HOA Neighborhood Watch Liability After Trayvon Martin

August 6, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Since the Trayvon Martin death in Florida, neighborhood watch groups in HOAs have become a hot button issue.  The neighborhood watch group that George Zimmerman, the man that was carrying a gun and shot Trayvon Martin in self defense, was a part of was overseen by the homeowners association.  That HOA was sued by Trayvon’s family for wrongful death and other claims and ended up settling for an undisclosed amount of money that is thought to be over $1,000,000.

When something like the Trayvon Martin death occurs, claims are filed against anybody who could possibly have any culpability, which will include the HOA when the issue even remotely involves or implicates the HOA.  So, what’s an HOA to do?   Should your condominium or HOA establish, or continue, a neighborhood watch?  What are the risks and how do you mitigate them?  HOA insurance specialist Béat Koszinowski answers these questions in his recent article here: Neighborhood Watch Groups in Your HOA.

The single biggest factor as to whether a watch group will create more issues and liability for an HOA isn’t whether the neighborhood watch volunteer carries a gun or other weapon, because if it gets to the point where a weapon could be used, the HOA will likely be sued either way.  For instance, if the volunteer ends up being beaten to death and was not allowed to carry a weapon by the HOA, the HOA will likely be sued by the family of the volunteer (whether rightfully or not).  Instead, it’s when volunteers go beyond simply reporting suspicious activity and instead take law enforcement into their own hands that the issues and liability open up like floodgates.  As Béat points out, “watch groups can do more harm than good when group volunteers go beyond contacting the local police department and act as the HOA’s own law enforcement.  Watch groups that engage perpetrators, use physical force or carry weapons put your HOA at risk for a lawsuit.”

Béat also points out, and I agree, that, ideally, to reduce liability, a neighborhood watch program should have no official connection to the HOA and the board should have no involvement in the creation or regulation of the watch group.  But if your HOA decides to start a watch group, it’s imperative that the HOA:

  1. establish specific written guidelines and policy for the group stating what the volunteer should and should not do, what the volunteer’s duties are exactly, and a procedure when suspicious activity is encountered,
  2. contact the local police department to receive watch group training, and
  3. check that its insurance covers the watch group.

While neighborhood watch groups can serve an important and effective purpose, they can also create more issues and liability.  An HOA board should contact its association insurance professional and attorney and follow certain risk mitigation steps if it operates, or plans to institute, a neighborhood watch group.

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Utah LAC Issues Statement on SB 64 (Reserves)

February 22, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

As many of you may know, the 2013 General Session of the Utah Legislature is in full swing on Capitol Hill.  A few bills enacting or amending HOA laws are in the works and I’ll be summarizing and commenting on those over the next couple of weeks.

As to one such bill, SB 64, CAI’s Utah Legislative Action Committee issued a position statement today coming down quite aggressively against it.  SB 64 amends the reserve funding requirements of Utah Code Sections 57-8-7.5 and 57-8a-211 and, if passed, will require an association to begin funding the reserve fund in the manner and amount determined by the vote of the owners within 90 days after the vote, and to file a certificate of compliance with the Department of Commerce within 30 days of starting to fund a reserve fund.  It also requires that if an association does not file a certificate of compliance within the required 30 days, the association may not levy a special assessment until it files a certificate of compliance.  View SB 64 here.  View the position statement here (I am not a member of ULAC and their position is not necessarily mine, nor mine theirs).

UPDATE March 1: view the substitute bill SB 64 here and a comparison of the changes to the original SB 64 here.

The original requirement of this law requiring the decision of whether to fund a reserve account to be made by a majority of those owners who happen to show up at the annual meeting, is one that I’ve always been opposed to for various reasons, not the least of which is that it unconstitutionally interferes with the obligation contained almost universally in preexisting HOA contracts (CC&Rs) that the board establish a reasonable reserve.  For reasons similar to those contained in the ULAC position statement, I am opposed to SB 64, as well.

