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Orange County Real Estate Law Blog

Kids' swim lessons turn into homeowner dispute

For many California homeowners who live in subdivisions with a homeowners' association or HOA, they may find the regulations of the HOA butting up against their right to enjoy their property. In one case, an ongoing dispute about a small backyard swim lesson business is sparking debate and anger in the town of Sandy Springs. The City Council and around 900 parents have all become involved in the ongoing dispute.

One small business in the town operates a swim lesson business; while the town claims this type of backyard operation is not legal, the business had a local license for four years. Some members of the City Council have proposed a code to legalize the business, but a neighbor who complained about excessive noise sits on the Planning Commission, which will decide on the proposed code.

Covenants protect property values but can be contentious

California residents who buy homes in planned communities or in developments with homeowners associations usually a sign document known as the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. These documents place restrictions on what property owners can do with their property or limit certain types of behavior, and homeowners usually agree to them because they wish to protect their investments and avoid annoying or offensive neighbors.

While zoning laws determine how land in a particular area may be used and what kind of developments can be built, covenants lay out rules for community residents. Covenants require all property owners in a community to maintain certain standards to prevent one offending owner from bringing down the value of surrounding homes. They are designed to ensure that neighborhoods remain desirable to home buyers and property values remain stable or rise. In return for these benefits, homeowners accept certain restrictions being placed on them and the sacrifices involved.

Is your neighbor a nuisance -- legally?

Living in a California residential community often means you become part of a homeowners' association. More than likely, it also means that you live within close proximity to your neighbors. Your neighbor may engage in some activity that you consider a nuisance, but you don't think you can do anything about it.

That's where you may be wrong. More than likely, the covenants, conditions and restrictions that govern your HOA may include a section relating to common nuisances. This means that you could have some form of recourse against your neighbor's more-than-annoying behavior.

Couples wins injunction from state court

The 2nd District Court of Appeal in California reversed the decision of a lower court judge in a request for an injunction against Mandalay Shores Community Association. A couple requested the injunction against a rule imposing a 30-day minimum rental period for properties in Oxnard Shores. At issue is whether the HOA followed regulations before imposing such rules in a coastal area.

According to the appeals court, Mandalay Shores failed to get the proper permit from the California Coastal Commission. This was found to be in violation of the California Coastal Act of 1976. The court noted that the goal of the legislation was to allow the public to use the beach as much as possible. Although the ruling noted that no physical barrier to the beach was imposed by the HOA, a monetary one was created instead.

Lawsuit filed against against HOA over fines

California residents who have had disputes with their homeowners association might be interested in a case that is unfolding in another state. The company that owns a home in a neighborhood outside of Aspen, Colorado, Epic View, has filed a lawsuit against that neighborhood's HOA alleging that it was wrongfully fined by the HOA.

The dispute is over a home on which construction began in May 2007. The HOA says the home has still not received a certificate of occupancy. The HOA approved the home's construction in December 2005, and according to the lawsuit, although there was an agreed-upon completion date, there were no fines or other penalties attached to not meeting that date. There were various delays along the way, one connected with the recession and another with delays in obtaining necessary permits. The lawsuit notes an effort to mitigate the effect of the construction on neighbors by constructing a forest of aspen and evergreen trees around the site.

What to know about an HOA

California residents who are thinking about buying a home should consider the presence of a homeowners association prior to closing on a property. For some, having an HOA is the only way that they would consider buying a home. However, others may balk at the thought of following an organization's rules. One positive of being part of a homeowners association is that common areas are maintained by someone else.

A second benefit is that a person knows what all the homes in the neighborhood will look like. For instance, a neighbor can't let the grass get unruly or keep a car on the front lawn. Of course, this generally means that owners have to get permission to add even a minor item to their home's exterior. Adding a play area for the kids or something similar may also require permission from the HOA.

Neighbors feud after long construction project

Neighboring couples in California do not get along after one party to the dispute did work to her home over a two-year period. The noisy construction work lasted into the evening hours in some cases, and the Los Angeles Police Department had to be called many times. The neighbors have restraining orders against each other, and one woman says that the other has put vulgar words and messages on a balcony and in the front yard.

In addition to that, there was a fight caught on camera between the two men who live next to each other. The man who lives on the property with the vulgar signs says that he has a right to have and keep them there. Others who live in the area are tired of the constant noise and police activity in the neighborhood because of the dispute. The family that had the construction work done on their home says that they don't want to fight. Instead, they just want their children to avoid seeing vulgar language.

New laws benefit HOA members

Homeowners' associations seem more like dictatorships rather than organizations meant to benefit the residents of a particular community, and not just here in California. If you have ever been at cross-purposes with your HOA, you may understand that sentiment. The law provides you with certain rights and protections, but that doesn't necessarily mean that your HOA follows them.

That didn't stop the state legislature and Governor Brown from passing additional laws to protect you and provide you with more rights when it comes to your property and community. Below are three of those laws that recently took effect.

How light can cause conflict

California residents and others may find bright lights coming from a neighbor's house to be annoying. The good news is that homeowners can take action if a neighbor engages in what is known as light trespass. One way to reduce the odds of committing light trespass is to turn off lights when not in use or to use motion detectors.

Another idea is to aim the fixture where it is needed most to provide proper illumination. In addition to precise alignment of a fixture, the use of a hood or shield can further prevent light from spilling into a neighbor's yard. For those who feel that light from a nearby home is causing a problem, the first step is to have a conversation with that person. In many cases, he or she isn't aware that this is an issue.

California condo community trapped in construction dispute

Western Oaks Village, a 322-unit condominium complex in Novato, and its 121 members continue to be held in limbo by a dispute between a general contractor and a construction management firm. The contractor's claims of extortion against the management company and close to $2 million in mechanics' liens against the properties have made it impossible for residents to sell condos or refinance their mortgages for several years.

The homeowners association for the community had hired CIDology Inc. to manage the special assessment and hiring of a contractor to perform $4.59 million in repairs to all units. The company urged the association's board to alter its Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions so that a vote of 51 percent instead of a two-thirds majority could approve the management contract. The deal passed by a single vote, and CIDology hired a construction company to begin the job.