August 23, 2018

Appeals Court Rules Owners Entitled to Attorney Fees in Dispute with Neighbors

Matthew and Rachel Milcic sued John and Anne Estes for damages and other relief after the Estes cut branches off their trees, built an encroaching fence, painted the words "PULL YOUR WEEDS!" on the Milcics' side of the fence, and placed unwanted fill dirt on the Milcics' property. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Milcics on their causes of action (nuisance, timber trespass, spite fence, and damage to land or property). Following a trial on damages, the court awarded the Milcics some, but not all, of their requested damages and denied their request for an award of attorney fees. The Milcics appealed the court's damages award and attorney fee denial. In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled that the Milcics were entitled to an award of some of their attorney fees and costs.

Damages for trespassing and nuisance may include lost enjoyment of the use of property, but the trial court declined to award the Milcics damages relating to those claims because it decided that any damage to their land and property was minimal. However, RCW 4.24.630 states that "[e]very person who goes onto the land of another and who removes timber ... from the land, or wrongfully causes waste or injury to the land, or wrongfully injures personal property or improvements to the real estate on the land, is liable to the injured party for treble the amount of the damages caused by the removal, waste, or injury .... In addition, the party is liable for reimbursing the injured party for the party's reasonable costs, including but not limited to investigative costs and reasonable attorneys' fees and other litigation-related costs." The appellate court concluded that the Milcics were entitled to some of their attorney fees and costs under this statute due to the fence encroachments committed by the Estes.         

July 25, 2018

Legal Advice Is Sometimes A Legal Duty

Washington condominium and homeowners association boards are legally required to exercise ordinary and reasonable care while performing their duties.  Those boards should therefore seek legal advice if they are called upon to enforce their associations' governing documents in unfamiliar situations or if their authority to enforce the governing documents is challenged by one or more owners.  Washington courts have ruled that obtaining legal advice provides community associations and their board members with protection from civil liability related to governing document enforcement.  My office is available to assist Washington condominium and homeowners association boards that need such legal advice.                

June 1, 2018

Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (WUCIOA) Effective July 1

The Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act (WUCIOA) takes effect on July 1.  This new law applies to all condominium and homeowners associations created in Washington on or after that date.  The following section of WUCIOA applies to condominium and homeowners associations created in Washington before that date as well:

Section 326 Adoption of Budgets - Assessments and Special Assessments

(1)(a) Within thirty days after adopting of any proposed budget for the common interest community, the board must provide a copy of the budget to all the unit owners and set a date for a meeting of the unit owners to consider ratification of the budget not less than fourteen nor more than fifty days after providing the budget.  Unless at that meeting the unit owners of units to which a majority of the votes in the association are allocated or any larger percentage specified in the declaration reject the budget, the budget and the assessments against the units included in the budget are ratified, whether or not a quorum is present.  

(b) If the proposed budget is rejected or the required notice is not given, the periodic budget last ratified by the unit owners continues until the unit owners ratify a subsequent budget proposed by the board.

(2) The budget must include:

(a) The projected income to the association by category;

(b) The projected common expenses and those specially allocated expenses that are subjected to being budgeted, both by category;

(c) The amount of the assessments per unit and the date the assessments are due;

(d) The current amount of regular assessments budgeted for contribution to the reserve account;

(e) A statement of whether the association has a reserve study that meets the requirements of WUCIOA and, if so, the extent to which the budget meets or deviates from the recommendations of that reserve study; and

(f) The current deficiency or surplus in reserve funding expressed on a per unit basis.

(3) The board, at any time, may propose a special assessment.  The assessment is effective only if the board follows the procedures for ratification of a budget described in subsection (1) and the unit owners do not reject the proposed assessment.  The board may provide that the special assessment may be due and payable in installments over any period it determines and may provide a discount for early payment. 

Starting next month, all Washington condominium and homeowners associations must comply with these procedures when adopting their budgets.