“No Lifeguard on Duty” Signs: Discriminatory?

By Christina S. Saad, Esq.

Published February 21, 2023

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Like many Californians, you may be so used to seeing “No Lifeguard on Duty” and “Caution” signs posted around public pools and spas that you just glance at the verbiage and do not give it a second thought.   Like public pools and spas, common interest developments (CIDs) with pools and/or spas are required to post “No Lifeguard” and “Caution” signs pursuant to Sections  3120B.4 and 3120B.7 of the California Code of Regulations. The same is required for all other public pools and spas.

What CIDs may not be aware of is the sign verbiage required by Cal. Code Regs. Section 3120B.4 and 3120B.7 just a couple of years ago likely violated fair housing laws.  CIDs were therefore stuck between their obligations to post the required pool/spa sign verbiage and avoid enforcing discriminatory rules; however, a 2019 update to Cal. Code Regs. Section 3120B.4 and 3120B (effective January 1, 2020) removed the discriminatory components.

Now, CIDs must not only change the sign verbiage accordingly, but they should also review their Pool and Spa Rules to ensure the language is not discriminatory.

Change in Required Sign Verbiage

Prior to the 2019 update, Cal. Code Regs. § 3120B.4 required “No Lifeguard” signs to state “NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY” in addition to ”Children under the age of 14 shall not use pool without a parent or adult guardian in attendance”.  However, a US Discrict Court in California found that such restrictions discriminated against families wih children (protected by federal and state  fair housing laws), in that it treated families with children differently and less favorably than adult-only households.  (See United States v. Plaza Mobile Estates (2003).)  After the 2019 update, the required verbiage changed to “NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY” followed by “Children should not use pool without adult supervision”.  Similarly, the “Caution” sign verbiage for spas changed from “Unsupervised use by children under the age of 14 is prohibited” to “Children should not use spa without adult supervision.”  (See Cal. Code Regs. § 3120B.7 for additional required verbiage.)  The amendments to both provisions removed reference to a specific age and altered the prohibitory language to mere suggestions.

What Should Your Community Do?

  1. CIDs with pools and/or spas should update their “No Lifeguard on Duty” and “Caution” signs to reflect the current, non-discriminatory language in Code Regs. §§ 3120B.4 and 3120B.7.
  2. In addition, they should review their Pool and Spa Rules to ensure they do not treat families with children more harshly than adult-only households.

PRACTICE TIP:  Avoid any reference to specific ages or familial dynamics in your CID’s  Pool and Spa Rules.

Although restrictive Pool and Spa Rules may be well intentioned, any such discriminatory language would only be acceptable if the CID could successfully articulate a compelling business necessity and the language is “the least restrictive means to achieve that end”.   (Fair Housing Council v. Ayres, 855 F. Supp. 315, 318-19 (C.D.Cal.1994).

Do you have questions regarding your Pool or Spa  Rules? Our firm is happy to review or draft a new set of rules for your community.  Please contact us.


New Year, New Documents: When Associations Should Consider Restating their Governing Documents

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By Rhonda R. Adato, Esq.

Published December 12, 2022


Boards of directors of community associations frequently wonder at what point they should restate their association’s Bylaws and CC&Rs. Many associations have older, outdated governing documents that could use a complete overhaul.  At the same time, restating these documents typically requires membership approval. Restated documents should also be prepared by a qualified attorney, and must be approved in a secret, double envelope vote, so the project can be relatively costly.  Below are some recommendations for when to pursue a restatement:

When portions of the governing documents are unenforceable. Older documents may have been superseded since their adoption by subsequent case law and statutes, rendering certain provisions unenforceable. Boards may want to restate their governing documents to bring them current with existing law (and thereby making them enforceable once again).

When the documents no longer fit the community’s needs. Communities change over time.  A set of CC&Rs recorded in the 1970s may no longer reflect the owners’ preferences with respect to parking arrangements, architectural styles and more. Older documents also may not address innovations like solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations.  Further, the board may wish to amend the governing documents to empower the board to address a specific problem in the community.

When the documents include discriminatory provisions. Civil Code section 4225 requires boards to amend out any provisions in a governing document which discriminate on the basis of a protected status. Such an amendment does not require membership approval.  However, once this has been accomplished, boards may want to consider pursuing a complete document overhaul (a restatement), which does require membership approval. Documents old enough to include discriminatory provisions are likely due for an update in many other respects as well.

When the documents are just confusing. Not all Bylaws and CC&Rs are made equal.  Some are better written than others. If your documents create more confusion than clarity, because of inconsistent or vague language, it may be time for a refresh. This need may be especially pressing given that vague or inconsistent language can give rise to lawsuits, as homeowners insist on interpreting the documents in one manner, and the board another!

