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Common Interest Living

Use Voice and a Vote to Improve Situation

April 01, 2001|STEPHEN GLASSMAN and DONIE VANITZIAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: In question-and-answer columns I have yet to read an answer addressing the rapidly diminishing quality-of-life issue for some of us living in common interest developments with homeowners associations.

Our family is considered middle class. Some homeowners are on fixed incomes and others are barely making it.

It appears to me that in California, the restrictive covenant has been redefined to restrict the lives of those of us living in common interest developments. I feel utterly helpless because I am only one vote out of many that dominate how I now live.

I keep hearing the California Legislature refer to this type of housing as "affordable." They should see what this is costing me and others like me. Is there anything I can do?

Answer: Would you allow yourself to be dominated in any other context? If the answer to that is no, then why do you allow that to happen here?

Your one vote may be the impetus that others who feel as you do need to gain the confidence to vote with you.

Here is a plan for you to consider:

First, begin by becoming familiar with your governing documents, usually the covenants, conditions and restrictions. Second, look at your association's bylaws. Determine exactly what the association can and cannot do. Third, when your association acts in a way you believe is beyond the limits of its authority, call those acts into question via a letter to your board and keep a copy for your files.

Next, meet your neighbors, if you haven't already done so. You might be surprised to learn that they may hold the same views you do about your quality of life, about your board, about living in the neighborhood. These people can become valuable allies.

Try to build alliances. Collect proxies. Consider running for the board. Your other option: acquiesce and continue to watch your quality of life and your investment be devalued.

Last, you may have to consider a lawsuit against the board. Unfortunately, in California and many other states, the only real alternative to a recalcitrant board is the legal system. This can be costly, time-consuming and seemingly unproductive.

However, if it becomes apparent that homeowners' lawsuits are increasing as the method of enforcing homeowners' rights, perhaps the legislature will change the law to make boards more responsive to their homeowners.

Board Responsible for Verifying Name on Title

Q: For the last four years, our homeowners association board has refused to put my name on documents mailed to my family. Its members removed me from the board because they said I do not own my unit because my name is not on the title.

The board did not do a proper title check. If it had, it would have seen my name on title. I showed the board a certified copy of the title report and still it refuses to correct its records.

Do I have a duty to have the county recorder's office send the board and management company a certified copy, and why should I have to do the job of the management company?

A: Your delivery was good enough and it is irrelevant whether you provide, show or tell the board about the names on your title. You made the board aware of the names on title, putting both the homeowners association and the board on notice that they need to correct it. You don't have to get the county recorder to send a copy to the board.

It doesn't matter whether the management company or the board believes you, California law places the responsibility for title checks on the board, even though the board may turn that responsibility over to a management company. You can resend the title report to the board by certified mail, return receipt, but it will still have to be verified by the board.

The actions of a board and management company in removing you as a board member may be in violation of your association's codes, covenants and restrictions and bylaws. Check them; they should specify the reasons a member may be removed from the board.

The reason the board used for refusing to allow you to continue must be one that is in the governing documents. If not, you have a right to sue, but using a mediator might be a cost-effective and less stressful way to resolve this matter.

*

Stephen Glassman is a writer and attorney in private practice specializing in corporate and business law. Donie Vanitzian has written about American civil liberties, has a law degree and is an arbitrator. Both live in common interest developments and have served on various association boards. Please send questions to. Common Interest Living, P.O. Box 451278, Los Angeles, CA 90045 or e-mail: CID CommonSense@aol.com.

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