Author Archives: Davis-Stirling Condo Law

Budget Increase

QUESTION: Our board approved next year’s budget with an increase in the monthly dues. The increase was not on the agenda and was not the subject of a separate board motion. Our manager said the increase did not require a separate notice and vote. Is this practice permitted by Davis-Stirling?

ANSWER: Your manager is correct. Approval of the budget is sufficient for any increase in assessments (up to 20%) that might be contained in the budget.

Assessment Approval. Approval requirements for an increase in regular assessments are found in Civil Code §5605. The statute requires that any increase must comply with reporting obligations found in Civil Code §5300(b). In summary, an increase is effective only if the board issues an “annual budget report” with the following:

  • A pro forma operating budget.
  • A summary of the association’s reserves.
  • A statement re any deferral of reserve item repairs.
  • A statement whether special assessments are anticipated related to reserves or reserve components.
  • A statement of how reserves will be funded.
  • A statement of how the reserves were calculated.
  • A statement regarding any outstanding association loans.

Budget Approval. The statute does not require a second, separate approval of the assessment increase. Once the budget has been approved by the board, the report must be distributed to the membership not less than 30 nor more than 90 days before the end of the association’s fiscal year. (Civ. Code §5300(a).) It can either be a full report or a summary. (Civ. Code §5320.) Failure to distribute the report within the reporting deadline nullifies the increase. (Civ. Code §5605(a).)


QUESTION: We distributed a ballot for a CC&R amendment. One owner turned in his vote and then sold his unit. Must we discard his ballot and issue one to the new owner?

ANSWER: No. The owner of record when the ballots were mailed (the record date) is the one who votes, not the buyer.


QUESTION: Is there a law that limits the number of board members on a committee?

ANSWER: There is no limit on how many directors may serve on a committee. However…

Board Business. Once a quorum of directors gather at the same time and place to “hear, discuss, or deliberate upon any item of business that is within the authority of the board” a committee meeting becomes a board meeting (Civ. Code §4090(a).) When that happens, notice (with an agenda) must be given to the membership so they can attend.


Renter #1. Our association defines “renter” as anyone living in the unit who is not the legal owner. Is that wrong? -Jan Y.

RESPONSE: Your definition is too broad. What if the owner’s spouse is not on title? Is he/she subject to rent restrictions and exclusion from the property? So as to avoid potential legal problems, you should rewrite your definition. Contact me if you need assistance.

Renter #2. What about resident owners with roommates? What about guests? What about a resident owner who leaves a “home or pet or child sitter” while traveling? -Terence G.

RESPONSE: You need to cut back on your coffee. If the owner’s roommate occupies the same bed with him/her, they’re not a renter. If they occupy separate rooms, you can restrict room rentals if they are not “family” members. For guests, you should adopt rules defining them. Someone who stays a week is a guest. Someone who stays a year is not. A new guest every night means something else is going on. If you try to kick out a house or baby sitter while the owner is on a business trip, a judge would likely deem it unreasonable.

Renter #3. An owner (California) wants her son (New York) to keep his car parked in our condo association. We have limited space for parking and have a rule of one car per unit, two if there are two full-time residents with two cars. She is trying to say he is a full-time resident by having him open a checking account here and putting him on her deed, but he still lives in New York and visits a few times a year. The board says he is not a resident, she says he is. What determines a “resident” in this case? -June K.

RESPONSE: I agree with your board; he is not a full-time resident. You should amend your rules to define full- and part-time residents. A good start is defining a full-time resident as someone who receives his mail at the address and spends at least 20 days a month sleeping in the unit. You should work with legal counsel to develop your criteria.

Renter #4. Just wondering when Black’s Law Dictionary became legal precedence. -Mark G.

RESPONSE: The dictionary’s definitions provide case law cites which I purposely left out. Good I was not writing a Law Review article—I would have been dinged for the incomplete cite.

Renter #5. If an owner rents his condo, can he hold a position on our board? We have a small 5-condo HOA and our board president rents his condo here and resides in Washington. -George G.

RESPONSE: That depends entirely on your governing documents. If your bylaws are silent on the issue, he can serve on the board. If your bylaws restrict directors to full-time residents, he cannot.

Renter #6. I’m on a board of an association with high tenant occupancy, so we’ve had trouble refinancing. I’m also an appraiser and find it interesting that appraisers are not allowed by FNMA and others to state a property reflects “Pride of ownership,” ostensibly because tenants can have pride of ownership. So then why do they ban loans on properties with high tenant occupancy? -Brian C.

RESPONSE: I see the problem…you’re expecting rational behavior from a federal agency.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight, and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Renter Defined

QUESTION: What is considered a rental unit? We have individuals purchasing units, not living in them, but putting their children and grandchildren in them to reside.

