Legal Obligations and Liabilities of Condominium Homeowners’ Associations in Common Areas in California Law


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Under California law, condominium homeowners associations have certain requirements that they must meet regarding the maintenance and repair of the common areas. It is important that they understand their obligations and that members know their rights.

Maintenance of Common Areas

The minimum requirements mandate that condominium homeowners associations maintain common areas, including repairing or replacing things. If there are exclusive use common areas, the owners of the separate interests are responsible for maintaining it.

The condominium’s declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions often maintain heightened requirements for these areas. The common areas often include anything beyond the individual condominium units. The homeowners association may be required to maintain the common stairways, walkways, elevator, private driveways, parking area and building exterior. The restrictions may also mandate that these repairs be of a certain quality.

Exclusive Use Rule

An exclusive use common area is a portion of the common area that is meant to be used by one or fewer than all of the condominium owners. Some examples of exclusive use common areas include window boxes, balconies, patios, stoops, porches and awnings. However, the covenants, conditions and restrictions can further define and broaden the term “exclusive use common area.”

Anticipated Future Repairs

The condominium homeowners association also has legal obligations to reasonably anticipate and plan for future repairs to the common areas. This requirement may include reviewing a current reconciliation of the condominium homeowners association reserve accounts on a quarterly basis, reviewing the current year’s actual reserves and expenses compared to the current year’s budget, reviewing the latest account statements where the reserve accounts are located or reviewing an income and expense statement that details the operating and reserve accounts. Additionally, the condominium homeowners association is responsible for conducting a visual inspection of the common areas that the association is required to maintain at least every three years. This inspection is part of a larger study of the reserve account requirements. The board is responsible for reviewing the consider and making necessary adjustments based on the reserve account requirements.

This study involves the identification of all major components that the association is required to maintain and that have a remaining useful life of less than 30 years from the date of the study, the identification of the likely remaining useful life of the components identified, estimating the cost of repair, replacement or maintenance of these components and estimating the annual contribution necessary to defray these costs after taking into account the reserve funds. The reserve funding plan indicates how the condominium homeowners association plans to fund the contributions to meet their obligation for the repair and replacement of the identified components with the remaining life of 30 years or less, except for those components that the board has determined that it will not replace or repair. The plan should include a schedule regarding the amount of change in regular or special assessments and the dates when these charges will be assessed. The board of directors must adopt this plan.

Actions Against Condominium Homeowners Associations

If the homeowners association fails to carry out its duty to maintain common areas, the members of the association may bring a legal action against it. These types of claims may be based on details such as the association failing to undertake maintenance of plumbing lines, stairways, elevators or other common areas that the association has the duty to repair, replace or maintain.

Additionally, members of the association can file a legal action against the homeowners association to enforce the maintenance, repair or replacement obligations under the covenants, conditions and restrictions. However, the courts often refer to the homeowners association board’s decision or discretion when regarding matters pertaining to maintenance. The members are less likely to prevail in cases in which they disagree with the methods used by the association rather than the fact that they did not perform the maintenance obligations altogether. In some cases, the members are able to recover the costs of litigation if they prevail in the case.

Contact an Experienced Real Estate Lawyer for Assistance

If you are impacted by a condominium homeowners association’s rules, restrictions, covenants, conditions, addendum or other agreement, it is important to contact a real estate lawyer who has experience in condominium homeowner associations. A real estate lawyer can review the relevant documents to determine the extent of the association’s duties and obligations as well as the member’s right to having the property properly maintained.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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