Update on the Infamous Open Garage Door Rule
On January 25, 2018, I blogged about an HOA in Auburn, California that passed a rule requiring all of its owners to leave their garage doors open during the day. The goal of the rule was to prevent owners from using their garages as living spaces. The patently overbroad rule—which, in effect, would render residents’ possessions in their garages unsecured—subjected the association and board to local and national media scrutiny and criticism.
Well, according to subsequent reporting by KGO-TV San Francisco and The Sacramento Bee, the association placed the rule on hold while it works with members to adopt a more reasonable policy. That seems like a good plan.
However, the Sacramento Bee’s updated reporting revealed facts previously unknown (at least to me), and these additional factors warrant a closer look at the situation and the forces that might have impacted the board’s initial decisions.
The Bee reported that the garages at the HOA were not always garages. Apparently, they were originally common area carports, which were later enclosed by residents, likely impermissibly. This, according to a resident quoted in the Bee’s story, created problems with transient use and people sneaking in and sleeping in the enclosed carports. It also created an issue for the association, which at some point may have grandfathered the enclosed carports.
In fairness to the board and the association, the issue does not appear to be as clear-cut as initially reported. I am speculating, but if the garages were actually common areas, not parts of units as originally assumed, then perhaps the association’s authority was absolute in how owners could use these spaces. And, if the garages were completely unauthorized, or grandfathered pursuant to strict conditions, then perhaps those conditions permitted the original rule. One can only speculate.
So, are there lessons to be learned? Absolutely. First, the devil is in the details. Full information is essential even on issues that may seem obvious on the surface. Second, even if the rule was totally within the board’s power to adopt, the practical implications of suddenly leaving garages open was just too obvious to ignore. Perhaps if the board had given residents 60 or 90 days advance notice, and multiple reminders before the doors were required to be left open, the rule would not have caused the outrage that it did. Third, I often suggest to clients try to find the least invasive restriction or rule that will achieve the required compliance.
If we can help your association develop or review a rule or policy, let us know.