To better protect the association’s interests. Original governing documents are typically written by the community’s developer. As one might expect, these documents frequently protect the developer’s interests rather than the association’s. The board may want to consider restating the documents to provide the board with more expansive authority, and/or insert provisions designed to minimize the association’s and individual directors’ potential liability.

No matter your association’s goals, boards should consult their community association counsel regarding the timing and procedure of restating their governing documents. Everyone deserves a makeover sometimes!



Rhonda R. Adato is an Associate Attorney in the Transactional Department of Epsten, APC, and can be reached at [email protected].

*This article was originally published in San Diego Community Insider in the Winter 2022 edition and was adapted from the original article, New Year, New Documents: When Associations Should Consider Restating their Governing Documents.

Annual Request for Owners’ Addresses and Owners’ Preferred Methods of Delivery

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By Dea C. Franck, Esq.

Added to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“DSA”) by the California legislature in 2016 and further amended in 2021 and 2022, Civil Code section 4041  requires a common interest development association (“association”) to annually solicit the following information from owners: (1) the owner’s preferred method of delivery for receiving notices from the association, which includes the option of receiving notices at a mailing address and/or an email address; (2) an alternative or secondary method of delivery for receiving notices from the association, which includes the option of receiving notices at a mailing address and/or an email address; (3) the name, mailing address, and (if available) email address of the owner’s legal representative, if any, including any person with power of attorney or other person who can be contacted in the event of the owner’s extended absence from his/her separate interest; and (4) whether the owner’s separate interest is occupied by the owner, rented, developed but vacant, or undeveloped.  (Civil Code § 4041(b).) Civil Code section 4041 also requires owners to provide written notice of this information to their association annually. (Civil Code § 4041(a)(1)-(4).)

The annual solicitation notice sent by an association must include a statement that owners are not required to provide the association with an email address and a simple method for how an owner can notify the association in writing if they would like to change their preferred delivery method for receiving notices from the Association. Associations are required to enter the information received from owners in the association’s books and records at least thirty (30) days prior to the association making its annual budget report and policy statement disclosure as required by Civil Code section 5300.  (Civil Code § 4041(b).) If an owner fails to provide their association with their preferred delivery method, the last mailing address provided in writing to the association by the owner, or, if none, the owner’s property address within the association is the owner’s default preferred method of delivery. (Civil Code § 4041(c).)

Beginning January 1, 2023, associations are required to deliver documents using an owner’s preferred delivery method if such documents are required by law to be delivered via “individual” notice or “individual” delivery.  (Civil Code § 4040(a)(1).)  As noted above, if an association has no record of an owner’s preferred delivery method and the document must be sent by “individual” delivery, an association must mail the document to the owner’s address last shown in the association’s records.  (Civil Code § 4040(a)(2).)

Also beginning January 1, 2023, associations must deliver copies of its annual budget report and policy statement disclosure as required by Civil Code section 5300 et seq., and copies of any and all assessment collection notices as required by Civil Code section 5650 et seq., including copies of any notice of default or other nonjudicial foreclosure related notice contemplated in Civil Code section 5710 to not only the owner’s preferred mailing and/or email address, but also to the owner’s secondary mailing and/or email address too, if one is identified by an owner. (Civil Code § 4040(b).)

It’s important to note that Civil Code § 4040(c) provides that an unrecorded governing document provision (e.g., a bylaw or rule provision), which details a specific method of delivery, does not constitute an agreement by the owners to that delivery method.  In other words, if a rule or bylaw provision provides for a specific method of individual delivery that is contrary to an owner’s preferred delivery method, the association must use the owner’s preferred delivery method.

Consequently, boards and managers can no longer assume that an owner’s mailing address in the association is an owner’s preferred method of delivery.  Rather the associations must confirm whether an owner has specified a preferred method of delivery before sending that owner documents from the association if those documents must be sent via individual delivery.

Parking and Requests for Accommodation for a Disability

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By Jillian M. Wright, Esq.

Parking requests to accommodate a disability bring about a particular set of issues and questions.  What requests are reasonable? If the board deems a request reasonable, who pays for the accommodation, if a cost is involved? What if parking spots are so limited in the community that accommodating the request seems impossible? What to do?

When in receipt of an accommodation request, a board is strongly encouraged to engage in an interactive process and make a good faith effort to consider the following when deciding how to handle the request:

Does the requesting party have a qualifying disability?

If someone has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity like walking, talking, hearing, seeing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks or caring for themselves, then federal law considers them disabled. State law offers broader protection; disability is defined as an impairment that makes performance of a major life activity “difficult.” If a requesting party’s disability is obvious, e.g., they use a wheelchair, then it could be considered discriminatory to ask for verification of the disability.

Does the requesting party have a disabled person placard or license plate?

Oftentimes, when requesting a parking accommodation the requesting party will have a disabled person placard from the DMV. Presuming the plate or placard is current and valid, then this should constitute sufficient verification of a disability related to use of a vehicle

Is the request reasonable?

