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Most homeowners in association don't speak English; what to do?

Justice SystemCrime, Law and Justice

Question: We are a small homeowners association over 35 years old. As original owners sold their units, our association demographics changed. Our association is now composed of various cultural groups speaking several different languages and dialects. The majority of current owners cannot read our covenants, conditions and restrictions and other governing documents. They show no interest in the association.

As a result, we no longer have a board of directors. The last board meeting minutes were published just before the secretary sold his unit and moved away last year. Of the two English-speaking owners left in the complex, one is the treasurer and I'm the other but I'm over 85 years old.

In May the dues were raised $50 but the only ones paying the increase are the treasurer and me. No one else can read the minutes of that final board meeting and the notice raising the dues. We don't have enough money in the bank to pay for even minor maintenance of our common property. How can we operate an association when 90% of the owners cannot read or speak English?

Answer: The association must function with a duly elected board of directors. If there are not enough volunteers to staff the association's board of directors, one solution, albeit an expensive one and of last resort, is to petition the court to appoint a receiver. This will result in assessments being charged to every titleholder to pay attorneys and court costs until the court is satisfied that the law is being followed. At the very least, there will be someone able to make decisions regarding the collection of assessments and maintaining the common areas.

Each owner signed a document in escrow that they received a copy of the covenants, conditions and restrictions. No owner in a common-interest development is exempt from their obligations. Whether the buyers speak English or not, they accept all the responsibilities of ownership, including the obligation to pay assessments and hold annual elections.

Having all the association's governing documents and meeting minutes written in languages that the current titleholders understand might be part of a solution toward getting more owner involvement. The board can assess all owners for the translation costs.

Collecting past due assessments is a function for the board to decide. Options include pursuing collections (an absolute duty of the board), deciding when to put a lien on a property and, after all other alternatives have been exhausted, when to consider foreclosure. Working directly with the owners to prevent these more drastic measures is always preferred.

Unfortunately, a receiver may be the only alternative until enough people are willing and able to serve on the board.

Glassman is an attorney specializing in corporate and business law. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and a mediator in the Los Angeles city attorney's Dispute Resolution Program. Send questions to P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or email noexit@mindspring.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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