Many California homeowners are subject to the rules and regulations of homeowners' associations. Fewer are aware of the protection such associations can offer to homeowners. For example: California homeowners have legal rights against defects in home construction, and in some cases (such as structural repairs and retrofits), legal relief can only be pursued by a homeowners' association. In other cases, owners can choose to sue together or not. It is important to seek legal advice about whether you can - or should - file an individual lawsuit or sue as part of a group.
A Sunk Case in San Francisco
An interesting case on this issue is developing in San Francisco. The Insurance Journal reports that the Millennium Tower - a high rise building full of multi-million dollar condo units - has begun to sink at an unexpected rate. The high profile dispute has resulted in many different lawsuits between owners, the city, and the building developer. In March 2017, the building's homeowners' association filed yet another lawsuit against the developer. According to the lead attorney for the HOA, California law grants an HOA the sole authority to sue for structural defects and necessary retrofitting. The HOA lawsuit will, therefore, be the only one to recover the funds necessary to actually repair the building. The other lawsuits can recover losses caused by the sinking. For example, the City can recover the funds it expends to block off construction, reroute traffic, and reissue permits. The City can also recover any judgments it sustains in lawsuits against it as a result of the developer's negligence.
Claims Against an HOA
Lawsuits can, of course, go in the opposite direction. Many homeowners have legal claims against their HOA. Some of these claims are contractual in nature. For example, an HOA which fails to make repairs or properly maintain common areas could be held liable. Other claims are related to dues. HOA members can sue an association which overcharges without cause, allows the mismanagement of funds, or otherwise wastes assets of the association.
When these claims arise, homeowners can choose to sue the HOA individually or as a group. There are pros and cons to each strategy. Group lawsuits can share the expense of litigation, and this can reduce the financial burden of carrying a lawsuit. This strategy also reduces the amount of time and energy each plaintiff must invest in gathering evidence, testifying, and attending to the other duties of litigation. However, group lawsuits also give each plaintiff less of a say in the litigation strategy. Plaintiffs with individual claims or differences of opinion will often be better served by filing their own lawsuit, over which they may retain complete control.
If you have claims in common with your fellow HOA members, contact an experienced Orange County HOA dispute attorney as soon as possible. He or she will help you determine whether it is best to sue on your own or with the group in order to best protect your interests.