If you have an opinion one way or the other on pending legislation, don’t be afraid to voice it to your representatives in the Legislature.  Follow this link to identify who they are and contact them: Utah State District Maps


Let it Snow? Who Should Remove Snow and Ice?

December 11, 2012

By:  John Richards

Most Property Managers dread the “snow days.”  It takes a lot of effort to coordinate your snow removal vendors, especially if there is a continual downpour of the white stuff and it keeps accumulating.  Questions arise such as “how often during a storm should the snow plow go out?”  If a lot of snow is expected, is it reasonable to wait between “pushes” before they are sent back out, and what liability is there is someone slips on snow or ice that was the Association’s obligation to remove?  What about Associations that provide ice melt to their members and asks them to put it on the common area walkways that lead to their door?  Does this create any legal concerns? 

These exact same questions apply to self-managed Associations with the additional circumstance that many smaller, self-managed Associations use “volunteer” homeowners to remove the snow.  The article will address these questions.

When considering the HOA’s obligation to remove snow, first and foremost make sure that you are absolutely certain which portions of the property are either:  (1) general common area; (2) limited common area; and/or (3) part of the owner’s lot.

Next, be clear as to whether the owner or the Association is assigned to remove snow from each of these three (3) different types of areas (Note:  not all Associations will have all three (3) types of property).  Remember, this “assignment” will be set forth in your CC&Rs.  If there is any uncertainty whatsoever in your governing documents, have your attorney draft a snow removal obligation chart that shows clearly “who clears which areas” based upon the CC&Rs.  This chart is then distributed to the owners.

If an Association member (or their guests) slips and falls and is injured due to snow or ice on the common areas, the Association may be liable, but not in all cases.  An Association’s liability is governed by the following concepts:  (1) If the owner had the obligation to remove the snow or ice under the CC&Rs, then the Association will not be liable for an injury that occurred in such an area; (2) If an injury occurs in an area over which the Association has maintenance obligations (i.e., snow and ice removal) then the injured owner/guest may have a good case if (a) the Association had actual or constructive notice of the snowy/icy condition (that is, they should have known); and (b) the Association failed within a reasonable time to reasonably remove the ice or snow. 

Of course, the term “reasonable” is subject to a lot of interpretations and varies with each situation.  However, at a minimum, it is likely to be deemed “reasonable” by a court that an Association has a legal obligation to inspect and remove snow and ice (whether from a single snow fall event or during a continuous snow fall during a storm) on a regular basis for so long as the threat of dangerous snow and/or ice is present.  This could create an extreme burden on those Associations that remove snow “up to the door” of a member but this obligation simply cannot be ignored.  I believe the legal standard in Utah for an Association to remove snow and ice will be the same as found in the Restatement of Torts which implies that the Association will be liable for an injury if it “fails to exercise reasonable care to protect the members or guests against danger….”

As for giving your members ‘ice melt’ and a shovel to take care of the common area in front of their own doors, I do not believe that this a bad idea at all, however, be cautious of the unintended consequence of the Board believing that members are taking care of potentially slippery and hazardous areas when, in fact, this will remain an Association obligation.  One tip, besides those mentioned above, is to hire a reputable and insured snow removal company who will take care of the snow and ice in the parking lot and walkways in a timely manner.  As I typed this entry, snow is lightly falling which is something that I presonally thoroughly enjoy. Consequently, let’s not diminish the beauty of the winter season by unnecessarily exposing our Associations to legal liability for failing to keep the common areas reasonably safe and clear from snow and ice.

 


Our New Utah HOA Law App Helps Associations Follow the Law

December 6, 2012

Up until a few years ago, it seems that a board could get away with not referencing the Utah statutes that apply to HOAs.  Especially in non-condo HOAs, there just weren’t a lot of issues addressed by Utah law, except the procedural and corporate issues set out in the Nonprofit Corporation Act.

