By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Yesterday I featured Florida’s disregard for homeowner and resident rights in condo, cooperative, and homeowners associations. Today I feature another bellweather state for the HOA industry – California.
California probably has the most elaborate statute framework for common interest developments (including all types of mandatory owners’ associations) in the U.S. The Davis-Sterling Act, originally enacted in 1985, has been amended several times, with a complete rewrite in 2014. Davis-Sterling contains statutory provisions about conducting HOA elections, providing access to association documents and board meetings, board conflict of interest provisions, and buyer disclosure, among other issues.
A lot of homeowners in other states seem to believe that if their own states had similar laws, their individual property rights would be restored.
But California HOAs routinely ignore many of these statutes, and conflict persists. And every year, the HOA industry opposes and lobbies against any and all consumer or citizens’ rights protection efforts.
What if you want someone else to attend a Board meeting on your behalf?
For example, consider the fact that the only people allowed to attend board meetings are the homeowner members. Most tenants are not permitted to attend meetings, even if the majority of residents happen to be leasing units. And as Donie Vanitzian explains in the LA Times article, Homeowner board limits who can attend its meetings, many HOAs will not allow family members, friends, members of the press or local media, or your attorney to attend a meeting with a homeowner or on the homeowner’s behalf – even with a valid power of attorney.
Currently, according to Vanitzian, there is a bill making its way through the California legislature that would address the rights of an owner to have an attorney present at an Association meeting. Interested parties should click on the links below to contact the bill’s sponsor and to follow its status in the California Legislature.
Assembly Bill 1720 by Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine) would permit any person to attend a board meeting on behalf of the owner, whether or not the owner attends at the same time. In other words, it would allow the owner’s attorney to stand in the shoes of that titleholder during that board meeting. At least 48 hours advance written notice would have to be given to the board that a person representing the owner will be attending the meeting.
The bill is supported by the Conference of California Bar Associations and opposed by the HOA management industry, which contends that it would promote costly, disruptive litigation from owners who already have adequate avenues to pursue disputes. Weigh in by contacting Wagner’s office or check on the bill’s status by visiting leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ and click on “Bill Information.”
The most recent amendment by Wagner (April 4, 2016) expands a member’s right to allow any person to attend a meeting on their behalf.
AB 1720, as amended, Wagner. Common interest developments: meetings.
Existing law requires an association managing a common interest development to provide notice of the time and place of a board meeting and authorizes any member of the association to attend board meetings, except when the board adjourns to, or meets solely in, executive session. Existing law also requires the board to permit any member to speak at any meeting, except for executive session meetings.
This bill would require the board to permit an attorney who a person that represents a member to attend board meetings, and would require written notice to be given, as specified.
But, predictably, industry trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI) is opposing AB 1720, as Arizona homeowner advocate George Staropoli explains here, in his blog entitled CAI opposes CA HB 1720 member’s attorney representation. If CAI gets its way, they will defeat AB 1720 and allow HOAs to continue to put up various roadblocks to transparency.
Some laws only protect your rights under certain conditions
Another shortcoming of some of California’s state laws: they are often limited in scope, and only partially protect the rights of homeowners.
And, incredibly, some Association Governed Residential Communities in California are even defying state laws signed by Governor Brown that prohibit an Association from penalizing homeowners for failure to water their lawns in a drought. The Blackhawk HOA has decided that, now that the wet winter is over, and despite the fact that water use restrictions remain in place, it’s time for homeowners to turn on their irrigation systems and get their yards in tip top shape by June 1st, or else!
You can read the about this absurdity in What drought? Blackhawk orders homeowners to green up.
The article includes a link to the HOA’s letter to homeowners. It reads, in part:
The purpose of this letter is to let members know that starting June 1, 2016, the Board is initiating aggressive enforcement of the landscaping standards. Our enforcement techniques for landscaping violations” can include the suspension of transponder use, imposition of fines, accessing lots to perform landscaping and “charging back” the owner, initiation of mediation or arbitration, and even undertaking litigation to obtain compliance (and to recover legal fees and costs incurred in the process).
Talk about the bully pulpit.
But part of the problem stems from the fact that state laws concerning landscape maintenance only apply in a state-declared drought. What happens when the drought declaration is lifted? You can count on HOA landscape maintenance police (in the form of Architectural Review Committees) tyranny to rule the day once again.
How foolish and short sighted. Do California lawmakers truly believe that the state will never again face the threat of drought? Do they assume that California’s water supply is once again endless, and so it should be OK to allow water hogs to go wild with irrigation? Should an owner with an environmental and social conscience be penalized for making a lifestyle choice to conserve water, regardless of weather cycles?
Why should an obsession with property values be deemed more important than protecting our water supply or individual rights of homeowners and residents in Association-Governed Residential Communities?