Fourth District, Division Three Sustains Fee Award Against Nonvictorious Homeowner Under Civil Code section 1354(c).
Civil Code section 1354(c) provides: “In an action to enforce the governing documents [such as homeowner association CC&Rs], the prevailing party shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.” Because statutory provisions present issues of law for de novo appellate review, homeowner—who had lost five prior appeals—went 6-0, when our local Santa Ana-based appellate court affirmed an award of $47,335.72 in costs and $264,549.60 in attorney’s fees after the trial court granted a summary adjudication against homeowner (finding that a CC&R amendment was valid) and after homeowner lost a bench trial for claimed incidental “damages” of $400,000 that he suffered before the effective date of the amendments. (Appellant had named 120 fellow members in the HOA as defendants.)
In Tezak v. Blanco, Case No. G038314 (4th Dist., Div. 3 Sept. 9, 2008) (unpublished), Justice Ikola—writing for a 3-0 panel—found that appellant’s “damages” claim was tantamount to a claim requesting enforcement of the CC&Rs. The panel found that the reasoning in Chee v. Amanda Goldt Property Mgt., 143 Cal.App.4th 1360, 1380-81 (2006) was apt, which also found that an action for breach of contract was equivalent to an action to enforce the CC&Rs.
Justice Ikola also found no abuse of discretion in sustaining the fee award at a practical level. Because defendant homeowners clearly prevailed in the action, no error occurred in affirming the entire award. (See Heather Farms Homeowners Assn. v. Robinson, 21 Cal.App.4th 1568, 1574 (1994).) Beyond that, losing appellant had failed to comply with the alternative dispute resolution procedure required for homeowner-HOA disputes—which involve solely declaratory, injunctive, or relief writ below small claims limits of $5,000-$7,500—a factor that can be weighed by a trial judge in awarding attorney’s fees. (Code Civ. Proc., sec. 1369.580.)