2009 California HOA Legislative Update

With the end of year upon us, I thought it would be a good time to post a summary some of the laws enacted in California during 2009 that impact our local homeowners associations. This is not a complete list of all new legislation, but rather brief summaries of the statutes I believe will have the biggest impact on California HOAs. The full impact of 2009 California legislation on an HOA will require a more detailed analysis. Any HOA that has questions on the impact of a new law should consult with their corporate counsel.

Just a BillWith the end of year upon us, I thought it would be a good time to post a summary some of the laws enacted in California during 2009 that impact our local homeowners associations. This is not a complete list of all new legislation, but rather brief summaries of the statutes I believe will have the biggest impact on California HOAs. The full impact of 2009 California legislation on an HOA will require a more detailed analysis. Any HOA that has questions on the impact of a new law should consult with their corporate counsel.

1. AB 313 (Fletcher) Assessments

This statute will allow those HOAs whose declarations allow assessments to be based on the assessed value of the individual separate interests to continue to assess in this fashion, but will prohibit other existing and newly formed HOAs to do so.

2. AB 899 (Torres) Disclosures

This statute imposes three new requirements on HOAs. The first requirement is that the title of the Assessment and Reserve Funding form disclosure must now include the ending date of the fiscal year for which it was prepared, and the form must disclose the rate of return and inflation rate assumptions used by HOA in its reserve planning.

The second requirement this statute places on HOAs relates to agreements by members to receive delivery of documents via email, facsimile or other electronic means.  Such agreements must now comply with consumer consent and disclosure requirements of California Corporations Code section 20, and the Federal E-Sign Statute, 15 U.S.C. section 7001(c)(1).

Lastly, this statute adds a new section to the Davis-Stirling Act, Civil Code, section 1363.005, which requires every Association to distribute, upon request by a member, a document disclosure index identifying the disclosures provided by the HOA, along with a reference to the Civil Code section requiring that disclosure.

3. AB 1061 (Lieu) Water-Efficient Landscapes

This statute is one I have written about before here on HOA Brief. This statute amends section 1353.8 of the Davis-Stirling Act, and restricts an HOA’s architectural standards and other governing documents from prohibiting or providing conditions that hinder or prohibit use of low-water usage plants. In addition, this statute requires compliance with local water ordinances.

4. AB 1233 (Silva)

AB 1233 amends the Non-Profit section of the California Corporations code relating to nonprofit mutual benefit corporations (most HOAs in California are non-profit mutual benefit corporations). Subject to certain limitations, AB 1233 authorizes the articles or bylaws to require the presence of one or more specified directors in order to constitute a quorum to transact business. In addition, this statute prohibits a committee exercising the authority of the board from including as members persons who are not directors of the corporation. However, the statute does not prevent a committee which is not exercising the authority of the board from including a non-board member on the committee.

In my opinion, this statute is also the most troubling for HOAs. This statute also alters the protections afforded directors where the HOA had appropriate insurance in place. Prior to the passage of this statute, existing law prohibited a cause of action for monetary damages from arising against any director or officer of a nonprofit corporation, who served without compensation, on account of any specified negligent act or omission if the HOA had a general liability insurance policy in a specified amount in force both at the time of the injury and at the time the claim was made. With the enactment of this bill those causes of action now are only prohibited if the HOA maintains a liability insurance policy that is applicable to the claim. That means that if a claim is not covered, the directors may face liability, despite the fact that there is a general liability policy in place. I fear this will have a negative impact on the ability of HOAs to get people to volunteer and serve as directors. This is already difficult enough. There are many communities where people refuse to serve, and there are perpetual openings on the board. Now people who already hesitate to serve will have another reason to refuse to do so.

