This case involved a dispute between a condominium homeowners association (Association) and the owners of six different units within the complex (Owners). The dispute pertained to a grant by Association of exclusive use of a small portion of the common area to one of the Owners.

During the period between 2002 and 2013, Associations architectural review committee (ARC) allowed unit owners to add windows in the exterior walls of their units or to convert windows into doors. During that period, approximately 80% of the condominiums had been modified through this process by adding more than 90 windows and converting several windows to doors. Associations members were never involved in a vote relative to the approval of any of those changes.

In 2013, a different unit owner obtained approval from the ARC for him to convert two windows into doors. One was on the ocean side of his unit, and the other was adjacent to a courtyard on the side of his unit. Owners filed suit against Association over its approval of the requested work, contending that the ARCs approval of the conversion of the window adjacent to the courtyard to a door was improper because it amounted to granting the owner who had made the request, the exclusive use of a portion of the common area in violation of a California statutes (Civil Code 4600), which requires the approval of 67% of the members of Association to grant exclusive use of common area if a different percentage is not specified in the governing documents.

The trial court found that the exterior walls in question were common area, and under Associations governing documents, the doors into a unit were considered exclusive use common area. Thus, the trial count ruled that converting any portion of the exterior wall to a door would be granting the exclusive use to that portion of the affected common area to the unit owner. As such, under the California statute, because Associations governing documents did not specify a different percentage vote, it would require the approval of 67% of Associations owners. Since the approval of the owners had not been sought, the trial court found in favor of Owners and ordered Association to comply with the code section in question. Association then appealed the trial courts ruling.

The appellate court found that, under the applicable law, unless the governing documents specify a different percentage, the affirmative vote of 67% of Associations members was needed for Associations directors to grant the exclusive use of any portion of the common area to a member. The fact that only a very small portion of the common area (a one and one-half by three foot portion of the exterior wall that was located under the owners window) was involved did not matter. Relying on the specific language of the statute, the court stated that the statute in question clearly states that unless a different percentage was specified in the governing documents, the affirmative vote of at least 67% of the members shall be required before an HOAs board can grant the exclusive use of any portion of the common area to a member. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial courts judgment.

UNPUBLISHED California Appellate Court Decision (August 26, 2019)

See case decision: Richardson_v._Huntington_Pac._Beach