association can amend those provisions in their bylaws and declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions to incorporate the new requirements.  Alternatively, the new law permits associations to update their governing documents by a board vote to correct the old Civil Code references and insert the new ones.  Amendments are more critical for self-managed associations who have board members that are unknowledgeable about changes in the law and need more guidance.

 

Regardless of whether you amend your governing documents, your association should comply with AB 805 by distributing an annual budget report and annual policy statement 30 to 90 days before the end of its fiscal year, as summarized below:

 

A. Annual Budget Report:  AB 805 requires associations to provide an annual budget report, which includes the following:

 

  1. A pro forma operating budget;
  2. An Assessment and Reserve Funding Disclosure Summary form;
  3. A statement as to whether the association has any outstanding loans;
  4. Certificates of insurance for property and liability coverage and an insurance summary containing, in at least 10-point boldface type, the following statement:

 

“This summary of the association’s policies of insurance provides only certain information, as required by Section 5300 of the Civil Code, and should not be considered a substitute for the complete policy terms and conditions contained in the actual policies of insurance. Any association member may, upon request and provision of reasonable notice, review the association’s insurance policies and, upon request and payment of reasonable duplication charges, obtain copies of those policies. Although the association maintains the policies of insurance specified in this summary, the association’s policies of insurance may not cover your property, including personal property or real property improvements to or around your dwelling, or personal injuries or other losses that occur within or around your dwelling.  Even if a loss is covered, you may nevertheless be responsible for paying all or a portion of any deductible that applies. Association members should consult with their individual insurance broker or agent for appropriate additional coverage.”

 

Any member who wishes to obtain a complete copy of the reserve study, reserve study plan, or insurance policies must provide a written request to the association or its management company. 

 

When preparing the documents in the annual budget report, your association should request that its budget preparer and insurance adjuster replace all references to former Civil Code Section 1365 with Civil Code Section 5300, to conform to AB 805.

 

B. Annual Policy Statement:  AB 805 also requires associations to provide members with important information about the association’s policies, including the following:

 

  1. The name and address of the person designated to receive official communications to the association;
  2. Each member’s right to submit a written request to have the association’s documents sent to two different specified addresses;
  3. Its location for posting notices of member and board meetings;
  4. Each member’s right to submit a written request that the association’s general notice be sent by individual delivery;
  5. Each member’s right to receive copies of the board’s meeting minutes (other than executive sessions) within 30 days of the meeting by sending a written request to the person identified in paragraph (1) above;
  6. Its statement of assessment collection policies (this item may be satisfied by attaching a copy of an updated Delinquent Assessment Collection Policy, which refers to the new Civil Code sections under AB 805);
  7. Its statement describing its policies and practices in enforcing lien rights or other legal remedies for default in the payment of assessments (this item may be satisfied by attaching a copy of an updated Delinquent Assessment Collection Policy);
  8. Fine schedule (if the board has not adopted a fine schedule, it should prepare one and mail it to the members for a 30-day comment period before adopting it at a duly-noticed board meeting and attaching it to the annual policy statement);
  9. A summary of its dispute resolution procedures, which should refer to the new Civil Code Sections under AB 805;
  10. A summary of the Association’s requirements for approving physical changes to a separate interest or portion of the common interest development (this item may be satisfied by citing relevant provisions of the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions and rules regarding alterations requiring architectural approval and the architectural review procedures); and
  11. The mailing address for overnight payment of assessments.

 

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Anyone obtaining information on this site should consult with an attorney.  The information herein is generalized and not related to any specific set of facts.  Neither this article’s content nor any transmissions between you and our firm through this article are intended to provide legal or other advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  In communicating with us through this article, you should not provide any confidential information to us concerning any potential or actual legal matter you may have. Before providing any such information to us, you must obtain approval to do so from one of our lawyers.

 

By choosing to communicate with us without such prior approval, you understand and agree that our firm will have no duty to keep confidential any information you provide.

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Contingent Fee Construction Defects Cases… Does it Sound too Good to be True?

By Ann Rankin, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

 

Do contingent fee construction defects cases actually save you money?  Well, there are no upfront costs for legal fees because the attorney doesn’t get paid unless he or she gets money for the case.  Some law firms even pay the architects, contractors, and other expert witnesses needed to prove the case.  But remember the old business axiom, “with risk comes reward…”  Your attorney is smart enough to only take contingent fee cases that will make them money– after all they run a business.  Depending upon your fee agreement, some lawyers may charge up to 40% or more of the amounts recovered!  The attorney may also be motivated to push you into a quick settlement, whether it’s adequate or not.  The faster the attorney can get the case settled and get paid, the more he or she may make per hour. This may not leave you enough money to complete the repairs to your building.

 

To minimize your risk of losing money, you should determine if it is cheaper to pay hourly fees, which may or may not involve your getting a bank loan, or accept a contingent construction defects case fee agreement.

 

Determine the Type of Fee Agreement that is Best for You

 

Hourly Fee Agreement

 

You will most likely save money when your fee arrangement is hourly. This only works if your association can afford to pay the legal fees and costs required to pay lawyers and experts needed to win your case.  However, you may use money in your reserves to fund the litigation.  Our firm recently settled with all but two of the defendants in a case involving a mixed use building in San Francisco.  We recovered over $15,000,000 for the client, and we expect to get more from the non-settling defendants by going to trial later this year.  The client did pay over $300,000 in legal fees to our firm.  However, if we’d had the case on a contingent fee arrangement, we’d have been paid over $5,000,000 for doing the same amount of work and for recovering the same amount of money!