ANSWER: Good question. If a nephew is given the unit while in college and pays the utilities but nothing else, is he a renter? If a man lets a woman stay in his unit because she provides him love and affection, is her affection considered rent? The Davis-Stirling Act does not define renter, lessee or tenant. For that, we must look elsewhere.

Generally Defined. Civil Code §1940 defines tenant as “persons who hire dwelling units…including tenants, lessees, boarders, lodgers, and others…” Civil Code §1925 defines hiring as “a contract by which one gives to another the temporary possession and use of property, other than money, for reward, and the latter agrees to return the same to the former at a future time.” Civil Code §1951 defines rent as “charges equivalent to rent.”

Conclusion. Rent is defined as consideration for the use or occupation of property. (Black’s Law Dictionary.) Consideration can be money, goods, services or other value. Accordingly, the gratitude of a relative or the affection of a mistress could both qualify as rent and the occupant deemed a tenant.

RECOMMENDATION: How associations define renters/tenants will impact how they answer lender questionnaires and how they regulate the use of HOA amenities. To avoid ambiguity, associations should work with legal counsel to clearly define “tenant” and tenant-related issues. If you need assistance, contact me.

Thank you to attorney Wayne Louvier in our Orange County office for his research on this issue.


Next year is the 30th Anniversary of the Davis-Stirling Act. The Board of Directors of the Davis-Stirling Foundation will honor those who brought stability and transparency to community associations.

They did so by creating financial safeguards, disclosures, insurance protections, meeting guidelines and reserves that allow the now 14.5 million residents of HOAs to govern themselves.

For the Honorees, the Foundation is holding a black-tie dinner for 500 guests at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach. The keynote speaker and other aspects of the celebration will be described as we get closer to the event.

To reserve your seat, you need to purchase a dinner ticket. You can also donate and/or join our growing list of sponsors for this once-in-a-lifetime gala. Go to for more information.


QUESTION: Pre-lien notices must be sent via certified mail. What do we do if a homeowner lives in Mexico? Certified mail is not offered in Mexico.

ANSWER: According to the US Postal Service website, you can send First Class International mail and add a Certificate of Mailing. While this is technically different than Certified Mail, it offers the same function–it provides evidence that you sent the notice.

Since the return receipt feature and proof of delivery are not required by Civil Code §5660, the important feature in both Certified Mail and Certificate of Mailing is proof of mailing. Registered Mail is also available with First Class International mail but is more expensive. Although the primary purpose of Registered Mail is the insuring of valuables, it also provides proof of mailing.

Therefore both the Certificate of Mailing and Registered Mail options should be acceptable substitutes for Certified Mail when sending a pre-lien notice to someone in another country.

Many thanks to collection attorney Richard Witkin and attorney Wayne Louvier for their assistance with this question.


I will join Robert Nordlund, CEO of Association Reserves, Inc. in a webinar that will address three real-life scenarios and the natural, practical, financial, and legal consequences of different board decisions played out over 20 years:

   1.  Selling out (ignoring the advice in the reserve study and continuing to make woefully inadequate contributions).

   2.  Settling (ignoring the advice in the reserve study and making “baseline” funding  contributions.

   3.  Succeeding (following the advice in the reserve study and making “full” funding contributions).

Sign Up. The webinar will be held Wednesday, September 17. Click on the time you wish to attend: at 11:00 a.m. or at 1:30 p.m.


Dear Readers,

Thank you for sending emails and letters to Governor Brown. You sent over 1,300 requests for a veto (and still counting). We are hoping your letters will turn the tide on this anti-consumer legislation.

I will keep you posted on the bill’s status.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight, and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Veto AB 1738

Dear Readers,

It’s not often I urge you to write letters. This is one of those times.

Existing Law. Currently, homeowners can informally resolve disputes without involving lawyers. It’s called Internal Dispute Resolution. It’s done without any expense to owners.

Legal Expenses Introduced. Unfortunately, an organization backed by lawyers pushed through Assembly Bill 1738. It is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature. This ill-conceived legislation inserts lawyers into IDR, thereby making the process adversarial and expensive. It means higher legal expenses for associations and increased potential for litigation.

Assb. Ed Chau

More Exposure. Moreover, the author of the bill, Assemblyman Ed Chau, rejected any attempt to protect statements made by homeowners from being used against them in subsequent litigation. He also rejected amendments that would have prevented “ambushing” parties with legal counsel.

