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Condo Q & A

Finding Right Attorney for Association

July 31, 1994|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Hickenbottom is a past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization

QUESTION: I live in a 28-unit homeowner association in the San Fernando Valley. I was recently elected to serve on the board of directors. Our association needs to consult with an attorney about the meaning of our legal documents. How do we find an attorney that specializes in community association law? Were can we obtain a legal reference book that contains all of the laws that govern homeowner associations?

ANSWER: The Los Angeles County Bar Assn. has a referral line that you can call. The number is (213) 243-1525. Be sure to specify that you want to be referred to the panel of condominium and homeowner association attorneys. You will be provided with one attorney's name unless you state that you would like to interview more than one attorney. There is a $25 referral fee.

You can obtain a list of attorneys who are members of Community Assns. Institute by calling the Greater Los Angeles chapter at (310) 285-8286. There are several other CAI chapters throughout the state and the nation. The CAI chapter cannot endorse or recommend any particular lawyer, but a list of the attorney members can be provided to you.

An excellent, comprehensive legal reference book is available for $46.90 from the publisher, Capco, 1200 Pasep Camarillo, Suite 160, Camarillo, Calif. 93010. The book, called the California Community Assn. Reference Guide, contains portions of the Civil Code, Corporation Code, Code of Civil Procedure, Non-Profit Mutual Benefit Corporations Code, Health and Safety Code and Business and Professions Code that pertain to community associations, as well as Department of Real Estate regulations.

An abbreviated, pocket-sized reference book, the Condominium Bluebook, is available from Community Assns. Institute for $10, plus shipping and handling charges. All of the local CAI chapters throughout the state of California sell these and other helpful publications. Contact the local chapter.

Board Members Should Be in Good Standing

Q: Our association recently held its annual meeting and new board members were elected. One of the board members is delinquent in the payment of his monthly assessment. Some people believe that he ran for the board of directors so that he could have his delinquency forgiven when he became a board member. There is a rumor that he intends to sell his unit or make arrangements with the mortgage lender to release him from his financial obligations. What can be done if the rest of the board members go along with his scheme?

A: Your association's declaration or bylaws should be consulted. The documents may state that only members "in good standing" can be elected to serve on the board. In that case, the election could be challenged if less than nine months have elapsed since the meeting.

The board of directors is not the privileged class of the association. The board members must pay their monthly assessments just like all of the rest of the owners. All of the board members have a fiduciary duty to oversee the finances of the association in a prudent manner and enforce the collection procedures fairly and consistently. Failure to collect from one owner means that all the rest of the owners will eventually pick up the tab. This affects every owner.

You have the right to review the financial records if you believe that the board is failing to collect the delinquent assessments. Send a letter to the board requesting permission to have access the records. The board should respond to your request within 10 days. If the board fails to disclose information to you, that may be an indication that they are not actively pursuing the delinquency. The board may think that they should protect the delinquent owner's privacy but they also must consider the other owners right to know whether delinquent accounts are being collected. Board members can be held responsible if they fail to carry out their fiduciary duties. If you feel that the board members are willfully neglecting their responsibilities or if you want to challenge the election, consult an attorney who specializes in community association law.

How to Get Board of Directors' Attention

Q: My gated community has private streets that are maintained by the association. The paving in one of the cul de sacs has settled to the extent that water does not drain off properly. This results in stagnant puddles of rotting leaves and trash. The board of directors won't make the repairs. Can the affected homeowners withhold the monthly assessment? Can we open a separate bank account and pay our assessments into the account until the association makes the repairs?

If not, what can we do?

A: Never try to get your board's attention by withholding your monthly assessment. That is definitely the wrong approach, because most associations file liens against owners whose accounts are 60 or 90 days delinquent.

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