Pacific Hills Homeowners Association v. Prun (Mar. 20, 2008, G038244) __ Cal.App.4th __

By S. Keith Garner

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District recently held that the five-year statute of limitations in the Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) section 336 for challenges to restrictions on the use of real property applies to a homeowners association’s unrecorded rules or guidelines.  The case involved a dispute over the location and height of a fence and gate across a homeowner’s driveway.  The homeowners association’s CC&Rs, which were recorded, required homeowners to obtain written approval of plans for any improvements, such as fences, from the association’s architectural committee before starting construction.  The association’s architectural committee also adopted guidelines that imposed setback and height requirements on fences, which were not recorded.  In this case, the homeowner erected the fence and fate in November, 2000, without receiving the architectural committee’s approval and in violation of the setback and height restrictions in the unrecorded guidelines.  The association immediately notified the homeowner of the violation, and, over the course of next few years, sporadically attempted to resolve the matter administratively with the homeowner.  After its requests for mediation were rebuffed, the association filed suit against the homeowner more than four years but less than five years after the installation of the gate and fence.  The homeowner argued in part that the action was barred by the four-year statute of limitations in CCP section 337.  The superior court found that the action was timely under CCP section 336(b) and issued an injunction requiring the gate and fence to be lowered or moved outside the setback.

The homeowner renewed its statute of limitations argument on appeal, contending that CCP section 336(b) applies only to recorded documents, and not to the association’s unrecorded rules and guidelines, which contained the setback and height restrictions.  CCP section 336(b) provides a five-year statute of limitations for "[a]n action for violation of a restriction, as defined in Section 784 of the Civil Code."  Civil Code section 784, in turn, defines "restriction" as "a limitation on, or provision affecting, the use of real property in a deed, declaration, or other instrument, whether in the form of a covenant, equitable servitude, condition subsequent, negative easement, or other form of restriction."  The appellate court held that the catchall description "other form of restriction" in Civil Code section 784 was not limited to recorded instruments even though the specific enumerated documents are generally recorded:  "Had that been the intent of the Legislature, it could have easily used the language any ‘other form of recorded restriction’" (emphasis added).  The court then noted that the Legislature could easily amend the statutory language if the result in this case is contrary to its intent.

For more information please contact Keith Garner.  Keith Garner, AICP, is an associate in the Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Practice Group in the firm’s San Francisco office.