But today, the landscape is different.  Many day to day issues, such as adoption and enforcement of rules, spending reserve money, records, providing payoffs, insurance, budgets, and so forth are now addressed in the law and their requirements are not optional.  They must be followed or an association risks expensive litigation and other disputes, especially in today’s  increasingly litigious climate for HOAs, where a technicality or trivial failure of association procedure can lead to a major and costly headache.

As part of Kimble Law’s commitment to provide real value to its clients and to help all community associations operate effectively and properly, we brings you a free app for your smartphone and tablet that provides quick reference to the laws that apply to your association.

Now the laws are available right in your pocket, no Internet connection required!  The statutes are formatted and indented for easier reading than the state’s own website, plus search and bookmark functions make it much easier and quicker to use.  Certain federal regulations applicable to HOAs, such as Fair Housing Act and satellite dish regulations are also included, together with summaries and explanations of those requirements.

Utah HOA Law App Now Available.  Access the Web App online, or download the app to your mobile device today for free!

Click below or search Utah HOA Law in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

Utah HOA Law for iPhone, iPod:

Utah HOA Law for Android:
Android app on Google Play

file-dec-16-6-51-54-pm


Pop Quiz on New Utah HOA Laws

August 16, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Many changes were enacted to the laws that govern HOAs in Utah in 2011. We tested your knowledge a year ago soon after the changes went into effect.  How is your knowledge of these changes over a year later?  Take this short quiz and find out (answers at very bottom).

There’s no need to click submit, unless you’d like to print your answers, in which case, click submit and then when you click print below, it should print your answers.

Don’t look below until you’ve finished!  Warning – answers below!

Now grade yourself.  Here are the answers:

1.  False, only condominiums are governed by the Utah Condominium Ownership Act.

2.  14 days

3.  may not . . . may.

4.  D.  all of the above

5.  all of the above

6.  True, except as to a member who has made written demand to the association to provide notice to the member by mail

Thanks for playing!


Home Ownership and Second Hand Smoke: the American Dream or a Health Nightmare?

January 20, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

How far can a government or an HOA go to dictate what can and can’t be done inside of a homeowners own home? Is an owner of an attached dwelling or a condominium unit able to do whatever they want within the confines of their home as long as it’s not illegal? Is a homeowner entitled to create and distribute from their home a “Class A” carcinogenic substance, which causes cancer and respiratory diseases and disorders, among other problems and which is able to infiltrate neighboring homes?

This is a question being increasingly asked in other states where some state courts have held that smoke transferring between units is a nuisance. But others have determined that the cigarette smoke is like an odor intrusion, a condition of living in a community environment that residents simply have to put up with – a startlingly misguided mentality considering the fact that the EPA has determined that there is no acceptable level of exposure to Class A carcinogens, and considering that second hand smoke causes serious problems for children, including ear problems, middle ear disease, acute respiratory infections, wheeze illness, slowed lung growth, and more severe asthma, and that 430 American newborns die each year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) caused by second hand smoke.

Incentives offered by the Federal Government have led cities from Austin to Boston to prohibit smoking in public housing. In 2006, a judge ruled that secondhand smoke could be a breach of “warranty of habitability” under New York law.  At least six California cities and counties have banned smoking in all condo units.

Fortunately for Utah residents who don’t appreciate dangerous and toxic chemicals being forced down their breathing passages, Utah law clearly states that smoke transferring between dwelling units is a nuisance and may be the subject of an action brought by “any person whose property is injuriously affected, or whose personal enjoyment is lessened by the nuisance” and “upon judgment, the nuisance may be enjoined or abated, and damages may be recovered.”

A nuisance under Utah law includes tobacco smoke that drifts into any residential unit a person rents, leases, or owns, from another residential or commercial unit and the smoke drifts in more than once in each of two or more consecutive seven-day periods, and is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.

The Utah Condominium Ownership Act states that restrictions in governing documents “regarding the use of the units may include other prohibitions on, or allowance of, smoking tobacco products.”

The Utah Community Association Act, which applies to non-condo HOAs, states that a rule of an association may prohibit an activity within a dwelling if there are attached dwellings, and the activity creates the potential for smoke to enter another lot owner’s dwelling, the common areas, or limited common areas.