Because lawyers can show-up unannounced and statements can be used in future litigation, parties may feel compelled to have legal counsel attend all IDR meetings so as to avoid inadvertent exposure. This is costly and harmful to homeowners and associations alike.
Train Wreck. To stop this train wreck from becoming law, you need to send letters and emails to Governor Brown urging him to veto the bill. Below is a sample letter you can use as-is or modify. You can do either of the following:

1.  Copy and paste the sample letter into an email and send it to,


2.  Paste the letter onto your letterhead, sign it and fax it to (916) 558-3177.

Once received, emails and letters will be delivered to the Governor. Please share this with others and ask them to oppose AB 1738 TODAY.


Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
California State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re:   Veto AB 1738

Dear Governor Brown,

Please veto Assembly Bill 1738.

Our existing Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) statute provides a no-cost way to settle differences in community associations. AB 1738 takes away our rights by inserting lawyers into the process.

We already have a mechanism that uses lawyers through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). We don’t need to ruin IDR by turning it into another ADR.

Not only does AB 1738 take away our no-cost resolution rights, it puts us at risk. It introduces lawyers without providing confidentiality protection. That means anything said in IDR can be used against us in subsequent litigation.

This anti-consumer legislation is harmful to homeowners. To protect our existing no-cost, low-risk resolution rights, I ask that you veto AB 1738.


Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight, and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Beeping Horn

QUESTION: When homeowner A locks his car, the horn beeps. Tenant B screams “I will blow that ****ing car up.” So, A locks his car during the day only, not at night. Unfortunately, B works out of his unit and naps during the day so he can work through the night. B is threatening to sue.

ANSWER: Your tenant sounds like an al-Qaeda recruit. First, put the association’s insurance on notice of a potential claim. I know it sounds silly but you need to preserve the association’s rights under its insurance policy.

Investigate. Next, your board has a duty to investigate the complaint and take appropriate action. If the horn really is a nuisance, “A” needs to stop using his remote. He can manually lock his car or have the beep disabled.

No Nuisance. If the board decides that a beep during the day is not a nuisance, the association does not need to get involved in a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute. The board should, however, document its actions and send a letter to the landlord with a copy to the tenant that it investigated the complaint and found no violation. So the board’s cars don’t get blown up, you may want your lawyer to send the letter.

NOTE: I don’t think it’s widely known but God made ear plugs for people with odd sleeping habits. They’re also cheaper than a lawsuit. The landlord should consider making the investment (or get a new tenant).


QUESTION: We circulated a ballot to amend our CC&Rs. We had to extend the voting deadline three times to get enough ballots. One owner turned in his ballot and then sold his unit. Must we discard his ballot and issue one to the buyer?

ANSWER: The seller’s ballot is still valid. If he was the owner of record when ballots were distributed, he is the one with the right to vote. The buyer can vote in later elections.


QUESTION: DRE regulations of the Real Estate Commissioner state on page 282 section (E) that cable contracts can be five years. According to your hierarchy of docs, does that trump the CC&Rs restricting any contract exceeding one year ?

ANSWER: As a side note, California’s Department of Real Estate was renamed the Bureau of Real Estate (perhaps to emphasize bureaucratic creep?). The Regulation you refer to is §2792.21 “Reasonable Arrangements–Governing Body Powers and Limitations.” Subsection (b)(1)(E) deals with the length of contracts.

Purpose of Regulations. The purpose of the regulation is to establish reasonable standards for developers to use when they form homeowners associations. A developer’s proposed CC&Rs must meet these standards or they won’t be approved by the BRE.

Hierarchy of Documents. The hierarchy you refer do does not trump your CC&Rs because there is no conflict. The regulation applies to developers of common interest developments and is concerned with  cable contracts that exceed five years. If the developer’s attorney drafted CC&Rs that restrict the board from approving contracts greater than one year and the BRE approved it, you’re bound by the restriction. Your board would need membership approval for any agreement with a term greater than one year.

RECOMMENDATION: Once the developer has sold his units and turned over control to the membership, you can amend your CC&Rs to modify or eliminate contract limitations. We routinely add longer contract periods when we restate documents for associations. It can also be done with a simple amendment. If you want to take advantage of reduced costs associated with longer contracts, you need to amend your CC&Rs. 


All boards are welcome to attend S&L Management’s annual “Board Leadership Workshop.” Attorney Cang Le from Adams Kessler, Michael Berg from Berg Insurances, Mike Graves from SCT Reserve Consultants, and Krystal Walker from Fox & Stephens CPAs will be guest speakers.

The event will be Friday, September 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bakery in Temecula. Complimentary breakfast & lunch will be served during the program.

RSVP to Rosy Amlani at or (951) 698-4030.


Equity Management is putting on its Annual Board Symposium. There will be a speaker on the water crisis and how it affects HOA communities.

I will be part of a panel for an “Ask the Attorney” discussion related to the drought (and any other legal questions that may arise). This dinner event will be held on Thursday, September 4 from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula.