Every community’s parking situation differs and so too will the reasonableness of a request for accommodation. One main factor to consider is whether the request is even possible. For example, if the requesting party asks for a parking space closer to their unit but there are no common area spaces closer to the unit, the board likely does not have the power under the governing documents to displace another owner from their deeded or assigned parking spot.

A board should also consider whether there is a causal link between the disability and the request for a parking accommodation. Not every disability impacts the use of a vehicle and parking. If a person with a mental disability requests a parking accommodation, it would be reasonable to request verification to identify the link between the request and the disability.

Another consideration is cost. Typically, granting parking variances have minimal costs to the community while physical modifications can become costly. If the cost to the association is minimal and the benefit to the disabled person is significant it will be difficult to argue that the request is not reasonable.

Is the request necessary to allow equal enjoyment of the community or just convenient?

A requesting party is not entitled to an accommodation if the accommodation is merely convenient, but they are entitled to a reasonable accommodation if the accommodation is necessary to allow them the equal use and enjoyment of their home or the common area facilities.

One federal case illustrates this point well: In Sporn v. Ocean Colony Condominium Ass’n. (D NJ 2001) 173 F.Supp.2d 244, a disabled owner sought and received permission to use a parking space closer to his unit, but Sporn refused to relinquish his assigned space despite the association’s parking rules requiring such transfer. Sporn argued that he needed the space for his guests.  The Sporn court held, “an accommodation should not ‘extend a preference to handicapped residents [relative to other residents], as opposed to affording them equal opportunity'” and “accommodations that go beyond affording a handicapped tenant ‘an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling’ are not required …”(Citations omitted.) The association’s parking policy requiring the relinquishment of one’s deeded parking space granted the same rights to disabled tenants as it did to non-disabled residents. When plaintiff Sporn was asked to relinquish his parking space pursuant to the association’s parking policy, Sporn refused and when asked why he needed two spaces, Sporn did not offer any explanation related to the disability, but instead responded, “because during the summertime we couldn’t get any parking for any of our family that came down.” (Id.). This comment lead the Sporn court to determine that Sporn’s request for “reasonable accommodation” was really a request for accommodation coupled with a demand for special treatment.

Even if the board determines the requesting party is disabled and accommodation is necessary, unique concerns arise that are specific to parking accommodation requests:

Are common area disabled parking spots required by law/building code?

Not necessarily.  While disabled parking spots are common in public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.), if the community is not a public accommodation subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act and was built prior to building code regulations requiring disabled parking spaces, then the association likely does not need to convert any open parking spaces to disabled parking spaces. When asked, each community should review its conditional use permit and consult with a licensed contractor or architect familiar with the applicable building code. Moreover, construction of additional disabled parking spots is often impossible because there is limited space or a limited number of common area parking spaces.

What if there are no open common area spaces to provide?

An association is only required to accommodate a reasonable request to the extent possible. If, for example, there are no spaces closer to the requesting party’s residence or there is no way to convert an existing common area space to make it more accessible, then the association should engage in the interactive process with the requesting party to determine if there is any reasonable alternative which alleviates some of the requesting party’s concerns. Every community and disability is different, so it is best to consult with legal counsel if approval of a reasonable accommodation seems impossible.

Does the association have to help pay for the accommodation?

Maybe! Some accommodation requests include physical alterations to the parking lot – painting new lines, making and installing a “reserved” sign, etc. Such alterations might sound more like a reasonable modifications rather than accommodations. Owners are often responsible for the cost to install reasonable modifications if it benefits them individually. However, the courts have treated requests for parking spaces as requests for reasonable accommodations, making associations responsible for some costs.  Providing a parking accommodation could include creating signage, repainting markings, redistributing spaces, or creating curb cuts.  This list is not exhaustive and there is no clear law on how much expense is unreasonable.

Can a disabled resident allow their non-disabled guests to park in a spot afforded to them as an accommodation?

Yes. As mentioned above, disabled persons must be afforded equal enjoyment of the community. If an association would allow any other resident to have guests park in their assigned parking spot, then the association must also extend this right to disabled persons, even if their guests are not disabled.

The resident has a disabled parking placard and claim that they can park anywhere with the placard regardless of the rules. Is this true?

No, not necessarily. While a resident with a disabled parking placard or license plate may park in all disabled parking spaces, when parking on private property they are still subject to the reasonable rules of the community. For example, they may not park in a fire lane or in a manner that blocks the ingress and egress of other residents. Another example: if there is a limit to parking in a guest spot for more than 72 hours, this rule applies to all guest spots, including disabled parking spots. The disabled parking placard or plate does not give them the right to store their vehicle in a guest parking spot. However, we strongly encourage consulting with legal counsel before towing a vehicle with a disabled parking placard or plate.

Can the association explain to other inquiring residents why someone is receiving a special parking accommodation or variance?

