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Homeowners' right to attend meetings supersedes association's rules

Efforts to exclude owners are illegal and any increase in annual fees not voted on by titleholders is invalid.

March 20, 2011|By Stephen Glassman and Donie Vanitzian

Question: It doesn't matter what the law says, our board's attitude is "You don't like it, sue us." Owners are prevented from attending meetings because our board says the governing documents don't specifically state that owners can attend. They prevent us from obtaining requested documents. They ignore homeowners' letters. Our association fees keep rising without plausible explanation. Owners can't get copies of the full insurance policies, just half-baked summary sheets devoid of information. For the last four years no pro forma budgets have been produced.

Directors make up rules as they go along and have an attorney helping them do this at owners' expense. We keep asking to see attorney invoices but are denied. Our living conditions have become so restrictive that no one's happy here. The attorney defends board actions by saying it's the board's job to make rules. Do owners have any rights against these kinds of actions?

Answer: The board seems to be scaring titleholders into not exercising their rights. Owners must be consistent with their demands and not give up.

When it comes to who is permitted to attend association board meetings, the Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act, Civil Code section 1363.05, supersedes your association's governing documents. Section 1363.05(b) states that "any member of the association may attend meetings of the board of directors of the association." Efforts to exclude homeowners are a violation of the law, making your board, and its attorney, lawbreakers.

Understanding key sections of the Davis-Stirling Act found in Civil Code sections 1350-1378 is a starting point. Any increase in annual fees not voted on by titleholders is invalid and need not be paid if the board fails to prepare and distribute all required documents. Any lawsuit by the board against titleholders for not paying illegal dues increases is very likely to result in a judgment in favor of the owner and an order requiring the association to reimburse that owner for any attorney fees incurred. Overpayments as a result of the illegal assessments may have to be refunded to each titleholder.

Civil Code section 1363.2 lists the documents that must be provided to a titleholder upon request and the time limits within which they must be produced and/or delivered. Under that code section, every titleholder is entitled to request all the documents listed and should do so in writing. If the documents are not produced, each titleholder may bring his or her own action in Small Claims Court for an order compelling production and for payment by the association to the titleholder of $500 for each such request that was unreasonably withheld.

Although the board may have discretion to propose rules, it must also make sure that it follow the law in creating such rules and distribute those rules to every titleholder. That must be done within the time limits set forth beginning with Civil Code section 1357.100. If the board fails to follow the directives in those laws, the rules may be invalid and need not be obeyed.

Attorneys who collect fees while watching boards break the law should be reported to the State Bar of California.

Send questions to P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail

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