RSVP to Melissa Walker at or (951) 296-5640.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight, and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Short Term Rentals

QUESTION: A condo owner in our building wants to rent his unit on a short-term basis between the times he comes into town. Our CC&Rs state that all units may only be used as a single-family residence. Would this be a violation of the CC&Rs?

ANSWER: Possibly. The shorter the rentals, the stronger the argument that the owner is using his unit for commercial activity rather than residential, which puts him in violation of the CC&Rs. You should have your attorney review the situation to determine if action can be taken. Your best bet is to amend your CC&Rs to set a minimum lease period. I favor one year.


QUESTION: Our bylaws require that directors be members of the association. They also state that officers “shall be a President and a Vice President, both of whom shall at all times be Directors, a Secretary, a Treasurer and such other officers as the Board may from time to time by resolution create.” This has been interpreted to allow renters to serve on the board as long as they are not president or vice president. This seems to be an incorrect interpretation of our bylaws.

ANSWER: You’re right, it’s incorrect. People often get tangled up over the distinction between directors and officers. Homeowners elect directors, and directors elect officers. The qualifications for one can be entirely different from the other. Moreover, directors can vote, while officers cannot. When the president votes, he is not voting as president, he is voting as a director.

CC&R Interpretation. In your case, renters can serve as secretary and treasurer. As such, nonmember officers can attend meetings to fulfill their duties (taking minutes and giving financial reports) but cannot sit on the board because they do not meet director qualifications. Accordingly, seven people attend meetings: five directors (two of whom are officers) and two renters (both of whom are officers) but only the five directors make motions, deliberate and vote. For more information see: Director-Officer Differences.


QUESTION: Can I contact the HOA’s legal counsel to verify an issue? I have been told my concerns are being presented to the lawyer for review and advice. Do I have the right to contact the law firm to verify this or to ask questions?

ANSWER: No, not really. Association attorneys represent the association as a corporate entity, not individual owners (nor individual directors). Unless the board authorizes the attorney to speak to you, it’s unlikely she would.

Two Problems. If the attorney takes your call, it creates two potential problems. First–who pays the bill? Second, if the attorney gives you any legal advice, it poses an ethical conflict for the lawyer if your interests become adverse to the association’s. As a result, HOA legal counsel will rarely take calls from homeowners.


Herb Garden #1. Your recommendation re “Herb Garden” is a hoot! Your newsletter is such a painless way to get our dose of Association reality. Keep up the great work! -Nancy H.

Herb Garden #2. Use common sense as Judge Larry S. suggested?? Judging from events at home and abroad, I’d say that ship sailed long ago. Maybe too many trips through the herb garden by those in control?? -Wayne W.

Herb Garden #3. I have to email you! Thank you for making me laugh this morning with your response on the herb garden question. I can’t stop laughing, maybe because I don’t cook. -Lorna L.

Herb Garden #4. Your tongue in cheek remark about being nice to anyone who smokes your herbs is lost in a haze of smoke! I suggest you stick to legal advice and leave the humor to the late night pros. -Tom D.

Herb Garden #5. Too funny! -Kit C.

Herb Garden #6. The board should review with their insurance professional the “Products and Completed Operations Hazard” coverage included in the typical HOA liability policy. While the “product” of herbs grown by the HOA may be considered covered, the policy language typically limits coverage to consumption away from premises owned by the insured. The caveat is coverage for goods and services designed for consumption on premises if that is the type of business the insured is in. As such, injury caused by food borne illness may not be covered if the HOA is the provider of the product. -Michael Berg, MBA, CIRMS, CMCA, Berg Insurance Agency

RESPONSE: Insurance is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.


Election Tampering. Another option is to put the remaining directors on notice that if they don’t do something they would be in breach of their fiduciary duties. Next, I would confront the alleged offender with benefit of counsel in executive session and ask him/her for their resignation and then threaten to bring civil action for violation of the association’s rules. Third, I would notify the D&O carrier of the possible breach. I think they would be seriously concerned about coverage of an association that looks the other way when there is serious breach such as this. -Doug C.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Herb Garden

QUESTION: Can our association be at risk for planting herbs in the common areas if someone eats them and becomes ill? Will our insurance cover us?

ANSWER: For those under thirty who get their meals from a drive-through window, “herbs” are plants used for flavoring foods. Cooks use the leafy parts of the plant. Can an association be at risk if they plant an herb garden? That’s unlikely.

The negligence standard applied to this issue will look to a foreseeable risk of harm. Is it foreseeable someone will pluck leafs from the plants and use them in their cooking? Yes. If is foreseeable they will keel over and die? No. Could they get an upset stomach? If they’re a bad cook, maybe. Could someone roll them into a joint and smoke them? With kids today, anything is possible. Is it probable? No.

