June 28, 2013

Two New Laws Affect Washington Community Associations

Almost every session of the Washington Legislature produces new laws pertaining to Washington condominium and homeowners associations.  This legislative session resulted in the passage of two such laws - one governing speed limit enforcement and one governing meeting notices.

Washington homeowners associations have had the power to establish and enforce speeding rules on private roads within their communities since 2003.  There are four conditions associated with the exercise of that power: 

1. A majority of the association's board of directors must vote to authorize the issuance of speeding infractions and to declare a speed limit not lower than twenty miles per hour;
2. A written agreement regarding speeding enforcement must be signed by the association president and the chief law enforcement official of the city or county;

3. The association must provide written notice to all owners describing the new authority to issue speeding infractions; and

4. Signs must be posted declaring the speed limit at all vehicle entrances to the community.

The first new law grants Washington condominium associations the power to establish and enforce speeding rules on private roads subject to those conditions as well.

The Washington Homeowners' Associations Act (RCW 64.38) requires those associations to follow certain procedures when notifying owners of association meetings.  Electronic notice was not mentioned in the original Act.  The second new law amends the Act to permit Washington homeowners associations to notify owners of association meetings using electronic transmissions.  Owners must first opt in to electronic notice by delivering a written notice to the Association requesting to receive notices by electronic transmission.  

The second new law does not affect Washington condominium associations.  The laws specifically governing those associations still lack any reference to electronic notice. 

Both new laws take effect on July 28, 2013.

June 21, 2013

Maintain Your Common Areas - Or Else

Cities have a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to keep sidewalks in reasonably safe condition.  Cities must have actual or constructive notice of an unsafe sidewalk condition and a reasonable opportunity to correct it before they can be found liable for accidents related to that condition.  The notice issue usually requires a trial to resolve.    
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s ruling that the City of Seattle was not liable after a man tripped and fell over a part of the sidewalk that was lifted almost an inch.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the injured man must be given an opportunity to prove that a dangerous condition existed for a sufficient period of time that the City must have known of its existence if it was exercising ordinary care and diligence.  The Court of Appeals concluded that a trial was necessary because reasonable minds could differ in determining whether the City’s maintenance policy was reasonable under the circumstances.

Condominium and homeowners associations also have liability exposure if they fail to properly maintain and repair their common areas.  Associations can avoid liability by inspecting their common areas regularly and by addressing dangerous conditions promptly.  Boards should consider developing comprehensive policies to keep common areas safe in consultation with their associations’ attorneys, property managers, and insurance agents.