Attorney’s Fees Recovery

Governing Document Enforcement
In an action to enforce an association’s governing documents, the prevailing party must be awarded “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.” (Civ. Code § 5975(c).)

“Prevailing Party” 
The Davis-Stirling Act does not define the term “prevailing party,” nor does it provide a metric or formula for making that determination. As a result, California Courts have “concluded that the test for prevailing party is a pragmatic one, namely whether a party prevailed on a practical level by achieving its main litigation objectives.” (Heather Farms HOA v. Robinson (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1568, 1574; See also “Prevailing Party & Attorney’s Fees.”)

Attorney’s Fees & Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”)
Neither an association nor any of its members may file an “enforcement action” (i.e., a lawsuit) in superior court unless the parties to the dispute have “endeavored” to submit their dispute to “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) in accordance with Civil Code Section 5930. (Civ. Code § 5930(a); See also “Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).”) ADR is essentially mediation where the parties to a dispute (i.e., the homeowner and the HOA) utilize the services of a third-party mediator to try and come to a mutual resolution. While each party to ADR is generally required to bear its own attorney’s fees, those attorney’s fees may become recoverable in any subsequent litigation regarding the dispute or to enforce a settlement agreement that was reached by the parties in ADR.  (Grossman v. Park Fort Washington Association (2012) 212 Cal. App. 4th 1128; Rancho Mirage Country Club HOA v. Hazelbaker (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 252.)

Other Causes of Action
The following provisions of the California Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure provide for  recovery of attorney’s fees in actions that may involve associations but not necessarily relate to enforcement of an association’s governing documents:

Anti-SLAPP Motion Code Civ. Pro. § 425.16
Assessment Collection Civ. Code § 5650
Contract Enforcement
(*where the disputed contract provides for attorney’s fees)
Civ. Code § 1717
Discriminatory Restrictions Civ. Code § 4225
Election Challenges
(*attorney’s fees are only available to a prevailing member, not a prevailing association.)
Civ. Code § 5145(b)
Escrow Disclosure Violations Civ. Code § 4540
Flags
(*display U.S. flag)
Civ. Code § 4705(c)
Grants of Exclusive Use of Common Area
(*attorney’s fees are only available to a prevailing member, not a prevailing association.)
Civ. Code § 4605(b)
Managing Agent: Deposit of Association Funds Civ. Code § 5380(e)
Open Meeting Act Violations
(*attorney’s fees are only available to a prevailing member, not a prevailing association.)
Civ. Code § 4955
Records Inspection
(*attorney’s fees are only available to a prevailing member, not a prevailing association.)
Civ. Code § 5235
Records Misuse
(*attorney’s fees are available to a prevailing association.)
Civ. Code § 5230
Satellite Dishes Civ. Code § 4725(d)
Small Claims Appeals Code Civ. Pro. § 116.780(c)
Solar Energy Systems Civ. Code § 714(g)

Notable HOA Attorney’s Fees Case Law

  • Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Association v. Carson
    (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 761
    Where both sides achieved some positive net effect as a result of the court’s ruling, a prevailing party determination is made by comparing the practical effect of the relief attained by each; After resolving the issue of prevailing party in an action to enforce the governing documents, a trial court has no discretion to deny attorney’s fees.
  • Grossman v. Park Fort Washington Association
    (2012) 212 Cal. App. 4th 1128
    Pre-litigation attorney’s fees that are incurred in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are recoverable by the prevailing party in subsequent ligation.
  • Rancho Mirage Country Club Homeowners Association v. Hazelbaker
    (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 252
    An action to enforce a settlement agreement reached between a HOA and an owner through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was held to be an action to enforce the governing documents entitling the prevailing party to an award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Civ. Code § 5975.
  • Heather Farms Homeowners Association v. Robinson
    (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1568
    The determination as to who is the “prevailing party” entitled to its attorney’s fees under the Davis-Stirling Act is based on the court’s analysis of which party prevailed on a practical level. When that determination is made, the court’s ruling should be affirmed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.
  • Salehi v. Surfside III Condominium Owners Association
    (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1146
    A HOA is deemed a prevailing party entitled to recover its attorney’s fees where the outcome of the lawsuit results in the HOA realizing its litigation objectives on a practical level.
  • Tract 19051 Homeowners Association v. Kemp
    (2015) 60 Cal. 4th 1135
    Attorney’s fees may be recovered by the prevailing party under Civ. Code § 5975 in an action to enforce the governing documents regardless of whether the association is in fact a common interest development that is subject to the Davis-Stirling Act.
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Related Case Law

  • Almanor Lakeside Villas Owners Association v. Carson
    (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 761

    [Attorney’s Fees; Prevailing Party] Where both sides achieved some positive net effect as a result of the court’s ruling, a prevailing party determination is made by comparing the practical effect of the relief attained by each; After resolving the issue of prevailing party in an action to enforce the governing documents, a trial court has no discretion to deny attorney’s fees.

  • Grossman v. Park Fort Washington Association
    (2012) 212 Cal. App. 4th 1128

    [Attorney’s Fees; ADR; Pre-Litigation] Pre-litigation attorney’s fees that are incurred in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are recoverable by the prevailing party in subsequent ligation.

  • Rancho Mirage Country Club Homeowners Association v. Hazelbaker
    (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 252

    [Attorney’s Fees; ADR; Settlement Agreement] An action to enforce a settlement agreement reached between a HOA and an owner through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was held to be an action to enforce the governing documents entitling the prevailing party to an award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Civ. Code § 5975.

  • Heather Farms Homeowners Association v. Robinson
    (1994) 21 Cal.App.4th 1568

    [Attorney’s Fees; Prevailing Party] The determination as to who is the “prevailing party” entitled to its attorney’s fees under the Davis-Stirling Act is based on the court’s analysis of which party prevailed on a practical level. When that determination is made, the court’s ruling should be affirmed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.

  • Salehi v. Surfside III Condominium Owners Association
    (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1146

    [Attorney’s Fees; Prevailing Party] A HOA is deemed a prevailing party entitled to recover its attorney’s fees where the outcome of the lawsuit results in the HOA realizing its litigation objectives on a practical level.

  • Tract 19051 Homeowners Association v. Kemp
    (2015) 60 Cal. 4th 1135

    [Attorney’s Fees Awards; Non-CID Action] Attorney’s fees may be recovered by the prevailing party under Civ. Code § 5975 in an action to enforce the governing documents regardless of whether the association is in fact a common interest development that is subject to the Davis-Stirling Act.

Related Links

Recovering Pre-Litigation Attorney’s Fees in HOA DisputesPublished on HOA Lawyer Blog (March, 2013)

Attorney’s Fees are Recoverable to Enforce Settlement Agreement Reached in ADRPublished on HOA Lawyer Blog (November, 2016)

Clarifying When a HOA may be Deemed the ‘Prevailing Party’ in an Enforcement SuitPublished on HOA Lawyer Blog (January, 2017)