RECOMMENDATION: I don’t see a problem with planting an herb garden. Since you raised insurance concerns, call your agent to see if the policy has an exclusion for herbs. I can’t imagine it does. Also, be nice to anyone who smokes your herbs, they could be the next president of your association…or the United States. You never know.


QUESTION: We have a director who was caught alone with ballots, shredding envelopes and making identifying marks on the inner envelopes. Can you shed some light on ballot tampering and what we can do if the director is elected to the board?

ANSWER: It’s appropriate that your question falls on the 40th anniversary of Watergate.

Election Standards. The California Legislature set clear election standards for tamper-free elections. It did so by requiring double sealed-envelopes (Civ. Code §5115), independent inspectors of election (Civ. Code §5110), and public opening of  ballots and tabulation of votes (Civ. Code §5120). Associations are also required to adopt election rules to meet these (and other) standards. (Civ. Code §5105.)

RECOMMENDATION: If election shenanigans are discovered and the director gets himself elected, the membership has four options:

1. The easiest is to sit on their hands and do nothing. This is popular in many associations but tends to be costly–a director without ethical standards running the association.

2.  The next option is to demand a recount and an inspection of the ballots. (Civ. Code §5125.)

3. A third option is to initiate a recall. If the evidence is clear, the membership can vote the scoundrel out of office. This requires a lot of energy, especially if you have cumulative voting.

4. Assuming the evidence is strong, members can bring a civil action for injunctive relief to void the election and order a new one. (Civ. Code §5145.) This requires a lot of money. However, it may be possible to take it to small claims court. If so, the cost would be minimal.

Thank you to attorney Cang Le for his work on this question.


Attorney Cang Le will be in San Francisco speaking to other attorneys on August 22, 2014 at the Practicing Law Institute’s program on homeowners associations.

Cang will address the legal structure governing HOAs and key management concerns for resolving conflicts between HOAs and owners. For more information, see Practicing Law Institute website.


Legal Advice #1. I love this newsletter. There are reasons to ignore an attorney’s advice. One reason is if the advice is clearly incorrect (or if the attorney does not carefully explain why they think they are correct when we think they are wrong). -Bert D.

RESPONSE: Also, if it’s clearly wrong, it may be time to get a new attorney.

Legal Advice #2. It behooves anyone making decisions to weigh the attorney’s advice along with any and all other information they have gained over a lifetime before putting their fame or fortune at risk. As I always told the jurors in my court: “You are not required to leave your common sense outside the courtroom. Bring it with you. You are the eyes, ears, and conscience of the community.” So too are board members “the eyes, ears, and conscience of their HOAs and the people who live and work there.” They should listen to everybody all the time, including the attorneys but not exclusively to the attorneys. -Larry S.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Executive Session Minutes

QUESTION: A new board wants to review the executive meeting minutes for the last two years. Only one member of this five member board is an incumbent. Does the new board have the right to review another board’s executive meeting minutes and if so, how far back can they demand?

ANSWER: With some narrow exceptions, all board members have the right to review all executive session minutes as far back as they want to go. It does not matter that they were not on previous boards.

Exceptions. Minutes are the historical records of the corporation. By statute, directors have the right to review them. Even so, despite the broad language in the Corporations Code, the right is not absolute. Courts have carved out exceptions involving privacy issues and conflicts of interest.

RECOMMENDATION. If your board has concerns about records as they relate to a specific director, they should talk to legal counsel.


Attorneys Jasmine Fisher and Cang Le will be presenters in a Webinar Series for managers put on by the California Association of Community Managers. The topic will be “Boxes, Bugs and Blights: How to Combat Hoarding in HOAs.”

The webinar will provide managers with an in-depth review of what qualifies as hoarding, provide strategies for dealing with hoarders, and identify resources that can be used.

The webinar will be held on August 19 from 11:00 am to noon. All community managers are invited to attend. CCAMs earn 1 CEU. Learn more and register at CACM Webinar Series.


Ignoring Legal Advice. I found your article extremely interesting. I’m afraid some will take your comments to mean boards can ignore  advice they disagree with. Could you please clarify what you mean? -Marc B.

RESPONSE: A careful reading of my article would not lead to that conclusion. But, I have no doubt some  knucklehead on a board somewhere would do just that or, in the alternative, advocate attorney shopping until he gets the opinion he wants.

Clear Direction. A good HOA attorney will always tell directors what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Some legal opinions are crystal clear, “No, you can’t do that!” Or, “If you want to call a meeting, here is what the law requires.”

Options. Many times, however, boards are presented with options–Option A or Option B (and sometimes, Option C). The board must then weigh the risks and rewards of each and make a business decision. The attorney might recommend Option A. But, because they are all viable options, the board might weigh factors differently and choose Option C.

