What Can A Small Claims Judge Do to an HOA or Condo Association?

I just did a blog on my other blog site (which you can access from the mainpage of my website) and I think readers of this blog would be jut as interested in the subject so I am re-posting it here.

A common question is how much teeth does the law have? In otherwords, what can an owner do if he or she thinks that a board is not following the law? Here’s the specific question for today that was sent by a reader:

“I discovered some of your excellent Internet material today and have a question about cases in Small Claims Court involving damages for violations of law by homeowner associations when the statutes do not seem to specify any damages.  For example, if an association deliberately
violates a board member’s right to be present at a board meeting, would the judge conclude that that is very interesting, but no financial damages will be ordered by the court (I realize that there may be some non-financial consequences such as a decision that the board
meeting may be void).”

A small claims court judge or referree would likely ask the owner why they are in court, and what they want. There are no monetary loss type of damages specified as a consequence of violating the requirement of allowing owners to attend open meetings or address the board at such a meeting. For this particular question though there are potential consequences in the form of a $500 fine that the judge may impose for any violation of the Open Meetings Act at Civil Code Section 1363.05. The remedies for violation of the Article that encompasses this statute are in Civil Code Section 1363.09. They may not seem clearly stated to a layperson but a judge should understand them.

There is of course, the story of the “other side” to consider and the Judge will want to hear it. Maybe there is a good reason for ousting an owner from meetings.

It is not as easy to find a remedy for something like a board’s avoidance of the law requiring it to send out an IDR-ADR or insurance summary or being rude to owners at meetings as one cannot generally show any monetary loss for that.

The small claims judges were given additional authority though, last year by some new law that justifies “injunction” relief if the underlying law that is violated allows for it. It is a somewhat complicated get around but if a person (or board) is trying to enforce a CC&R restriction and takes it to small claims court looking for the judge to order someone to do or stop doing something, and the judge reviews the CC&Rs and sees that owners or the board can get “equitable relief” for the violation (which is an order to do or not do something), a judge or referee might take it upon themselves to make this connection and render an order.

Are you confused yet?

I have done earlier blogs on small claims court remedies at the California Condo & HOA Law blog, and am considering doing an E-Newsletter in the coming months on the topic. So sign up for the free E-News at the website if you want to stay on top of things.

As for a simple answer to the general subject of small claims, there are a number of monetary remedies now in the Davis Stirling Act embedded in some of the laws, which were put there by legislators to promote consequences. One has to look for them, and getting good legal advice (I emphasize good – never hurts).

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