No. The association must keep all information relating to someone’s disability confidential.

This area of law is complicated. A board should carefully consider each reasonable accommodation request and engage in the interactive process to avoid discrimination claims, even if there is limited parking in your community. When in doubt, contact your legal counsel.

Using Drones for Inspections

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By Lindsay J. Anderson, Esq.

Four Considerations Before Using Drones for Community Association Inspections

Drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems, are nearly everywhere. Advances in technology have made drones smaller, cheaper, and easier to use, and therefore more accessible to average users.  As drones become more accessible, community associations may wonder whether drones may be used to help conduct inspections of common area components. Drones can provide a host of benefits for associations including, but not limited to, lowered costs because inspections can be completed more quickly, fewer accidents in inspections, and better-quality documentation in the form of video footage.  However, before moving forward with using drones for inspections, boards should contemplate the following considerations and consult with the association’s legal counsel.

First, laws are still developing in the drone realm.  As of now, drones are primarily regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”).  The FAA requires pilot certification, registration of drones, and a minimum age of pilots if the drone is used for commercial purposes.  There are also strict requirements regarding speed and altitude. The state and municipalities may impose additional requirements.  Associations should be sure to abide by all federal, state, and local requirements for drones.

Second, associations should craft appropriate policies regarding the use of drones.   Since drones are a relatively new phenomenon, an association’s governing documents may not address the use of drones.  Consultation with the association’s legal counsel is recommended to craft appropriate policies regarding the use of drones, including with respect to notice requirements for inspections.

Third, using drones for inspections of common area components may give rise to privacy concerns.  In California, laws prohibit entering the airspace of another in order to capture an image or recording of that individual engaging in a private, personal or familial activity without permission.  While an association may intend to use a drone for an inspection of a common area component only, the drone may inadvertently capture a private or family activity which could open the association up to liability.  Rules and policies should be carefully tailored in order to protect the association from liability and owners from unintentional privacy intrusions.  Consultation with legal counsel is also imperative with respect to addressing privacy concerns.

Fourth, since drone use is still a relatively new endeavor for associations, associations should be sure to consult with their insurance providers to make sure that the association’s policies cover claims arising out of the association’s use of drones.

While drones may be the wave of the future, associations should proceed with caution before using them for common area inspections.  A careful and thorough examination of the considerations outlined above, coupled with consultation with association counsel and the association’s insurance professional, may help to protect associations from potential liability.


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*This article was originally published in San Diego Community Insider in the Fall 2022 edition and was adapted from the original article, Using Drones For Inspections) as authored by Lindsay J. Anderson, Esq.



Budgeting Appropriately for Increasing Costs with Regular Annual Assessments

By David A. Kline, Esq.

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Civil Code section 5600(a) requires an association to “levy regular and special assessments sufficient to perform its obligations under the governing documents and [the Davis-Stirling Act].” To that end, Civil Code section 5605 gives boards of directors the authority to increase regular assessments by up to 20%, without a membership vote.

As costs naturally increase over time due to inflation, material costs increase due to supply chain shortages and insurance premiums increase in response to the rising risk of drought-fueled wildfires, directors of common interest developments often find it difficult to manage their association’s budget.

Although it is important for board members to carefully scrutinize an association’s costs, consistently and steadfastly refusing to increase regular assessments to account for rising costs can lead to disastrous results for homeowners. Eventually, a hefty special assessment may be needed when long deferred maintenance results in property damage, or worse.

Often, candidates for the board of directors make campaign promises to cut regular assessments claiming they will reign in years of alleged financial mismanagement. And, board members often tout an association’s consistent level of regular assessments as evidence the association is well-managed and financially stable. In fact, these arguments are misplaced. Artificially keeping assessments low can be a major red flag, often indicating significant financial struggles around the corner. This is especially true now with inflation and the difficulties of obtaining goods and services.

Too often, boards of directors ignore the advice of the association’s experts, defer routine maintenance, fail to adequately fund the reserve account in accordance with the approved reserve funding plan, or otherwise kick their problems down the road for future boards and homeowners to address. This simply delays the inevitable and often ends up costing the association and the owners more in the long term and may create the need for a large special assessment to perform needed work in the community. Owners are often shocked when hit suddenly with a large special assessment and may have difficulty paying it when they prepared their own household budget based on an assumption of their association’s financial well-being.

When boards decide to forego a long-term warrantied roof replacement project, opting instead for a short-term patch job, or delay replacing corroded and worn-out pipes despite multiple leaks, for example, associations may find themselves paying not just to replace the broken common area components (often at a greater expense than would be paid if the board had been more proactive), but may also have to pay for the avoidable resulting damage to the separate interests as well. This can be much more expensive for homeowners in the long run, especially if the association’s insurance carrier denies coverage for damage due to the association’s alleged failure to properly maintain the failed component.