Business Judgment. Did they just ignore legal counsel and breach their fiduciary duties? No, they listened, weighed the choices and arrived at a different conclusion. Is it possible there could be fallout? Certainly. If Option C goes badly, so could the membership. Nonetheless, directors are protected from personal liability if they followed the Business Judgment Rule.


Citizen’s Arrest #1.  I wish ALL would follow Linda H’s way of thinking before barking! Common sense is good for the mind and it’s actions. As for George G. and his remark, that is what a newsletter is intended for, helping and protecting no matter what the topic is. It is disturbing if you think this behavior should be on display for all eyes young and old. -Steve C.

Citizen’s Arrest #2. Judging from George G’s remarks, he must engage in the same behavior as the neighbor in the next building. -Will B.

Citizen’s Arrest #3. My comment for George G: If he is exposing himself publicly even through his window he is not “legally viewing” and obscenity and indecency are “illegal content” per the Supreme Court. So I think AK is giving sound legal advice. -Rich S.

Citizen’s Arrest #4. Perhaps George G. might be the one viewing the “legal” movies with his drapes open! He should be the one ashamed of himself! Thanks for my laugh this morning! -Nat R.


Empty Pool. Our HOA considers the pool water a good source for non-potable needs during a disaster.  -John M.

RESPONSE: A valid consideration. An earthquake could rupture water lines with a complete shutdown of the system (as just happened in Los Angeles with a loss of 20 million gallons of water), leaving homeowners with no water for days or weeks. A pool full of water could be a Godsend.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Ignoring Legal Advice

QUESTION: If the association sought and paid for a legal opinion, is the board violating their fiduciary duty if they ignore the opinion?

ANSWER: If board members stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to listen to legal counsel, that’s a problem. But, if they listen to the attorney’s advice, weigh it against other factors and reach a different conclusion, they are not in breach of their fiduciary duties.

Independent Decision. Boards are not required to let experts and lawyers make decisions for them. For example, an attorney and a termite expert might both advise a board to tent their condo buildings to stop a termite infestation. After taking into account the cost of tenting, the financial condition of the association, and the disruption to members who must be moved out of their buildings, the board can decide to spot-treat even though tenting is the superior method.

Business Judgment. This was the scenario in a case that made it all the way to the California Supreme Court. The Court sided with the board and held that,

where a duly constituted community association board, upon reasonable investigation, in good faith and with regard for the best interests of the community association and its members, exercises discretion…to select among means for discharging an obligation to maintain and repair a development’s common areas, courts should defer to the board’s authority and presumed expertise. (Lamden v. La Jolla Shores; Corp. Code §7231(a).)

Bad Advice. A second scenario under which boards can deviate from legal advice is when they believe the attorney is not knowledgeable or reliable in the issues presented. For example, if a divorce lawyer offers legal advice about HOA corporate matters, the board can (and should) disregard the advice. Instead, they should seek counsel from an experienced corporate attorney with expertise in community association law.

RECOMMENDATION: Boards should be cautious about discounting competent legal counsel. If directors are uncertain about the advice given, they should get a second opinion.



Empty Pool #1. “Finding a body at the bottom of an empty pool has a way of driving down property values. Plus there is the problem of cleaning up the mess.” Love your wry humor. -Kit C.

Empty Pool #2. I see that you have wisely drawn upon the expertise of a professional (Design Build Associates) who clearly understand the physics of what might happen if an HOA were to drain its swimming pool. Thanks to you Adrian and your staff for your right-on response to this question! -S. Ross

Empty Pool #3. Instead of draining the pool, a pool cover can save a lot of water and heat. With the water shortage and the price of water increasing, they may be worth it. There are products that claim to inhibit evaporation and thus save water and heat. One such product is the ECOSAVR. -Harvey C.

Empty Pool #4. Another consideration is fire danger. Is the pool likely to be a source of water during an fire? -Dennis F.

Empty Pool #5. Our association had considered draining the pool but dismissed the idea because of advice from a soils engineer. What he suggested, which seems to be working, is putting a cover over the pool when not in use. It’s bit of a hassle but seems to be worth it in terms of slowing evaporation and the resultant costs. -Nancy H.

Empty Pool #6. How do people with double-digit IQs get through life? If we drain our three pools, does the water go into a little private aquifer account, with some of it allotted to the potable water bins? How does draining a pool save water? Our pools were drained seven years ago for, as you pointed out, replastering and to repair some leaks. Other than that, they cost us little in water use. I’m flummoxed. -Linda H.


Social Events #1. It is my understanding that board members attending the “Coffee Klatch” are prohibited from discussing association business as this constitutes a violation of the Open Meeting Act. -M.H.

