HOA LIABILITY FOR FAILURE TO UPHOLD MAINTENANCE OBLIGATIONS
Sands v. Walnut Gardens Condominium Ass'n (2019)
Takeaway: CC&R provisions may dictate standard of maintenance to be performed and failure to investigate and conduct maintenance issues may constitute a breach of contract by the HOA.
In Sands v. Walnut Gardens Condominium Association, the California Appellate Court held the HOA could be responsible for damages sustained by a homeowner as a result of a plumbing leak originating from a pipe on the roof of the condominium building (i.e., HOA common area). In Sands, the HOA repaired the pipe and the roof, but did not compensate the homeowners for the damages they sustained to the interior of the unit and their personal property. The homeowners sued the HOA for breach of contract and negligence.
In addressing the the breach of contract claim, the Court of Appeal noted that the HOA had a contractual obligation under the CC&Rs to maintain the common area in "a first-class condition." A jury could find that the HOA breached that contract by failing to perform preventative maintenance, and by failing to periodically inspect the pipes and roof. The Court dismissed the HOA's argument that "no evidence showed [that] the [HOA] was 'on notice that it needed to make repairs or do something to the roof or the pipes.'" Rather, it was sufficient that the HOA knew that no maintenance was being performed, which a jury could find as a breach of the CC&Rs' requirement that the common area be maintained in a first-class condition.
However, as to the second cause of action for negligence, the Court sustained the trial court's judgment of nonsuit (i.e., the homeowners failed to present sufficient evidence to conclude that the HOA was negligent). The Court noted that "the [HOA] had no independent duty as to the pipes and roof arising from tort law." In other words, absent a showing of a duty independent of the CC&Rs, an HOA cannot be held liable for the tort of negligence for its maintenance failures.