This is not to suggest that delaying an important infrastructure project is never appropriate. It may be appropriate for a board to prioritize repairing damaged structural components that threaten the health and safety of the residents above less critical repairs. However, boards of directors, and candidates for the board of directors, should be candid with the members about the rising costs that they anticipate. Homeowners should not be surprised by moderate, incremental increases in regular assessments from one year to the next. Anyone who pays attention to the news is well aware of rising inflation and community associations are subject to this like everyone else.

Sudden unexpected special assessments are never welcome, but they are particularly frustrating when they could have been avoided with honest and transparent budgeting decisions – this includes annual assessment increases to keep up with rising costs.

Boards should expect small incremental increases to most budget line items each year to keep up with inflation and make these annual assessment adjustments as needed in an effort to avoid large increases or special assessments in later years.

Key Tips for Levying Special Assessments

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By Karyn A. Larko, Esq.

There are times when levying a special assessment is necessary or prudent to obtain needed funds. However, if not well planned and properly implemented, a special assessment can turn into a nightmare for the Board, and for you.

Here are some key tips to help avoid such a nightmare.

Ascertain Whether a Member Vote is Required

California Civil Code (“Code”) § 5605 controls when a member vote is needed to levy a special assessment. No matter what an association’s governing documents state, a member vote is not required to levy a special assessment if that special assessment individually, or when combined with any other special assessments levied the same fiscal year will not exceed 5% of the association’s budgeted gross expenses for that fiscal year. Conversely, a member vote is always required if the special assessment individually, or when combined with any other special assessments levied the same fiscal year will exceed 5% of the association’s budgeted gross expenses.

The Civil Code Sets the Member Approval Requirement

If member approval is required, Code § 5605 also dictates the votes needed to approve the special assessment, as well as quorum. The affirmative vote of a majority of a quorum is required to pass a special assessment.  A quorum is more than 50% of the members.

Comply with the Civil Code When Conducting the Vote

A member vote to approve a special assessment must be conducted using the double-envelope secret ballot voting process set forth in Code § 5100 et seq. In short, this means providing all members with a ballot, two balloting envelopes and the association’s election rules at least 30 days before the voting deadline. (The election rules can be omitted if they are posted on the association’s website and the ballot contains the language mandated by Code § 5105.) It also means having one or three qualified inspectors of elections open and count the ballots at a duly noticed meeting whereat the members can observe this process, and providing members with notice of the vote results within 15 days.

Notify the Members

Regardless of whether a member vote is needed, members must be given written notice of a special assessment no less than 30 days and no more than 60 days before that special assessment becomes due in accordance with Code § 5615. If a member vote is required, this notice can be combined with the notice of the outcome of the vote that must be provided to members so long as:  1) this notice is provided via “individual delivery” and 2) the special assessment will become due between 30 and 60 days after this notice is given.

Payment is Important

It goes without saying that when planning a special assessment, it is critical to consider when the funds will be needed. However, there are other factors that should also be considered.

If members will be voting on whether to approve the special assessment, giving members more than one payment option (e.g. the option of paying in one lump sum or in installments over time) may increase the likelihood of members voting in favor of the special assessment.

On the flip side, if members will be given the option of paying over time, it is possible that more members will decide to pay over time than expected. If some or all of the special assessment monies are needed quickly, this situation could result in a serious cashflow problem for the association.

If a special assessment is to be paid over time (e.g. monthly installments), it is important to secure the debt in case any members file bankruptcy or sell. The longer the payment period, the greater the likelihood of collection issues. However, securing the debt means going through the pre-lien and lien process, which can be costly for the members who are subject to this process. Thus, levying a special assessment that will or can be paid over time may only be a perceived benefit to members if the assessment amount will be significantly greater than the pre-lien and lien costs.

It is a good idea to have members who cannot pay a special assessment when due enter into a payment plan whereby they agree to pay the assessment within a longer period of time that is acceptable to the Board. Doing so will help the Board predict the association’s cashflow and prevent any misunderstandings as to what payment allowances the Board is granting.  It may also create good will with members who are struggling financially. However, a payment plan should generally be used in addition to, and not in lieu of a lien, because a payment plan will not secure the debt. A lien will.

In the event a member fails to pay the special assessment and that debt is not secured, the association’s only recourse for collecting the debt is to file a lawsuit against the member. The association cannot collect the debt via foreclosure unless the debtor still owns the separate interest and a lien is filed.

When in Doubt, Encourage the Board to Consult with Legal Counsel

While it may be tempting to save a little money by not consulting with the association’s legal counsel for guidance when levying a special assessment, making a special assessment misstep could cost the association a lot more in time and money. For example, a mistake could result in a missed opportunity for the association, create a serious cashflow problem, necessitate a second member vote and/or place the association in the position of having to return to members any special assessment payments received. It could also leave the association vulnerable to liability for violating the Code and unable to collect from delinquent members.

