Let me be up front – this author does not particularly care for homeowners’ associations. In my opinion, they have too much power, which is often wielded with a heavy hand.
Now comes the decision in Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Ass’n v. Carson (April 19, 2016) __ Cal.Rptr.3d __, which only reinforces this view. Here is a synopsis of the facts:
The homeowners’ association sought to impose fines under CC&Rs against defendants. “Almanor sought to impose fines and related fees [ ] for alleged rule violations related to the Carsons’ leasing of their properties as short-term vacation rentals.”
Defendants paid some of the fines, but disputed others. More specifically, “The Carsons disputed both the fines and Almanor’s authority to enforce those rules, which the Carsons viewed as unlawful and unfair use restrictions on their commercially zoned properties.”
At trial, the homeowners’ association sought $54,000 in damages. Defendants disputed this amount. “The trial court determined that it would be unreasonable to strictly enforce the absolute use restrictions against the Carsons …
“Of the fines imposed in 2010, 2011, and 2012, the court concluded only the fines pertaining to the non-use of Almanor’s boat decals were reasonable. Those fines amounted to $6,620, including late charges and interest.”
That’s right – the trial court awarded $6,620 solely for “non-use” of the Association’s “boat decals.”
Then, to pile on, the trial court awarded $98,535 in attorneys fees and $3,267 in costs, for a total award of attorneys fees and costs in the amount of $101,803.
On appeal, the court held that such determination was “reasonable.” The court of appeal held that the homeowners’ association was the “prevailing party” within the meaning of the Davis-Sterling Act, and expressly held that the award of attorneys fees were “reasonable” within the meaning of Civil Code section 5975.
If you are practicing attorney, this case makes it difficult to advise a homeowner ever to contest any charge by the homeowners’ association, the matter what the merits.
In Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Ass’n v. Carson, the homeowners’ association sought $54,000 at trial, and was awarded $6,600. The appellate court established the following principle – if any amount is awarded to the homeowners’ association, then the association is the “prevailing party” and is entitled to recover its attorney’s fees “as a matter of right.”
To this end, the court of appeal ruled that, “after resolving the threshold issue of the prevailing party, the trial court had no discretion to deny attorneys fees.”
Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Ass’n v. Carson represents a growing dichotomy in California. This state is home to some fabulously wealthy people, in a few geographic areas. Here we see the court applying a distorted economic viewpoint (Who on earth thought it was worth spending more than $100,000 in attorneys fees to seek $50,000 in court?) to achieve a shocking result. “Reasonableness,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Ass’n v. Carson (April 19, 2016) __ Cal.Rptr.3d ___