RESPONSE: You’re correct. A quorum of the board cannot attend a coffee klatch if board business will be heard or discussed. That would turn the social gathering into a board meeting (Civ. Code §4090(a)), which would require proper notice to the membership and posting an agenda (Civ. Code §4920(a)).

Social Events #2. Anyone who disputes what their board does, needs to run for the board instead of just complaining, that’s what I did. -Alice O.

RESPONSE: If people can’t complain, they wouldn’t have anything to talk about. That would be distressing.


Citizen’s Arrest #1.
Regarding lewd acts in the neighboring building, his unit can probably be seen from several units and floors. Who knows when a child may be visiting. He is obviously aware of the situation as he increased his exposure after being told. I would have the police intercede as it should be considered public if being done in a way that it is purposely visible to others. If warned and repeated it could go down as a lewd act and, although maybe a misdemeanor, may be upgradable after a couple of times. This yo-yo could end up as a Penal Code §290 registrant. -Emile R.

Citizen’s Arrest #2. I generally find the newsletter refreshing and often helpful but this week I just find it wrong and objectionable and find it difficult to believe that your firm would put something like that out there. I can not believe that a law firm would choose to call a person who is legally viewing legal content on their own TV a miscreant. Are you really that judgmental and that prudish that you feel free to insult someone for doing something you may not find to your taste yet completely legal? Really too bad! I think you should be ashamed of yourselves. -George G.

Citizen’s Arrest #3. Why not get someone (with a strong stomach) to videotape what’s going on across the way? If the miscreant knows he could be “exposed” for what he is in a court of law, including all his “shortcomings,” he might think again. Also, are there children in the building who have a view of his antics? Seems like a follow-up in that quarter might be helpful. -Nancy H.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Draining the Pool to Save Water

QUESTION: Since we are in a severe drought and our members barely use the pool, are we obligated to keep it open? It seems like a waste of water and money and we would like to drain it. Does the board have the authority to close the pool?

ANSWER: If they have good reason, boards can close and drain a pool. Often it’s done when a pool needs to be replastered. The closure is short-term and the pool refilled with water. Your scenario is different since the closure would be long-term. Doing so could damage your pool.

In-Ground Pools. In-ground fiberglass and concrete pools are built to withstand the pressure of dirt against them when drained. Even so, ground pressure on fiberglass pools can cause side walls and floors to bulge and split. If ground water is high enough, hydrostatic pressure can cause an empty concrete pool to act like a ship and float several inches. This will break the coping/bond beam and damage the surrounding decks and pipes. Insurance does not cover such damage.

UV Damage. Pools built on solid concrete foundations or in a concrete vault are immune to hydrostatic pressure. However, they are not immune to solar damage. Direct sunlight will dry out plaster, causing spider cracks and tiles to pop off. When the pool is eventually refilled, water will seep into the cracks causing the plaster to blister and crumble. This is also not covered by insurance.

Safety Issues. The possibility of someone taking a swan dive into an empty pool should keep boards up at night. Associations that drain their pools should make sure they lock their gates and post warning signs. Even so, drunks have been known to climb fences for midnight swims. Finding a body at the bottom of an empty pool has a way of driving down property values. Plus there is the problem of cleaning up the mess.

RECOMMENDATION: Before an association drains its pool to save money, the board should talk to a pool construction expert, their insurance broker, and legal counsel.

Thank you to Les Jillson of Design Build Associates Construction Management for his valuable insights on this issue.


QUESTION: Our highrise building looks onto another highrise where a resident regularly watches porn on his big screen TV. We asked the neighboring building manager to encourage him to lower his shades. This had the opposite effect. He now leaves his shades completely open, watching in the nude and single-handedly participating. Do we have any recourse?

ANSWER: That is an ugly visual. If the porn junkie is in a building that is not part of your association, your options are limited.

Police. The police can be notified. They will talk to the resident but not arrest him unless they witnessed the illicit activity. To arrest him, you would have to accompany the police to the building and make a citizen’s arrest. Penal Code §837 states, “A private person may arrest another: (1) For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence…”

Public Offense. A “public offense” is defined as a felony, misdemeanor or infraction. (Penal Code §16). Is your neighbor’s behavior a public offense? According to California Penal Code §647(a), engaging in lewd conduct in a public place is a misdemeanor.

The catch is the “public place” part of the statute. Lewd conduct by a lone adult in the privacy of his home wouldn’t normally interest the police or the courts. In your situation, your neighbor is knowingly making his conduct visible to his neighbors. Accordingly, action can be taken.

RECOMMENDATION: Before you rush over and make a citizen’s arrest, you should consider the possibility of retaliation. It’s clear your lewd neighbor does not have any boundaries. If a visit by the police does not resolve the problem, your best bet may be a strongly worded lawyer letter to the miscreant.


