California Law Revision Commission
Since 2000, the California Law Revision Commission [CLRC] has been studying and revising the laws governing common interest developments or “homeowner associations.” Collectively, the laws are known as the Davis-Stirling Act. [Civil Code 1350 et seq.] The authors were San Diego Judge Larry Stirling, now an attorney with the law firm of Adams Kessler, and Gray Davis, the former Governor.The CLRC launched its work by commissioning UCLA Law Professor Susan French to write an overview of California laws governing associations and to make tentative recommendations. Her report is on the CLRC website at http://clrc.ca.gov/pub/BKST/BKST-811-French-CID-Scope.pdf.
After releasing the French report, the CLRC held public hearings in 2001 at the Capitol to take public comment. The bulk of it was from homeowners, who are forced to live under Davis-Stirling. Few homeowners understand when they buy an association home that they are expected to take on the duties and the liabilities imposed by these laws. But – as their testimony indicates -- they become eloquent about Davis-Stirling after a few years of living under its constraints.
We are now in the process of posting the 2001 homeowner testimony on the CCHAL website. It is startling to read.
Homeowners complained ten years ago – as they do now – about nonjudicial foreclosure and sky-rocketing assessments; about renegade boards who flout the law: boards that refuse to hold elections, that hold secret meetings, that make it difficult for homeowners to find out how their money is being spent; about boards that Davis-Stirling makes immune from liability for their actions.
So why hasn’t the Commission tackled these problems?
In the last decade, the Commission has sponsored significant legislation benefiting homeowners, most notably AB 512/Bates establishing rulemaking procedures for homeowner associations to follow [Civil Code 1357.100.]
Equally important was AB 1536/Harman that created a dispute resolution process for associations to follow. Both bills were founded on the Commission’s belief that boards and homeowners need tools for devising rules together and for resolving disputes internally when they arise.
But ten years later -- 2010 -- homeowners are still writing the Commission urging it to use its influence and authority to make boards -- and the vendors they hire -- accountable to homeowners. In other words, the Commission has still not grappled with the core complaints lodged by Californians a decade ago.
The abuses of nonjudicial foreclosure top the list.
Associations -- meaning the debt collectors and law firms they hire -- still abuse the statutory right to foreclose. They routinely foreclose to collect comparatively minute assessment amounts. Even if they don’t foreclose on the Notice of Default, they hold the home hostage in order to extract thousands of dollars in collection costs. CCHAL has been attending Commission meetings since 2001 but the foreclosure issue is still not on the CLRC agenda.
Two of the chief architects of Davis-Stirling – attorneys Curt Sproul and Katherine Rosenberry -- were at the Sacramento hearings in 2000. Rosenberry is Emeritus Professor of Law at California Western School of Law. She believes that both the federal and state constitutions have "limited application" to disputes arising in homeowner associations.
In her mind, apparently, even the due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment have little application to the homeowner threatened with the loss of his property through foreclosure. [Her article explaining her beliefs is on the CCHAL website at http://www.calhomelaw.org/doc.asp?id=473.]
Sproul heads the Real Estate Section of the California State Bar. The CLRC has asked him to chair the working group of association attorneys advising the Commission on its next legislative project whose stated purpose is to “simplify and clarify” Davis-Stirling. No one is quite sure what this means. Is the CLRC making substantive changes – or is it just correcting the spelling….
Association attorneys are not the only ones advising the CLRC. Association industry trade groups have been monitoring and advising the Commission since 2000. Trade groups include the Community Associations Institute (CAI), Executive Council of Homeowners (ECHO), and the California Association of Community Managers (CACM.)
Organizations monitoring the CLRC on behalf of homeowners have been the Center for California Homeowner Association Law and the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA.) Other advocacy organizations have supported or opposed specific bills sponsored by the CLRC.
The first project of the homeowner advocates was to write a CID Homeowner Bill of Rights and to deliver it formally at a CLRC meeting in San Francisco in 2001. The Coalition presented the document to the Commission on September 21st, just before the anniversary of the ratification of the federal Bill of Rights. Among the signers was Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
The Homeowner Bill of Rights formed a set of ten principles that members of the homeowner Coalition used to campaign for legislation to reform state laws on association foreclosure, elections, and access to records. [The Bill of Rights is on the CCHAL website at http://www.calhomelaw.org/doc.asp?id=639.]
The Commission meets quarterly, most often in Sacramento, less often in Burbank (Los Angeles County)
Its website [http://www.clrc.ca.gov/] contains meeting schedule and minutes, CLRC staff memos, comments from the association industry and its trade groups, links to legislation introduced by the Commission, and public comment.
As we locate them, we will be posting more homeowner letters on the CCHAL website. They are detailed and thoughtful. Just click on the links below.
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