Utah law is at the forefront of the national trend to protect the right of every individual to live in their own homes without being subjected to dangerous and toxic chemicals contained in second hand smoke. Contact us to take advantage of these laws and help your association adopt a policy regarding smoking.


How the New Laws Affect You: Condos

May 31, 2011

So, here’s a summary of how the new Utah HOA laws that went into effect on May 10, 2011, affect you most, as well as some recommended “action items.”  Contact us for help with any action item.  Also, see the other posts on this blog for more detail on the new laws.  This blog does not contain a comprehensive list of the new laws, just those that affect your daily operations the most.

If you’re a condo:

1.  Register or No Lien.  Register as an HOA (separate and apart from registering as a nonprofit corporation) with the State of Utah and keep it updated when directors change, or else you can’t enforce any liens against delinquent owners.  *Action item:  subscribe to this blog (on the right side of this page under “Email Subscription”) and we’ll post the info on how to register as soon as we know about it.

2.  Insurance.  A condominium association’s insurance policy that is renewed or issued after July 1, 2011, is required to have liability coverage and 100% replacement cost coverage for all permanent improvements, including fixtures and betterments to a unit made by a unit owner.  The association must set aside an amount equal to the amount of the deductible (or $10,000, whichever is less).  The master policy must be primary, even for unit related losses.  However, the law gives the HOA a method to allocate or transfer some risk and responsibility to the unit owner (or unit owner’s policy) for unit related issues.  For claims against the association’s master policy which are associated with a particular unit, the association can require the owner of that unit to pay the deductible if a notice had already been sent to all unit owners stating they will be responsible for the deductible on the association’s master policy.  *Action item: send notice to all owners regarding payment of the deductible, and make sure your deductible is somewhere in the $2,500 to $10,000 range to reduce minor or frivolous claims against the master policy by unit owners that drive up the premiums.

3.  Payoff Info.  An association is now prohibited from charging a fee for providing payoff information needed for closing on a unit, unless the fee is authorized by the CC&Rs, bylaws or rules, and, no matter what, the fee can’t exceed $50.  Payoff information must be provided by the HOA within five business days from when a closing agent makes a proper request for it (has to be in writing, signed and dated by the owner, etc.), or the lien is not enforceable at closing.

When a unit owner is closing on a unit and the owner needs payoff information because he or she has not been paying their share of the common expenses, providing that payoff information is an administrative burden on the HOA that is appropriately paid for by the offending/delinquent owner, not by the other paying owners.   *Action item:  adopt a rule authorizing a fee for providing payoff information.

4.  Reserves.  Every five years, a homeowner-elected board must perform, or hire someone to perform, a reserve analysis by (1) determining which improvements have a useful life of 3 years or more, then (2) determining what the cost is for maintaining those improvements over the next several years, and (3) then determining what they think the appropriate amount of the reserve fund should be.

The reserve analysis has to be reviewed and, if needed, updated every two years.  The reserve analysis has to be presented to the homeowners at the annual meeting each year where the homeowners at the meeting vote to determine whether to fund a reserve account and,  if so, how to fund it and in what amount.  The results of that vote have to be reflected in the minutes.

The money in the reserve fund has to be kept separate from other funds and may not be used for daily maintenance expenses, unless approved by the owners, or for any other purpose other than the purpose for which the reserve fund was established.  *Action Item: for those who haven’t conducted a reserve analysis since March 1, 2008,  the law requires you to do one by July 1, 2012.

5.  Electronic Notice.  A new law states that you can provide notice to homeowners solely by electronic means (e.g., email, website) if authorized by your CC&Rs, bylaws, or rules (unless a homeowner opts out in writing).  *Action Item: adopt a rule authorizing electronic notice instead of notice by mail, at least for certain things.

In the next day or two, I’ll post a summary of how the new laws affect non-condo HOAs (all other HOAs).

Curtis G. Kimble


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