Governator Terminates HOA Bill Allowing Boards to Enter into Long Term Conservation Contracts

Gov. Schwarzenegger recently vetoed California’s AB 1328. AB 1328 would have provided that a homeowners association could enter into a contract for a water or energy efficiency program, for a term of up to five years, if the board of directors reasonably anticipated that the contract would result in verifiable savings to the association.

vetoGov. Schwarzenegger recently vetoed California’s AB 1328. AB 1328 would have provided that a homeowners association could enter into a contract for a water or energy efficiency program, for a term of up to five years without owner approval, if the board of directors reasonably anticipated that the contract would result in verifiable savings to the association. This would have allowed HOAs to take advantage of long term savings and actively engage in energy conversation which is essentially mandated by California’s AB 32.  However, the Governator vetoed the bill claiming that it was unnecessary and would override the requirement that most contracts which are longer than one year obtain homeowner approval.

AB 1328 would have allowed HOAs, and by extension homeowners, the ability to obtain long term savings if they were able to locate vendors to provide extended water and energy conservation programs for their community. Boards are required to use sound business judgment and protect the assets of an Association.  Further, under the bill homeowners were to be notified of the terms of the contracts and provided an opportunity to be heard at an open meeting prior to the Board’s execution of any such contracts. It seems that there were sufficient protections in place to allow Boards to explore and enter into these types of long term contracts. Remember, Boards would not be required to enter into such contracts. The bill just would have given Boards the flexibility to enter into longer term contracts if sufficient savings could be found.

It is disappointing that while California’s State government continues to impose regulations on local entities such as HOAs, it also deprives them of tools which would allow them to meet the requirements at a reduced cost.

The California Association of Community Managers (CACM) and the California Association of Realtors (CAR) both supported the bill. The Executive Council of Homeowners (ECHO) was neutral.

HOA Boards Need not be Afraid to Enforce CC&Rs.

“Enforcement-Phobia” is the chronic fear of the political, financial and social costs of taking action to enforce an Association’s governing documents.

The “disease” starts when directors and managers are blind to the real conditions of properties overgrown with weeds, cluttered with unapproved architectural changes and overrun with over-sized vehicles parking on too narrow, private streets.

Roger Wood of Carpenter Hazelwood in Arizona, just posted an article about a common problem facing Homeowners Association Boards in the current economic climate. This is an issue we have experienced here in California as well. He calls it “Enforcement-Phobia”.  According to Roger, “Enforcement-Phobia” is the chronic fear of the political, financial and social costs of taking action to enforce an Association’s governing documents.

The “disease” starts when directors and managers are blind to the real conditions of properties overgrown with weeds, cluttered with unapproved architectural changes and overrun with over-sized vehicles parking on too narrow, private streets.  The neglected home may be the source of great frustration in the neighborhood, but the Board responds with lackluster empathy and empty pockets. The deeper the disease digs into communities the less inclined an Association and its leaders are to take any action. Symptoms of owner neglect and Association ignorance of that neglect lead only to more neglect.

The key to treating the “Enforcement Phobia” is to realize that the CC&Rs, as well as the rules and regulations, are in place to uphold property values.  Failing to enforce them is a disservice to the community. As Roger points out, a Board has the power (and in Arizona and California at least, the legal obligation) to enforce the express terms of the association’s governing documents.  The disease can be stopped and the vicious spread of unresolved CC&R violations curtailed.  The cure for this phobia is simple to enforce the association’s documents.  Roger offers some good prescriptions for helping your community properly enforce its restrictions and to gain an owner’s compliance. Among them are:

  1. Be fair and consistent in your approach to inspecting properties and notifying owners about their violations;
  2. Have a comprehensive enforcement policy and follow it;
  3. If a particular CC&R provision is troublesome or universally unenforceable, amend it;
  4. Think about increasing fine amounts to levels that would deter owners from continuing CC&R violations;
  5. Communicate well and often with homeowners about violations and about the path to compliance; and
  6. Use self-help (if allowed by the CC&Rs) thoughtfully.

You can read the full article here.

Why would anyone live under those rules? Here are some good reasons for an HOA.

