ADVERSE IMPACT ON “QUIET ENJOYMENT” IN YOUR HOA, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Legalese is challenging sometimes. Words and phrases like fiduciary duty, waiver and hold harmless, and impact on quiet enjoyment are bandied about like everyone should know that they mean.
Most HOA or condo documents have a prohibition of some kind on activities that disturb the “quiet enjoyment” of an owner.
What does that mean? That everyone can expect the place to be “quiet” at all times. Does it just relate to noise?
No. it doesn’t. It relates to anything that disturbs the manner in which you enjoy your home. Here is the legal definition:…
“Quiet Enjoyment” is a covenant that promises that the grantee or tenant of an estate in real property will be able to possess the premises in peace, without disturbance by hostile claimants.
Still sounds like legalese, right? Well that definition came out of a law dictionary so what do you expect?
In lay terms, “Quiet Enjoyment” is a right to the undisturbed use and enjoyment of real property. The right to quiet enjoyment is contained in CC&Rs in California (covenants, conditions, and restrictions) recorded against the properties in a planned development (townhomes or single family homes) or condominium (units of airspace within a building). . Generally a covenant is an agreement between two parties to do or refrain from doing something.
It’s not just about noise, it can be about obscene gesturing, offensive signs, loud noises, obnoxious people or animals, extraneous offensive lighting, unusual traffic in and out at all hours, etc.
So here is the question I received by email after writing back to an owner that the problem was too specific for a blog:
“I guess I was too long winded. The short question could be does an owner have any recourse when the HOA’s actions directly impact the owner’s “peaceful enjoyment” of the interior of their unit, specifically relating to common property lighting?”
The answer is this:
If the board has added lighting to the common area that is offensive to a resident, the owner of the home may have recourse from various angles.
An owner can enforce CC&Rs in California so if there is a “nuisance” clause prohibiting activities that disturb the quiet enjoyment of the property, an owner can seek resolution by approaching the board to negotiate a change, or can seek resolution under a theory of nuisance in court. Small claims court may not work for this but you can try. Ask for “nuisance damages” in a stated sum less than $10,000 (be reasonable or you may get laughed out of court). Don’t ask for the lights to be removed because that would be injunctive relief the judge or hearing officer would not likely give. (The explanation is technical, just take it on faith.)
There may be local ordinances preventing exterior lighting of various types or lumens, or certain directional lighting that might shine in someone’s window. Check the county or city records for limits and if the board violates a local code, talk to the City or County ordinance enforcement office.
Get your neighbors involved. 5% of the members can sign a petition in an incorporated HOA or condo association to force the board to call a meeting (there is lots more to know but this is a simple blog to point out options).
Get room darkening shades to block out unwanted nighttime lighting (or try earplugs or white noise to cover unpleasant noises).
Try to find out the motivation first so you know what you are up against in trying to fight offensive lighting. Maybe someone else complained about lack of lighting and fear of safety or crime-related issues.
The same things I have said here could apply in the situation of extremely offensive noise like early morning leaf blowing or construction or hardwood floor noise transmission. For the construction noise or blowing, there may be local sound transmission limits or hours restrictions. As for flooring, check local building codes related to floor noise transmission when new floors are installed, or restrictions in the governing documents that can be enforced.
For loud offensive noise coming from the neighbors, again, the path to pursue a nuisance is the same as noted above. If taking a matter to small claims court, if it is the kind of noise that would offend the average person, the hearing officer or judge might find it offensive enough to lay on punishment in the form of nuisance damages (which would be a money judgment).