Anyone who has ever lived in a planned community in Southern California for long has probably been frustrated by their HOA governance about one issue or another. It may be getting turned down for a simple landscaping idea. It may be a parking complaint. Often it is about neighbors. Who draws the line between HOA governing rules and individual homeowners' rights in California?
Community HOA rules and the Davis-Stirling Act
Every HOA must have a set of governing rules made available to property owners before they move into their house, townhouse or condo unit. While these rules must be specific to the needs and conditions of the particular community, they must also meet the provisions of the Davis-Stirling Act, originally signed in 1985 and subsequently revised several times over the years.
What rights under the law?
The Davis-Stirling Act was passed into law to provide a framework of governance and homeowner rights. Over the decades since the previous HOA laws were enacted, homeowner faced a steady erosion of rights, particularly as impersonal professional HOA management companies began taking over in greater numbers. Even voluntary HOAs governed by a board of homeowners, however, can often press their feet too hard on the brake when dealing with a homeowner's or complaint or disciplinary action.
Under the Davis-Stirling Act, homeowners are guaranteed these rights:
- When submitting an inquirey to the HOA, the board is compelled to respond within a reasonable amount of time. However, if the board can demonstrate the reply was ridiculous or obviously intended to inflame or harass this rule may not apply.
- Financial records must be accessible to individual homeowners. The HOA must also use standard and accepted accounting practices.
- The HOA must have a procedure in place for requesting disclosure of documents and the request process should not be cumbersome. If the procedure is followed, the homeowner should expect the requested disclosure within a reasonable time frame.
- If the HOA intends to take disciplinary action on any matter, there must be a process in place giving the homeowner the right to redress and appeal.
- HOAs must ensure that all procedures and regulations are applied across all property owners fairly and consistently.
- In important matters requiring a member vote, homeowners must be given a reasonable opportunity or allow an appointed member to vote as their proxy. In the event a homeowner is ineligible to vote per the rules of governance, the HOA must inform them of their ineligibility prior to the vote, along with the reasons for ineligibility.
Is your HOA following the rules?
If you are involved in a dispute with your HOA, your first step should be to review the Davis-Stirling Act, to determine whether your board may be in violation of the mandatory rules of governance. Boards often interpret the rules according to their own needs, which may be in violation of California law.