 

Contingent Fee Agreement

 

For some associations the board is concerned about the cost and risk of litigation, and prefers that the attorney do the work without receiving hourly fees, and obtain a percentage of the recovery.  Then a contingent fee arrangement may be best, but you may still face recovering too little money to complete your repairs.  In that case, you may have to choose between imposing a special assessment to make up the shortfall, or being unable to repair water intrusion and other defective conditions affecting your homes.

 

Hybrid Fee Agreement

 

The Hybrid Fee Agreement involves payment of an hourly fee that’s less than what the attorney usually charges, and also payment of a percentage of the recovery.  With this arrangement, the percentage paid to the attorney is usually lower than what you’d pay with a straight contingency.  This kind of agreement allows you and the lawyer to share the risk of litigation and save you money with lower contingent fee at the end of the case.    This type of an arrangement can mitigate risk while reducing the percentage of recovery to which the attorney will be entitled.  It can work well in some circumstances; however it can also result in a higher payment to the law firm than would be the case with a straight hourly arrangement.

 

Every case and every client is unique. Think carefully about the risks and potential rewards of any financial arrangement with a law firm that you may be considering before you sign on the dotted line.

 

This article is a summary of general principles of law.  It is not a substitute for qualified legal advice about a particular project or claim.

 

Contact a qualified attorney if you have questions about a specific project or claim.

 

The comments, statements and articles contained herein are general in nature and should not be relied upon as a basis for any legal opinion, action or conclusion on the part of the reader with respect to any particular set of facts or circumstances.

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HOAs, if You Give Only ONE Side of an Election Issue the Opportunity to Advocate on Its Behalf, the Court May Overturn Your Election!

By Jeff Cluett, Esq., Law Offices of Ann Rankin

 

         On June 26, 2013, the California Court of Appeal, in Wittenberg v. Beachwalk Homeowners Association, held that homeowners’ association boards are subject to Civil Code Section 1363.03 – and that failure to comply could cause a court to overturn an election!
What is Section 1363.03?Section 1363.03 states, in part:

(a) An association shall adopt rules, in accordance with the procedures prescribed by Article 4 (commencing with Section 1357.100) of Chapter 2, that do all of the following:

(1) Ensure that if any candidate or member advocating a point of view is provided access to association media, newsletters, or Internet Web sites during a campaign, for purposes that are reasonably related to that election, equal access shall be provided to all candidates and members advocating a point of view, including those not endorsed by the board, for purposes that are reasonably related to the election. The association shall not edit or redact any content from these communications, but may include a statement specifying that the candidate or member, and not the association, is responsible for that content.

(2) Ensure access to the common area meeting space, if any exists, during a campaign, at no cost, to all candidates, including those who are not incumbents, and to all members advocating a point of view, including those not endorsed by the board, for purposes reasonably related to the election.

            In Beachwalk, the board held three elections to amend the CC&Rs.  The board sent two letters to association members stating that the amendment was “more flexible and reasonable, while still ‘a workable method of fiscal restraint.’”  They also warned that if it did not pass, the association would become embroiled in expensive litigation.  They urged the members to vote for the amendment.  The Association’s website also encouraged its members to vote for the amendment.  A one-page attachment to the letters stated a “Case for amending the CC & Rs” but failed to include opposing material.  An association newsletter also stated that the proposed amendment was more modern and adaptable and failure to pass it would encourage litigation, concluding:  “Vote YES on the proposed 8th amendment to our CCRS so we can put our money to use on physically improving Beachwalk.”The board refused a request to respond to the newsletter and a request to rent the association’s clubhouse for a meeting for candidates who did not support the amendment.  It also refused the request of another homeowner opposed to the amendments to use a common area for a political rally.  Finally, while the newsletter was posted on a glass-enclosed community bulletin board, nonboard members were not permitted to post materials.  Further, nonboard members were not allowed to post material on the Association’s website.The members passed a modified amendment at a third election.  Members opposed to the amendment sued.  The court of appeal held that the board violated Section 1363.03(a)(2).  Why?First, the court held that the board is subject to Section 1363.03(a)’s equal access provision.  Therefore “[t]he equal-access provision of subdivision (a)(1) is triggered any time a ‘member’ advocates a point of view using association media.”  The California Legislature wanted to ensure that opposing voices were heard.  Therefore a board must either give equal access to opposing viewpoints or forego the use of association media.

Second, by advocating its viewpoint and failing to allow opposing viewpoints, the board violated Section 1363.03(a)(2).  The board advocated for the amendment by letters, attachments to letters, website, newsletter, and bulletin board.  Yet it refused to allow opponents to use media such as the clubhouse and the common area to voice their opposition.  The board therefore violated Section 1363.03.

Oddly, despite these findings, the court did not overturn the third election.  Rather, it returned the case to the trial court to determine whether the violations of 1363.03(a)(2) should be considered in deciding whether to void the third election.

Why should you care?  Because elections are time-consuming, expensive, and contentious!  You do not want your election results overturned.  So what do you do?

First, if the board wants to advocate for the passage or defeat of an amendment, it must allow its opponents access to the same media – common areas, websites, newsletters, etc.

Second, if anyone wants to use association resources to advocate their position, the board must decide whether to let them.  If the board decides not to, then it does not need to allow the other side to do so.  However, if it does allow such access, then the board must allow the other side access as well.  If it does not, then it risks having its election results overturned.

 

This article is general in nature. It is not a substitute for qualified legal advice. Contact an attorney with expertise in common interest development law if you require specific legal advice.