In researching topics for this blog, or just when I tell people that I my practice is focused on representing homeowners associations I often here some variation of “why would anyone live under those rules.

Car on LawnIn researching topics for this blog, or just when I tell people that my practice is focused on representing homeowners associations, I often hear some variation of “why would anyone live under those rules”.  Today’s Orlando Sentinel answers the same question.  Aside from the fact that in today’s market you often cannot avoid living in a homeowners association, the best reason to live in an HOA is that they protect property values by maintaining the look and aesthetics of a community.  Enforcement of CC&Rs can help when your neighbors don’t mow their lawn or let it go brown in front of their home. In addition, homeowners associations often provide social areas such as swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse for socials, and are an effective alternative to calling city code enforcement when your neighbor parks his car on his front lawn. What positive experiences have you had living in an HOA?

The Fall Out of An Unfinished Community

I recently made the following presentation to the Capistrano Unified School District regarding lowering an outragousely high Mello Roos Tax on the members of one of my HOA clients.

I recently made the following presentation to the Capistrano Unified School District regarding lowering an outrageously high Mello Roos Tax on the members of one of my HOA clients.  The local press covered the issue, and posted the presentation here and here.


Good evening. My name is Robert DeNichilo, and I am corporate counsel for the Pacific San Juan Community Association. I have been asked by residents of Pacifica San Juan to address you this evening, and I thank you for your time and attention.

First let me address the question of why are we here.  Pacifica San Juan comprises Community Facilities district 98-1 of the Capistrano Unified School District.  When the district was originally formed, the economy was in a very different state than it is today.  It was an era we now recognize as a housing bubble, and where demand far outstripped supply.  At that time, Pacifica San Juan was envisioned to be a community of 416 homes.  It was anticipated that such a community would have a large and real impact on the city, and in particular the school district and the services it provides its residents.

That was the environment where the rate of special tax to be levied was calculated.  An environment where it was envisioned that a 20 million dollar bond would be required to offset the impact of Pacifica San Juan on the school district, a number that was increased to 45 million dollars a few years later.  However, as we all know, we are in a very different situation today.

Rather than a community of 416 homes, Pacifica San Juan today, and for the foreseeable future, is comprised of 61 homes, only 54 of which have been sold and have families living in them.  Of these 54 homes, there are only 10 children attending school in the district.  Clearly this is a very different level of impact on the district than that which was envisioned when the CFD was created, and no one would have envisioned that it would take over 26 thousand dollars per student per year the residents have been taxed, or the 46 thousand dollars per student per year that I understand is being proposed, to offset the impact of the 10 children from Pacifica San Juan on the Capistrano Unified School District.

Despite the change in circumstances from what was anticipated at the time that the rate of special tax was determined, there has been no review of the real impact of Pacifica San Juan on the school district.

One impact is that there has not been any need for bonds to be issued.  In fact, until there is a significant change in circumstances it is unlikely any bonds will be issued. Further, once things do change, and development begins again, it is highly likely that any new developer will seek to change or eliminate the CFD, as the current rate of special tax negatively impacts on the marketability of the property.  In fact, it is my understanding that this may already be occurring in another community in the district.

We are in a unique situation here in light of the fact that no bonds have been issued in this CFD.  The Board is not hamstrung with debt that must be repaid by the special tax.  Rather, pursuant to Government code section 53330.5, this Board has the authority and power to reduce the rate of special tax currently being levied on the properties in Pacifica San Juan.  It is my understanding that this has been done by other districts where development in a community comes to a halt, as has happened in Pacifica San Juan.

The residents of Pacifica San Juan would like to work collaboratively with the Board to lower the rate of special tax on this CFD, with flexibility that may be required as circumstances change and development resumes.  In this light, pursuant to government code 53332, the residents will be filing petitions requesting that the Board adopt a resolution reducing the rate of special tax on Pacifica San Juan.  We look forward to working with you on this issue in the coming days.