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Orange County Real Estate Law Blog

HOA fines for U.S. flag result in lien on veteran's home

People in California who live in communities governed by homeowners' associations often must comply with certain aesthetic standards. A lengthy battle over a U.S. flag in a flowerpot outside one man's home illustrates the costs that HOA disputes can inflict on a homeowner. The retired Air Force air traffic controller lived in a senior community in another state. He received a letter that called his flag in a flowerpot an unauthorized object. The violation produced a fine of $100 per day unless he removed it.

He refused to comply and eventually filed a lawsuit to assert his perceived right to fly the flag. He believed the issue to be settled in 2012 when the HOA relented, but the association changed its tactics. He said that they created a new flowerpot ordinance and resumed fining him $100 a day. The association also cited him for a Christmas display in a window.

Dealing with your HOA doesn't have to lead to court

When you bought your house, you knew that it came with a homeowners' association. Having an HOA in a community does have its benefits. Your housing development may have a pool, tennis courts and a clubhouse where you can get together with friends and family.

On the other hand, you are also subject to the HOA's covenants, conditions and restrictions, among other rules. You may be willing to comply with the CC&Rs and other rules, but that does not mean that you should feel held hostage by the board. If you find yourself in a dispute with your HOA board, you can fight back.

Secondhand smoke and condo conflicts

Most condo owners in California genuinely want to get along well with their neighbors. This means that they understand the importance of courtesy in an environment where people share walls and common areas. In some situations, however, conflicts arise.

While the number of people who smoke has dropped over the years, many adults still use tobacco. As a result, secondhand smoke is an issue for many individuals. For some people, it is primarily an annoyance while others experience real health issues, including breathing problems. Unfortunately, the ventilation systems in some condominium buildings are not adequate for dealing with tobacco smoke. The smoke can enter into hallways and even other units, causing a persistent odor and health problems for residents.

Homeowner stopped from selling house by HOA dispute

Many California homeowners live in neighborhoods with HOAs or homeowners associations. While these associations can provide an important service in keeping up an area and caring for common spaces, in some cases, overstepping HOAs can lead to disputes with individual homeowners. In one Texas case, a man says that his HOA is prohibiting him from selling his house and moving because they claim to disapprove of the color on his roof.

The man says that he was denied a certificate that would clear his home to be sold because of his roof. The roof had been damaged due to storms in the region, and he hired a neighborhood roofer to repair the damage. When additional damage was discovered, the homeowner opted to replace the roof rather than simply patching it. In the process, the owner chose gray shingles for the roof, similar to the color of other neighborhood roofs.

What happens when upstairs floors are noisy

California residents have the right to a quiet and peaceful living space. Therefore, they have the right to complain if a neighbor is making excessive noise. A noise complaint may arise if the floors in an upstairs unit are not properly covered. In some cases, units that had carpeting are remodeled into having wood or tile floors.

As a general rule, the floors in a unit are not considered to be a common area. Therefore, the HOA will likely have little to no responsibility to intervene in the matter itself. However, the HOA could have a responsibility to ensure that the unit complies with building codes. It will also need to take action if the excessive noise is in violation of governing documents. In some cases, governing documents could have language in them requiring floor coverings.

What can be done when HOAs violate the law?

In California, homeowner's associations must comply with multiple laws, including the Davis-Stirling Act, the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The latter two laws mostly are concerned with discrimination in housing. The Davis-Stirling Act is a comprehensive law that governs in great detail how HOAs are operated.

HOAs are required to follow the terms of the Davis-Stirling Act. Since the law contains nearly 100 separate statutes and many subparts, HOAs have numerous duties under the act. When residents believe that their HOA has violated the law, only some of the statutes contained within the act enact penalties.

Does your HOA restrict your personal conduct and business?

The one place that everyone, whether here in California or elsewhere, feels they should be able to be themselves is in their homes. Once you step onto your property, you can "let your hair down" and relax -- or can you? 

It may depend on the covenants, conditions and restrictions of your condominium or single-family home community. Most homeowners' or condominium associations put restrictions on personal conduct and home businesses.

Determining who is liable for maintenance in an HOA

Those who live in a condominium or planned unit in California may be confused as to who is responsible for maintenance. As a general rule, the homeowners association is required to maintain all common areas while individuals are responsible for maintaining their units. Features such as porches or balconies may be labeled as exclusive use common areas, and the owner of a unit is generally responsible for their upkeep.

In a planned unit, the homeowners association is generally responsible for maintaining the exterior of the house. This means painting walls, fixing the roof or handling basic landscaping tasks. It may also be possible to make community rules about how to handle pests that eat away at wooden structures. Homes that are impacted by these pests could be subject to levies per Civil Code Section 4780. In many cases, the HOA governing documents can further spell out what the association is liable for and what property owners are liable for.

Religious group wins battle with HOA

A dispute over Bible study at a community in Bakersfield was resolved through a settlement. The matter began when an atheist complained about Bible study sessions being held in a common area. After receiving the complaint, all faith groups were restricted from using this area. The suspension began just before Thanksgiving 2016 and was lifted prior to the end of that year after a lawsuit was filed.

However, the matter was still not fully resolved as management said that it could reinstate the suspension again if it wanted to. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in May 2018, but a settlement was reached. The plaintiffs claimed that the homeowners association had made several concessions, but the exact terms of the compromise agreement were not mentioned. A legal organization called Pacific Justice Institute represented the plaintiffs in the matter.

Parking enforcement company at odds with tenants

In congested residential areas such as Orange County, California, vehicle parking can be a problem. In housing developments, homeowners associations or condo associations typically hire management companies to manage and enforce parking regulations within the development. Though this is a needed service, some management companies can be an overzealous in their duties.

Such was the case in Colorado where a condominium association hired a third-party management company to enforce parking. In that development, there was a rule about tenants parking on the street for more than 48 hours at a time. Violators would have a parking boot, or wheel lock, placed on the front wheel to disable it. The offender would then have to pay several hundred dollars to have the boot removed.