Can a homeowner unravel an HOA or Condo election in small claims court?
I just received from a reader of my blogs a request to review a new law AB712 just signed by the Gov. of California that discusses a claimant’s rights in small claims court. The “question” posed to me was:
“ The Governor signed AB 712 Sunday night – a new law for small claims court judges that says one can sue in small claims court for equitable or injunctive relief. … What does that mean? That a small claims court can – for example — order the association to open up the records or order the election ballots to be recounted ?? — or the election to be done over??”
I love it when people follow my blog and bring ME information and ask good questions. First order of business is to link you to the actual law AB 712. Next, yes, I read it. Yes, an owner can ask for an injunction” in small claims court. There are some key phrases in the new law, the first of which is:
“SEC. 2. Nothing in this act is intended to expand, or to encourage
the expansion of, the jurisdiction of the small claims court.”
Thus, the new law does not give a person the right to request an injunction in all cases. For the limits, see the next key phrase:
"(5) For an injunction or other equitable relief only when a
statute expressly authorizes a small claims court to award that
So, what is “equitable relief” and what is an “injunction”? “Equitable Relief” means a judgment that does not involve dollars, but instead some kind of court order for something else. An “injunction” is a form of “equitable relief” such as a court order to do something or to stop doing something, to produce something, or to move or remove something, or the like.
It is good to put the above in context – the new law does not expand on rights to ask for an “injunction”, rather it limits it to situations only when the underlying law allows it.
This person asked the questions in context of an HOA or Condo election. She wanted to know if a small claims hearing officer could give an order that requires an HOA or Condo Board do a recount or do the whole election over.
I would say the judge or referee could “void” the election but not give other injunctive relief. Whether he or she could order a new election is a good question. Civil Code Section 1363.09 which is the “remedies” statute for the HOA elections laws found at Civil Code Section 1363.03-.04, says a court can void an election but doesn’t say anything about rescheduling one. Thus a small claims judge or hearing officer could, if they felt that it was warranted because of legal violations, void an election. It would take a higher Superior Court order to give any variation of relief.
Thus the law allows a member of an HOA or Condo Association to bring a “civil” action (which would include small claims) for an “injunction”, among other remedies. The law allows the giving of an “injunction” that would “… void any results of the election.”
I believe such an order could take into consideration any violations in the election rules, the elections process, or the election itself in considering whether such an order is warranted.
Don’t assume, however, that an injunction would be automatic for any election misstep. The elections law presents a lot of difficulties for associations, a lot of technical steps, and is not really a one size fits all. In addition, attorneys in California disagree on what the requirements of elections are, both in regular elections because of conflicts between the statute and many CC&Rs, and in recall elections because of conflicts between the Corporations Code and the Davis Stirling Act Elections Code.
A judge or hearing officer, in considering any equitable relief requests, would consider all the facts, the evidence, the process as it occurred, and what is the most fair result and, especially, whether there is or what law entitles the party to the specific relief requested. Equitable relief is about fairness as well as legal authority.