Question: I am fed up with my homeowners association and successive boards for sabotaging owner requests for records and refusing to fix maintenance problems in common areas that directly affect individual units. I believe I have no other choice than to sue the association and the boards. What are the steps I have to take?
Answer: Suing to obtain association records and suing to force an association to fix common-area problems are different types of lawsuits. The former can typically be done in Small Claims Court. The latter must be brought in Superior Court; in such cases, consulting with an attorney to assess your chances of winning might be helpful.
The only place you are not liable for attorney's fees if you lose is in Small Claims Court, and that is probably where you should start.
An action alleging the unreasonable failure of the association to deliver the records, if proved, is a violation of Civil Code Section 1365.2(f) entitling you to the records and $500. Every time the association refuses to provide the records, you can go back to Small Claims Court and get another order for the records and request another $500.
After your demand for records, you will have to wait for the time limits in the Civil Code to expire before going to court, but don't delay.
Your evidence should include a copy of the letter you wrote to the board requesting the records, the fact that the records you asked for were not provided and proof of the date that the request was mailed. Small Claims Court allows you to subpoena those documents; the form can be obtained from the court in which you file.
Although not necessary for Small Claims actions, in Superior Court you will need to abide by the arbitration requirements found in the Davis-Stirling Act. A Superior Court lawsuit for the board's failure to make repairs would probably require that you contact an attorney experienced in representing titleholders with property in common-interest developments.
Before filing a lawsuit in Superior Court, review recent cases involving associations in your area by doing a "party" search of the lawsuits filed that include the phrase "homeowner association" or "community association" or variations of such words. Look for cases in which the judgment was against the association and consult the attorney who won that lawsuit. That attorney will be familiar with the procedures. Although it may be tempting, do not try to file a lawsuit in Superior Court on your own.
Lawsuits are costly. But if you properly bring one against the association or its directors and you succeed, the court must order the association to pay your attorney's fees in addition to any costs and damages.
Send questions to Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.