RYLAND MEWS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION v. RUBEN MUNOZ

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California Court of Appeal upholds a Homeowners Association’s right to limit hard surface flooring:

When Ruben Munoz (“Munoz”) and his wife moved into their upstairs unit at Ryland Mews Homeowners Association (“Association”) in February 2011, they replaced the carpets with hardwood floors to accommodate the wife’s severe dust allergy. After the installation, the occupants of the unit below began to experience “sound transfer” through the floor which had not occurred previously.

On November 28, 2011, the Association’s Management wrote to Munoz, notifying him that his alteration of the flooring appeared to have been made without prior approval of the Association. Munoz did not respond within the 30 days Management had given him, so on January 31, 2012, with authorization from the Association’s Board of Directors, Management wrote to Munoz again, this time requesting Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) under the Davis-Stirling Act. Munoz still did not respond to the Association’s Request for Resolution.

Thereafter, the Association brought an action on July 12, 2012, seeking an injunction and declaratory relief. The Association alleged that Munoz had violated the CC&Rs applicable to all residents at the time of the floor installation. Munoz opposed the injunction motion, contending that hardwood floors were necessary in his home because his wife was severely allergic to dust; consequently, removing the floors and installing new floors not only would be expensive but would endanger his wife’s health. The Association prevailed and obtained a preliminary injunction requiring Munoz to remedy the unauthorized modification of the flooring in his upstairs condominium unit in order to reduce the transmission of noise to the unit below. Munoz promptly appealed the decision on multiple grounds.

The Court of Appeal reviewed the pertinent portions of the Association’s CC&Rs. Specifically, Section 3.3 of the CC&Rs provided, “No activity shall be conducted in any Unit or Common Area that constitutes a nuisance or unreasonably interferes with the use or quiet enjoyment of the occupants of any other Condominium.” Section 3.17 more explicitly stated, “No Unit shall be altered in any manner that would increase sound transmission to any adjoining or other Unit, including, but not limited to, the replacement or modification of any flooring or floor covering that increases sound transmissions to any lower Unit.” And under section 7.2(v), prior written approval had to be obtained from the Architectural Review Committee before any “replacement or modification to any floor coverings or wall or ceiling materials or any penetration or other disturbance of any wall, floor, or ceiling, if the replacement[,] modification, penetration or disturbance could result in any increase in the sound transmissions from the Unit to any other Unit.”

The Court of Appeal then reviewed the factors which must be taken into consideration anytime an injunction is requested. In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, a court must weigh two “interrelated” factors: (1) the likelihood that the moving party will ultimately prevail on the merits and (2) the relative interim harm to the parties from issuance or non-issuance of the injunction.

The Court of Appeal held that the directive from the lower court ordering Munoz to find a compromise in modifying the flooring, as well as the interim remedy of using throw rugs throughout 80% of the unit, reflected a balanced consideration of the circumstances of everyone involved, including the residents below who were adversely affected by Munoz’s violation of the noise and nuisance restrictions. The Court further upheld the finding that Munoz’s violation of the Association’s rules had resulted in a continuing “great nuisance” for the occupants below and was supported by substantial evidence. The evidence clearly supported the lower court’s weighing of the relative interim harm to the parties and its determination that the Association would ultimately prevail on the merits.

The Court of Appeal further held that the Association’s failure to provide Munoz with a copy of the entire portion of the Civil Code regarding ADR in its Request for Resolution was not grounds for the injunction to be denied. Although the Association provided Munoz with a copy of a portion of the ADR provisions, it did not send the entire article as required by the Civil Code. The Court of Appeal held that this omission was not prejudicial to Munoz for several reasons, many of which may or may not be present in future cases. Therefore, while the Association was able to prevail without strict compliance with the statute in this instance, best practice is still to serve the entire Article 3 contained in Civil Code §§ 5925 through 5965 with an Association’s Request for Resolution.

The Association’s injunction was upheld, and Munoz is required to comply with the sound attenuation measures ordered by the Superior Court.