Social Events #1. When I bring a buyer to show homes, the number one impression is the curb appeal of my community and not social events the association is providing once or twice a year. Money is better spent on beautifying the neighborhood. The goal of the Davis-Stirling Act is keeping home values at the highest possible price by the principle of uniformity and not social events. -Aniko S.

Social Events #2. Three members of our board hold a coffee klatch “social event” every day for two to three hours beginning at 7 a.m. Although it’s open to all residents, it is the same clique of seven or eight people–board members and their spouses and friends. Owners have complained that this type of chit-chat could be held in their private residences, to no avail. The coffee klatch does not create a sense of community, it creates divisiveness, especially at a time when the HOA is strapped for funds needed for dire deferred maintenance repairs in the common area. -Christine B.

I suspect the other side will argue that the coffee klatch has a positive effect and the cost is negligible, i.e., the cost of coffee grounds. But, if the community has not embraced the concept, it may be time for the board to reevaluate its utility.

Social Events #3. Relationships are the glue that hold an HOA community together. If the social event dollars are disclosed to the members in the annual budget and the budgeted dollars are a small percentage of the total budget then, yes, hold the social events and build that community feeling. -Phyllis H.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or

Social Events

QUESTION: Can the board use association funds for social events? Our CC&Rs are silent on the subject.

ANSWER: Unless governing documents specifically prohibit it, HOAs can budget for, assess and spend association monies on social events.

Generic Language. More often than not, there is generic language in governing documents allowing associations to make decisions for the “general health, welfare, comfort and safety” of the membership. A variation is: “The Association may undertake any lawful activity, function or service for the benefit of Owners.” Authorizing language is often found in the preamble of the CC&Rs, in addition to the general powers section, and in the assessments section describing the purpose of assessments. It can also be found in the bylaws and articles of incorporation.

Social Event Benefits. Do social events fall under “health, welfare and safety” categories? I believe they do. Part of being a community is knowing your neighbors, interacting with them and developing a positive community identity. Social events help make that happen. Knowing your neighbors also enhances general security for the association. Finally, developing a reputation for a positive community identity raises property values.

RECOMMENDATION: As in all things, moderation. Boards should not go overboard with extravagant parties. HOAs should also be careful about alcohol at their events and check into insurance. Then get everyone together and have steak and beer or cheese and wine, depending on your political persuasion. (I prefer both…does that make me an Independent or simply indecisive? I can’t decide.)


I am very pleased to announce that attorney William Dunlevy has joined Adams Kessler as Of Counsel.

Community Ties. A native of California, Bill has been a mainstay of the Ventura County community for over thirty years. His wife taught in public schools in Oxnard and his son is a Deputy District Attorney for the County. Bill has been a long time member of the Ventura Lions Club where he served as President, District Governor and then Chairman of the California Council of Governors.

CAI. Bill’s 29-year involvement with the Channel Islands Chapter of the Community Associations Institute has been a boon to the Chapter. Bill served multiple terms on its board of directors and twice as President. He was the founding editor of the Chapter’s highly acclaimed magazine Channels of Communication and served as editor for 26 years. He has twice been honored as Author of the Year and three times received the prestigious Distinguished Service Award.

HOA Law. Bill Dunlevy is a veteran community association attorney with over 35 years experience. He serves as legal counsel for associations in Ventura, Kern, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles counties and provides service in all areas of community association law with an emphasis on governing document interpretation and enforcement, alternative dispute resolution, governing document revision, business advice, corporate affairs, contract review, common area repair planning, and litigation.

Education. Bill graduated with highest honors from UC Davis with dual majors in history and political science. He is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi national honor societies. After graduating from Davis, Bill went on to earn a Juris Doctorate from UCLA Law School.

Contact Us. Bill Dunlevy is a significant addition to the firm. We welcome his broad knowledge and experience in HOA law. To request a proposal for legal services, contact us by email or by phone at (800) 464-2817.


Drought #1. Adrian … you crack me up with “pray for rain.” -Kurt V.

Drought #2. Be careful what you pray for–remember 2005? -Bill

RESPONSE: Below is a chart of average annual rainfall for Ventura County. The red line is the average. As you can see, we are in a serious drought. I’m thinking maybe three years of rain like 2005 is in order.

Drought #3. As always another great newsletter. Thank you for your service to HOAs all over California. The state has stopped watering the capitol lawns and removed seasonal plantings during this drought. The once beautiful grounds are looking thread bare right now. Home owners and associations should be setting aside the money they save from not using water to bring back plantings and lawns when the drought ends (which it will). -Paul C.

Adrian Adams, Esq.
Adams Kessler PLC

“Legal solutions through knowledge, insight and experience.” We are friendly lawyers; you can contact us at (800) 464-2817 or