HOA did earthquake retrofitting without engineering data or plans

By From page HSR2 | May 03, 2014

Q: I own a home in West Sacramento and we have a homeowners association. During the regularly scheduled maintenance the Association took on the replacement of damaged siding. They obtained a permit from the city for the repair. While doing this repair they also decided to perform what they called earthquake retrofitting. This included removing the existing building hold downs and installing new, upgraded ones.

There was no permit from the city for this work and a stop work order was issued to them by the building department. The city later issued a permit for this work.

I have had the home inspected by a seismic engineer who has issued a written report on the work the Association did, and he states that the Association has structurally weakened the building by removing the original structural supports and installing new ones without engineering data or plans.

The CC&Rs prohibit the Association from doing structural work to the building. I have talked with the Association about this and they refuse to make any corrections. Please let me know what can be done about this if anything.

A:  I don’t know from your email whether you can, or even should, do anything about it.

First, the replacement of damaged wood siding is generally the responsibility of the homeowner when you’re talking about single-family homes, but not always. Some communities operate much like a condominium complex and make the HOA responsible for all outside maintenance.

The fact that the HOA replaced the seismic hold downs is curious to me. I can’t imagine why they undertook that project without the recommendation of an engineer.

Some of the very oldest developments are sometimes retrofitted for earthquake protection since, because of their age, they were constructed without the benefit of modern technology.

You haven’t told me how old your development is. But assuming it was built in the past 35 years or less, it would have been constructed with earthquakes in mind and therefore the buildings are secured to their foundations.

I can’t imagine the HOA would spend the money to retrofit the buildings without compelling evidence that such a correction is necessary.

Keep in mind that engineers, just like lawyers, can look at the same set of facts and come out with two different opinions. It’s possible that’s what is happening here.

You haven’t told me if the HOA is levying a special assessment against you to pay for this retrofitting. Associations are authorized under the California Civil Code to require owners to pay a special assessment, but only under limited circumstances.

Check the HOA’s records and see what resolutions the board of directors passed authorizing the expenditure of the retrofit monies. You may find the HOA made certain factual findings regarding the necessity for the work.

Whether or not the CC&Rs authorized the retrofit work is a fact I cannot address without first having read the document.

It would be unusual for the CC&Rs to require the HOA to repair or replace the exterior siding without also authorizing them to make structural corrections as well. A careful reading may help clarify their authority.

If you really feel your money has been wasted, the building weakened, and the HOA acted outside of their authority, you can go to court and ask a judge to issue certain orders correcting the problem.

But I think you need more facts before you go down that road.

Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield.  If you have any real estate questions you can contact him at [email protected].

Tim Jones


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