Summary

An insurance company can’t sue a condominium tenant in subrogation, even if they were negligent in starting a fire.

The Facts

The Declaration required the association to “obtain and maintain a … policy of all risk property insurance” for the association.  The Declaration also required the policy to name as insureds the unit owners and their bank mortgage holders (Mortgagees) and that “any insurance maintained by the association shall contain [a] ‘waiver of subrogation’ as to the Units and Mortgagees.”  Finally, the Declaration also prohibited the owners from obtaining fire insurance and required all occupants and tenants to comply with the Declaration.

One of the unit owners leased its commercial unit to the tenants (Defendant). The lease did not specify who would carry fire insurance. 
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Facts

When you are headed down the wrong path – TURN BACK.  This applies to owners and associations when they act on their belief of what their documents say, but then learn that their understanding may be wrong.  Often parties who make a mistake, or learn that they might have made a mistake, refuse to reevaluate their situation and at least allow turning back to be an option.  Such appears to have been what happened in the recent case of Fritz v. Lake Carroll Property Owners Association, Inc., (2019 unreported case out of Illinois) where the association passed a rule that required inspection and pumping of the owners privately owned septic system every four years and that if an owner failed to follow the rule they would be fined $250 and $25 per day. 
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Frequently we are asked about either inconsistent association documents or advised that although our documents say X we have always done Y so won’t our past precedent control? The answer is NO.  Your documents control.  You must follow what your documents say, unless there is something in them that is illegal or against public policy. This same point is continually stressed by the courts around the country.
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Harbour Island Condominium Owners Association, Inc. v. Alexander, No. B285755 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2019)

Summary

In Harbour Island, the Court of Appeals of California held that tenants renting a unit that was part of a condominium association did not have standing before the board concerning meeting attendance and fines imposed for violations. The association did not have to give the tenants an opportunity to be heard, unlike the rights of actual unit owners.
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Becker Boards Summit, LLC v. Summit at Copper Square Condominium Association – 2018 WL 6695279 ( 2018 Ariz.)

Issues:  The court in this case addressed two important issues:

  1. Can a Developer, before turnover, amend a Declaration to convert Common Element to Limited Common Element for the benefit of a Developer Unit?
  2. Can Developer contracts entered into before turnover be voided after turnover?


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Master v. Country Club of Landfall, — S.E.2d — (2018)

Issue

Does due process require a hearing before an impartial tribunal (Board)? NO!!!

The Facts

Masters was a member a private golf club within his HOA. The golf club (“Club”) sought to make significant changes to its bylaws. Masters opposed the changes and wrote and sent a series of emails to other members claiming the proposed changes were unethical and immoral.  Specifically, within the emails Masters “made references to Hitler, Barabbas, Jesus and slavery.”  After several Club members complained, the Board concluded that Master’s actions were “insulting and inappropriate and had no place within the Club.” As a result they voted unanimously to terminate his membership.  In accordance with the Rules the president referred the matter to a hearing panel.  Master’s was given notice of the hearing and although he did not appear, his attorney did attend and argued for “suspension” instead of termination, but did not ask any members to recuse themselves. The hearing panel voted to terminate Masters membership and he filed suit.
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Eith v. Ketelhut, — Cal.Reptr.3d — (2018)

The Facts

Homeowner bought home in 2003.  In 2005 they planted a vineyard consisting of 600 plants on around .4 acres after obtaining approval of the Board’s Architectural Committee to their landscape plan that included the grape vines.  The CC&R’s (Covenants Conditions and Restrictions) specifically prohibited that “No lot shall be used for any purpose (including any business or commercial activity) other than for a residence of one family…”  The first wine harvest was in 2008 and the owner began selling the wine in 2009.  In a good year he would produce 720 bottles of wine.  Neighbors objected and when the Board did nothing, they filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief claiming that the Board breached its fiduciary duty and to prohibit the owner from operating their business.  At trial the owner admitted that “the sale of wine is a business,” that the vineyard “operates like a business” and that “this was a hobby.”  The owner also testified that he filed IRS Schedule C for the vineyard, which is entitled “Profit or Loss of Business (Sole Proprietor).”  Under the IRS rules you would not file Schedule C if the business was only a hobby 
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