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 Issue of The Law Journal by the California Association of Community Managers (CACM).


Solar Energy Systems: Regulating Owners’ Installation on Shared Multi-family Common Area Roofs

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By Emily A. Long, Esq.

By Emily A. Long, Esq.

Since January 1, 2018, California common interest developments have been required to allow members to install solar energy systems[1] on shared multifamily common area roofs of buildings within which their units are located and on roofs of adjacent carports or garages. (See Civ. Code §§ 714.1, 4600 and 4746).  While we do not have an abundance of mid or high-rise common interest developments in the desert, we do see many buildings with shared multifamily common area roofs.

Luckily, the requirement to allow solar energy systems does not mean that associations are prohibited from implementing reasonable requirements to guide solar energy system installation and protect associations from liability. Below, we summarize some of relevant law’s important provisions on this topic, and provide further guidance on how to remain compliant.  Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration the recommendations provided below.

  1. An association shall not establish a general policy prohibiting the installation or use of a rooftop solar energy system for household purposes on the roof of the building in which the owner resides, or a garage or carport adjacent to the building that has been assigned to the owner for exclusive use. (Cal. Civ. Code §714.1(b)(1).)

Owners cannot place solar panels or equipment on whatever common area they choose, but rather are limited to the buildings or structures in which they own. Also note, if a carport is adjacent to the building but is not assigned, the association is not required to allow an owner to place solar energy equipment on that carport.

  1. When reviewing a request to install a solar energy system on a multifamily common area roof, the association must require an applicant to notify each owner of a unit in the building on which the installation will be located of the application. (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(a)(1).)

For practical purposes, we suggest any association with common area roofs include this requirement in its guidelines to notify all owners in the same building. Associations may require the applicant to provide signatures from the notified owners or certified mail receipts showing the notification was sent as part of its application process. That way, if a neighboring owner challenges the owner’s solar installation, the association has proof that the owner complied with the guidelines.

  1. The association must require the applicant and each successive owner of that unit to maintain a homeowner liability coverage policy and provide the certificate of insurance within 14 days of approval and annually thereafter. (Cal. Civ. Code § 4746(a)(2).)

Unfortunately, the California Legislature did not clarify what an association can or should do if an owner does not comply with this requirement. We believe the Legislature would not force an association to permit a solar energy system to be installed if there is no proof that it is insured, so we think revocation of approval is appropriate in that instance. However, there are unanswered questions with respect to insurance and we recommend you discuss such concerns with association counsel.

  1. When reviewing a request to install a solar energy system on common area, the association may impose a requirement to submit a solar site survey showing the placement of the system. If the association requires this solar survey, it must “include a determination of an equitable allocation of the usable solar roof area among all owners sharing the same roof, garage, or carport.” (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(b)(1(B).)

This provision means the association can impose guidelines regarding aesthetic standards, so long as the guidelines do not “significantly increase the cost of the system or significantly decrease its efficiency or specific performance…” as described in Civil Code §714.  For example, an association can provide that the preferred location of all solar energy systems is one that results in the least visual impact.  However, if the only feasible location for solar panels to be placed is on a roof which directly faces the street and any other location would significantly decrease the system’s efficiency, the association cannot prohibit an owner from placing the solar panels on the roof that faces the street.

Additionally, this provision provides that an association “may” require that an owner provide a solar site survey showing the usable area of the rooftop and the proposed placement of the solar energy system.[2] We recommend every association with common area roofs require the submission of a solar survey in its solar guidelines. Alternatively, an association may perform its own solar site survey.

As for the “equitable allocation,” we interpret this provision to mean an association may require the owner to abide by the equitable allocation as called for in the site survey by using only the owner’s share of the rooftop and leaving the remainder available for other owners of units in the building. The phrasing of Civil Code §4746(b)(1) seems to indicate that the requesting owner may choose where the solar energy system is placed, so long as the owner owns a portion of the building on which it will be placed, and complies with other requirements.

  1. The association may require the owner and each successive owner to be responsible for costs of any damage to the common area, exclusive use common area or unit; costs for the solar energy system; and disclosures to prospective buyers. (Cal. Civ. Code §4746(b)(2).)

We highly recommend each association require an applicant to sign a license, maintenance, and indemnity agreement taking on the above responsibilities, which may then be recorded on title so all prospective buyers are put on constructive notice of the agreement. This agreement should include language which clarifies that the owner may be required to remove the solar energy system, at their cost, to allow for common area maintenance or repair.

  1. The association must still abide by Civil Code §714.

California Civil Code § 714(a) prohibits any declaration and other governing document provision(s) from prohibiting or restricting the installation of solar energy systems outright. As such, any restrictions on the installation of these systems are declared invalid if the restrictions “significantly” increase the cost of the system or “significantly” decrease the efficiency of the system.[3]  Civil Code § 714 also provides penalties for willful noncompliance and attorneys’ fees are recoverable by a prevailing party.[4]

Emily Long, Esq., Epsten, APC.  Epsten, APC is a community association law firm that has been providing solutions to Southern California common interest development legal issues since 1986.  You can reach Emily at [email protected].

“Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration these recommendations for solar energy system installation on shared multifamily common area roofs.

[1] For purposes of these Guidelines, the term “solar energy system” refers to both solar domestic water heating systems and/or photovoltaic systems, as applicable to an Owner’s request.

[2] The cost to perform this survey shall not be deemed as part of the cost of the system as used in Civil Code §714.

[3]See Civil code § 714(d)(1)(A) and (B) for a further definition of what a “significant increase” or “significant decrease” means under the law.

[4] See Civil Code § 714(f) and (g).

*This article was originally published in CAI Coachella Valley’s HOA Living Magazine in the June 2022 edition and was adapted from the original article, Solar Panels and Solar Energy Systems: The Association’s Ability to Regulate Owners’ Installation on Common Area) as authored by Jillian M. Wright, Esq.

Emily Long, Esq., Epsten, APC.  Epsten, APC is a community association law firm that has been providing solutions to Southern California common interest development legal issues since 1986.  You can reach Emily at [email protected].

Associations should work with counsel to develop guidelines that take into consideration these recommendations for solar energy system installation on shared multifamily common area roofs.

CAUTION! Flooring Penetrations May Result in Structural Changes

Many of our multi-story condominium communities are wood framed with wood flooring. Most high-rise communities are concrete structures with concrete flooring. Whether wood or concrete, flooring is an integral part of the structural integrity of the building.
The unfinished floors (i.e., slabs) provide lateral and vertical support, and are intended to be load bearing. A floor may also provide sound attenuation and may even prevent smoke and fumes from entering units.
Over the years, many associations have unwittingly approved penetrations through the structural flooring without requiring an analysis of how such penetrations will affect the structural integrity of the building as a whole. When these issues are subsequently raised at meetings, I often hear comments from boards such as, “we have always allowed owners to…” cut into the floors to install wiring, add ventilation ducts or install plumbing.
I reached out to Professional Structural Engineer, Carl Josephson, on this topic and he offered the following insight:

“When a wood floor or beam is cut improperly, usually a sag will occur, if not immediately, then over time. The sag may be very noticeable or only slightly noticeable. There may be cracking in wall or ceiling finishes to alert someone that there is a problem. However, when a concrete floor slab is improperly cut or notched, there may be some cracking or floor sag, but many times there will not be any noticeable distress. Concrete can fail quickly and abruptly. The best thing to do is to avoid the problem in the first place by checking with a qualified engineer before cutting or notching any concrete slabs, beams, columns, or other component parts.  If you suspect you could have a problem it may be necessary to carefully examine the area in question, review the original drawings and calculations (if they are available), test the concrete using ground-penetrating radar or other non-destructive techniques, in the worst-case scenario, core the concrete and chip out and expose some of the reinforcing steel.”

The tragedy in Surfside, Florida is a grim reminder of the need for constant vigilance over building modifications which may impact the structure. Rumors abound as to the cause of the Champlain Tower failure. It is likely that there were multiple factors that came together to cause the collapse.
While we will allow the courts to weigh in on liability, one issue that has been a source of speculation is whether penetrations in the concrete floors caused by an owner’s improvements was one of the contributing causes to the disaster. We have seen occasions where owners have requested floor penetrations and the retained structural engineer has responded, “no penetrations should be allowed, or the size of the penetrations should be modified.” On occasion, the risk of accidently cutting into the slab and damaging the post tension cables was a risk the board was unwilling to take.

So, what is the take away?

When an architectural application is received or when floor penetrations are noted, the affected area should be evaluated to determine whether any floor penetrations could affect the structural integrity of the building. Spending a few dollars now with licensed engineers may prevent a serious problem down the road.

Acclamation Decisions Have to be Made Early

By David A. Kline, Esq.

When Civil Code section 5103 became effective on January 1, 2022, many community association managers and board members celebrated the new authority for boards to approve nominees by acclamation when there are not enough candidates to hold a contested election. However, there are limitations on a board’s ability to approve nominees by acclamation and a decision needs to be made very early in the election planning process about whether approval by acclamation might be an option – long before the board will know how many nominees will ultimately emerge.

In order to approve candidates by acclamation, section 5103 requires several procedures to take place. First, notice of the nominating process and the possibility of an election by acclamation must be provided to all members by individual notice at least 90 days before the deadline for nominations. This requires the election process to begin at least 60 days earlier than is otherwise required to conduct an election under Civil Code section 5115(a). And, because 5103 requires individual notice of the nomination procedures, whereas 5115(a) only requires general notice, the additional cost of providing individual notice should be considered. Second, section 5103(b)(2) also requires providing a second, similar reminder notice to the members before the deadline for nominations, again by individual notice, that is not required by Civil Code section 5115 if acclamation is not an option.

