Despite new law, homeowner association fines resident for using a clothesline

Question: I was excited to learn California now allows residents to once again dry their laundry using personal outdoor clotheslines. My homeowner association's board of directors has instructed the management company to fine residents with visible clotheslines and confiscate the line. I've just been fined and don't know what to do now.

Answer: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1448 recognizing California's need for "personal energy conservation." Effective Jan. 1, Civil Code section 4750.10 became law and permits the use of personal outdoor clotheslines in common interest developments subject to certain restrictions by the homeowner association.

The law defines "clothesline" to include a cord, rope or wire from which laundered items may be hung to dry or air. Civil Code section 4750.10 defines a "drying rack" as an apparatus from which laundered items may be hung to dry or air. A balcony, railing, awning or other part of a structure or building shall not qualify as a drying rack or a clothesline.

Owners are forewarned to check with their boards prior to erecting and using any structure to hang their laundry. Always get written board consent before doing so as fines and/or penalties may attach for the owner's improper use.

More importantly, the law makes it clear that any governing document provision is void and unenforceable if it effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts an owner's ability to use a clothesline or drying rack in the owner's backyard. As every common interest development is different, there is no doubt that some condominium, townhouse and co-operative unit owners will be looking closely at their association's definition of an owner's "backyard."

This new statute applies only to backyards that are designated for the exclusive use of the owner and it does not apply to provisions that impose "reasonable restrictions" on a titleholder's backyard for the use of a clothesline or drying rack. "Reasonable restrictions" are restrictions that do not significantly increase the cost of using a clothesline or drying rack. This caveat may permit your association to prohibit certain types of "visible clotheslines" if it is able to establish that owners with exclusive use backyards have a suitable location for installation that would not be visible from the street or to other owners.

As usual, even though this new law appears to give titleholders some freedom to take advantage of personal energy conservation options, nothing prohibits the association from establishing and enforcing reasonable rules governing clotheslines or drying racks. To be fair, the association's rule should not lack specificity and not be more extensive than is necessary. However, the many possible definitions of "reasonable" are a powder keg creating foreseeable problems for owners. Because it is the board that creates its own definition of "reasonableness," owners are left to fight for their rights and challenge an inappropriate definition where necessary.

Fines have to be rationally related to a known offense and notice must be given well prior to issuance of any fine. If your current association rules prohibit visible clotheslines and you were aware of this restriction, then you may be on the hook if fined.

In accordance with Civil Code section 5920, every homeowner association must provide a description of its internal dispute resolution process in the annual policy statement circulated to all titleholders. Contest the monetary fine or penalty based on this new California law by requesting that the board meet and confer under Civil Code section 5915. The association must provide a fair, reasonable and expeditious procedure for resolving this dispute and the "meet and confer" is part of that process.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or noexit@mindspring.com.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 17, 2016, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Despite law, resident is fined for using a clothesline - ASSOCIATIONS" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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