The Injustice of Small-Claims Court

All I wanted was to see financial records.  California law guarantees condominium owners the right to see the homeowners’ association financial records within 30 days of asking for them.  It’s now been over two years, and I’ve seen only about 30% of the records I’ve requested.  If you’re looking for fraud and abuse, looking at only 30% of the records is ridiculous.  It won’t show you anything.

In 1985, the California legislature passed the Adams-Stirling Act.  It stated that condominium homeowners associations are corporations, and that each homeowner is a member of that corporation (California civil code 4950, 5205, 5210, 5235, et al.).  As members, we have the right to the vast majority of HOA financial records.  After all, it is our corporation.  It doesn’t belong to a board.  It doesn’t belong to a management company.  It belongs to us.

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Last January, we went to small-claims court to sue for those records.  The law clearly states that members can sue in small-claims court for those records, with a penalty of $500 per violation.  We appeared in the court of Judge Pro-Tempore Anthony Moreno Peters in West Covina.  I stood in court and began delivering my case, but when I had not gotten even halfway through my arguments, Judge Peters interrupted me.  He was running up against the lunch hour, he said, and wanted to take my typewritten notes and consider the case in private.

I should have said no.  I should have said that the law affords me the right to present my entire case.  But I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve never been in a courtroom.  I allowed Judge Peters to cut me off and not finish my argument.

IMG_2707 smA few weeks later, we received the judgement.  Judge Peters had ruled against us.  No reason was given.  Even though the law says that the HOA was required to give us the records, Judge Peters ruled that we were not entitled to those records.

I was told beforehand by a lawyer friend that California judges often don’t understand California condominium law.  That day, I received a firsthand lesson in that.  Now, a year later, that same HOA tells us that they have taken the $300,000 reserve account that they were given three years ago and whittled it down to only $2,000.  They are now talking about levying a $50,000 emergency assessment on each owner.  That’s what this judgement has allowed.

2 thoughts on “The Injustice of Small-Claims Court

    • We’re doing our best. There are massive loopholes in enforcement. We’ve been turned down by the California Attorney General Javier Becerra, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey, US congressman Gil Cisneros, the City of Diamond Bar, and now we’re appealing to our state reps.

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