The requirement to send notices by individual delivery places an added burden on associations. General notice of documents can be satisfied, under Civil Code section 4045, simply by posting a document in a prominent location or on the association’s website, if those locations are described in the Annual Policy Statement. (Though, it should be noted that individual delivery is required for any member who requests it.) And, while delivery by individual notice may be accomplished by email under Civil Code section 4040, most associations deliver individual notice by first class mail, postage prepaid, particularly if the association does not maintain evidence that every member has consented in writing to receive communications by email, as would be required for email delivery. So, in most cases, delivery by individual notice costs more than general notice.

The board must also consider whether there is sufficient time to provide a 90-day nomination period. For example, suppose the association’s bylaws require the annual meeting to be held in the first week of September. If, by the second week of April, the board has not instructed management or the inspector of elections to provide individual notice of a 90-day nomination period and possibility of election by acclamation, there would not be enough time to comply with the legal requirements of section 5103 to potentially allow the board to approve the nominees by acclamation.

So, as a practical matter, before nominees are sought, it would be prudent for the board to decide whether the additional time and expense of providing two notices by individual delivery is worth the benefit of potentially approving nominees by acclamation and saving the cost of mailing ballots and any other costs that might be incurred in an election.

On that note, a board that is inclined to hire a professional inspector of elections, rather than to rely on one or more homeowner volunteers, might not always save money by deciding to approve nominees by acclamation. Under Civil Code section 5115(b)(1), associations must provide notice to members of “the date and time by which, and the physical address where, ballots are to be returned by mail or handed to the inspector or inspectors of elections” at least 30 days before the ballots are distributed. Civil Code section 5115(c)(2) requires that the physical address where ballots are to be returned either be the inspector of elections’ address or an address specified by the inspector of elections. This means that the inspector of elections must be selected at least 60 days before the election date so that address will be included on the 5115(b)(1) notice. Since the board won’t know if balloting will be necessary until just before a 5115(b)(1) notice would need to be sent, it might not be practical to wait that long before hiring a professional inspector of elections. A possible option might be determining whether any prospective inspector consents to ballots being sent to the management company or some other location instead of directly to the prospective inspector.

Another issue to consider is whether the board may have any difficulty in achieving quorum on short notice at the latest opportunity to select an inspector of elections or may need to postpone the annual meeting. In addition, if the board waits that long before selecting an inspector of elections, it might be difficult to find an inspector of elections who is still available on the date of the association’s annual meeting. On the other hand, if the board signs a contract with a professional inspector of elections earlier in the process and the contract does not allow termination within 60 days of the election, the association may have an obligation to pay the inspector of elections, even if the election will be held by acclamation.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the election of directors may be only one issue for the members to decide at the annual meeting. Ballots may still be needed for other items to be voted upon at the annual meeting, such as approval of the minutes of the prior annual meeting or an election under IRS Revenue Ruling 70-604.

Board members who are aware of this new ability to conduct elections by acclamation may be very enthusiastic to save money on unnecessary elections and might assume that management and/or the inspectors of elections will comply with all requirements to enable the board to approve nominees by acclamation. Likewise, management might assume that the board would prefer to save money on the cost of mailing notices by individual delivery – costs that may turn out to have been unnecessary if more candidates than open board positions emerge.

It’s important for the board and management to communicate their expectations long before the next annual meeting (ideally at least six months before the next annual meeting) to avoid any misunderstandings. Be prepared to discuss the association’s cost and method of providing individual notices and general notices to the members, the cost of printing and mailing ballots, the availability of various professional inspectors of elections on the date of the annual meeting, the termination provisions in the contracts proposed by those inspectors of elections, the fees charged by management to attend board meetings and annual meetings, and the likelihood of finding more nominees than seats available on the board.

The following table may provide a helpful guide for those discussions:

Procedure Acclamation Election by Ballot Comparison
Notice of Nomination Procedures and possibility of election by acclamation – 90-days before deadline for nominations.

– Individual delivery required

– 30 days before deadline for nominations

– General delivery is acceptable

Acclamation requires a longer nomination period and may require more postage
Nomination and possibility of election by acclamation reminder notice – 7-30 days before deadline for nominations

– Individual delivery

Not required


Acclamation requires an additional notice, which may require more postage
Board meeting to approve by acclamation Open board meeting required No board meeting required. An additional board meeting may be required to approve nominees by acclamation.
Inspector of Elections Not needed since no ballots will be counted Must be selected at least 60 days before election. It’s prudent to select an inspector of elections before the deadline for nominations.  But, if the association cannot terminate its contract with a professional inspector of elections, it may have to pay for services that are unnecessary.
Ballot delivery Not necessarily required Must be mailed or delivered to all members Acclamation could save the cost of printing and mailing ballots