Reader Questions - Building Codes, HOA RatingsJan 21, 2013
Dear Mr. Richardson,
I enjoy your columns, and the info presented is usually right-on. However, in the recent column from VV in Rancho Santa Margarita, there was an issue with the HOA doing renovations in their building. No mention was made of the fact that a building permit must be obtained from the local governing jurisdiction for that type of work (removal of a bearing wall). Not only is the HOA in violation of their own rules and requirements, the HOA is in violation of the State Building Code, and the contractor also can be fined by the Contractor’s State License Board. Because the wall was removed an engineer would need to be involved to assure that the remodel is safe and in conformance with the state-mandated codes.
VV should contact his local Building & Safety Department and have them proceed with the appropriate violation investigation and abatement. Because of the unpermitted work, that building is an unsafe structure per the California Building Code and MAY NOT be occupied until the violations have been remedied. If the building fails or someone gets hurt because of that unpermitted work, that HOA president has taken upon himself AND the entire HOA a major liability.
Thanks and keep up the great work,
G.S., Building and Safety Technician, Inland Empire
You are absolutely correct. This column primarily focuses upon the Common Interest Development Act, but associations, boards and members cannot ignore local and state building and safety laws, which also must be followed. Modifying the structure of the building does not just affect the member making the remodel, it directly affects the safety of neighbors in the same building, and potentially the finances of all the association members.
Are you aware of any rating services that audit and report on the relative quality of a HOA?
I do not know of any private or public rating service regarding common interest developments. So, the average homebuyer is left to their own study of the available HOA information.
Read the governing documents, and recent minutes. What do they tell you about whether you would like to live there? Look at the use restrictions – is there anything in there you cannot accept? Better find that out before closing escrow, not after.
What level of service is desired? Some value a high level of service, and expect to pay for it. Others prefer minimal service and minimal assessments.
Also, definitely take a long look at the reserve fund disclosures. Is the HOA accumulating money per an expert reserve study, so there is enough money to handle replacement of major building components? Or, has the association not funded its reserves, trying to artificially keep its assessments low? Homes in the latter association probably are worth less, even though the appraisals for the well-funded association homes may be the same as homes in the underfunded association – I am told appraisers do not consider HOA finances in their valuation opinions.
Is the property well maintained? Is the association (or its manager) courteous and responsive to requests for information? Is the manager credentialed? Did you receive all required disclosures?
There are many possible indicators of a good association property. Take your time, do your homework, and join your new HOA with eyes wide open.
Written by Kelly G. Richardson
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to [email protected]. Past columns at www.hoahomefront.com. All rights reserved®.