In Nellie Gail Ranch Owners Association v. McMullin, (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 982, the court of appeal affirmed a trial court ruling quieting title to a portion of planned development’s common area in favor of a homeowners association (HOA) in Laguna Hills. In this case, a homeowner sought the HOA’s approval to construct several backyard improvements, including renovations to a pool, and new stairways, retaining walls and fences that dropped down the owner’s hillside towards HOA common area (Lot 274). The HOA approved the pool renovations, but not the owner’s proposed re-grading, retaining walls and fences. However, the owner’s constructed those improvements anyway, which had the effect of fencing in 6,000 SF of the common area, and the HOA sued.
In court, the owner claimed a right to land it fenced in under the doctrines of adverse possession and equitable easement. Following trial, the trial court rejected the adverse possession claim because the owner did not pay taxes on the disputed property and failed to show that the property had no value (to support the owner’s argument that property taxes were never assessed against the land). In addition, the trial court rejected the equitable easement claim because it found the owner was not innocent; on the contrary, the trial found that the owner knew where his lower property line was, intentionally planned to build a new retaining wall across the line on the HOA’s Lot 274, and intentionally withheld this information from the HOA even though the HOA requested surveyed boundary information several times. The trial court ordered the retaining wall to be removed/demolished and Lot 274 to be restored at the owner’s expense. Finally, the trial court awarded the HOA $185,000.00 in attorneys’ fees. Applying the abuse of discretion standard, the court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling on all issues, and held that the owner failed to timely appeal the trial court’s post-judgment attorneys’ fees award.
©2016 Miles J. Dolinger. This article is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or a solicitation for the formation of an attorney-client relationship.
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