Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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O’Brien submitted an application in March 2011 for approval of a 315-unit residential apartment development. O’Brien’s application was deemed complete in July 2011, including 14 residential buildings, a clubhouse, a leasing office, parking in carports and garages, and internal roadways on a 22.27-acre site. The site was then designated Administrative/Professional/Multi-Family Residential on the city’s general-plan land-use map and was zoned Administrative/Professional. The city certified an environmental impact report (EIR) in 2013. Before the project was approved, O’Brien and the city suspended processing the original project while O’Brien pursued an alternative, smaller proposal.In 2018, when it proved impossible to proceed with the alternative project, O’Brien and the city revived the original proposal, with some modifications. The city finally approved the resumed project in 2020, after the preparation of an addendum to the original EIR. A citizen’s group claimed that the project conflicted with the city’s general plan as it existed when the project was revived in 2018, that the EIR was inadequate, and that a supplemental EIR is required. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the mandamus petition. Despite the lengthy delay between certification of the EIR and project approval, the city properly applied the general plan standards in effect when the application was deemed complete. The court rejected challenges to the EIR. View "Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

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In a partition action, a trial court appointed defendant Charles Brock, a real estate broker, to determine the listing price and sell the property. Plaintiff Darrell Holt, one of the real property’s owners, brought this action contending Brock violated fiduciary duties and committed other torts in the performance of his court-appointed role. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Brock, concluding he was protected under quasi-judicial immunity. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed that conclusion. View "Holt v. Brock" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Pacific Grove authorized “transient use of residential property for remuneration,” subject to licensing. One-year “STR” Licenses were subject to revocation for cause. In 2016, the city capped the number of short-term rental licenses citywide at 250 and established a density cap of “15 [percent] per block.” In 2017, the city prohibited more than one license per parcel and required a 55-foot buffer zone between licensed properties. The changes provided that a license could be withdrawn, suspended, or revoked for any reason and that renewal was not guaranteed. The city resolved to “sunset” certain licenses using a random lottery. In 2018, Pacific Grove voters approved Measure M, to prohibit and phase out, over an 18-month sunset period, all existing short-term rentals in residential districts, except in the “Coastal Zone,” as defined by the California Coastal Act. Measure M did not restrict short-term rentals in nonresidential districts or otherwise modify existing rules.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of a suit by licensees. The Plaintiffs’ economic interest in renting their homes for transient visitors was not an entitlement subject to state or federal constitutional protection. The curtailment of short-term rental licenses is related to legitimate state interests. View "Hobbs v. City of Pacific Grove" on Justia Law

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Ramirez, a self-employed contractor, was hired by a shopping center’s tenant to remove an exterior sign after the tenant vacated its space. While searching for the sign’s electrical box, he entered a cupola on the shopping center’s roof and fell through an opening built into the cupola’s floor, sustaining serious injuries. In a suit against Kimco, which owns and operates the shopping center, the trial court granted Kimco summary judgment based on the Privette doctrine, which creates “a strong presumption under California law that a hirer of an independent contractor delegates to the contractor all responsibility for workplace safety[,] . . . mean[ing] that a hirer is typically not liable for injuries sustained by an independent contractor or its workers while on the job.”The court of appeal reversed and remanded. Kimco did not hire its tenant or Ramirez to perform the work. Kimco did not delegate its own responsibility for the roof’s condition to Ramirez through an employment relationship, as contemplated by Privette. Nor did Kimco delegate such responsibility by virtue of its landlord-tenant relationship. The court acknowledged “the strong possibility that Kimco will prevail under general principles of premises liability. “ View "Ramirez v. PK I Plaza 580 SC LP" on Justia Law

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In 2008, California enacted a Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE) as a method for homeowners to finance energy and water conservation improvements. A PACE debt was created by contract and secured by the improved property. But like a tax, the installment payments were billed and paid as a special assessment on the improved property, resulting in a first-priority tax lien in the event of default. The named plaintiffs in these putative class actions were over 65 years old and entered into PACE contracts. The defendants were private companies who either made PACE loans to plaintiffs, were assigned rights to payment, and/or administered PACE programs for municipalities. The gravamen of the complaint in each case was that PACE financing was actually, and should have been treated as, a secured home improvement loan. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by violating consumer protection laws, including Civil Code section 1804.1(j), which prohibited taking a security interest in a senior citizen’s residence to secure a home improvement loan. Generally, a taxpayer could not pursue a court action for a refund of property taxes without first applying to the local board of equalization for a reduction and then filing an administrative claim for a refund. Here, defendants demurred to the complaints on the sole ground that plaintiffs failed to allege they first exhausted administrative remedies. The trial court agreed, sustained the demurrers without leave to amend, and entered a judgment of dismissal in each case. On appeal, plaintiffs primarily contend they were not required to pursue administrative remedies because they have sued only private companies and do not challenge “any aspect of the municipal tax process involved.” The Court of Appeal found that despite their assertions to the contrary, plaintiffs did challenge their property tax assessments. And although they did not sue any government entity, the “consumer protection statutes under which plaintiffs brought their action cannot be employed to avoid the limitations and procedures set out by the Revenue and Taxation Code.” Thus, the Court concluded plaintiffs were required to submit their claims through the administrative appeals process in the first instance. "Their failure to do so requires the judgments to be affirmed." View "Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant owned a parcel of land until 2011, when he defaulted on a secured loan. Over the next decade, Defendant frustrated the attempts of all new owners to renovate or occupy the property. He would physically block access to the home by locking the driveway gate and blocking the drive with various objects. Plaintiffs sued and obtained a preliminary injunction prohibiting Defendant from obstructing the easement pending trial. The court twice found Defendant in contempt. After trial, the court declared the easement valid and permanently enjoined Mack from obstructing respondents from accessing their property.On appeal, Defendant claimed that the doctrine of merger extinguished the easement as a matter of law. The trial court properly considered the evidence, which showed that Defendant never had unity of title. Regardless, the appellate court determined that the equities of the case favored the plaintiff's position. Thus, the Second Appellate District affirmed. View "Tariwala v. Mack" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ operated a mobilehome park owned by one of Plaintiff’s clients. The Department of Real Estate filed an accusation alleging Plaintiff violated various provisions of the Real Estate Law. The administrative law judge issued a proposed order revoking Plaintiffs’ licenses which the Department adopted. Plaintiffs’ filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandate, contending they did not receive a fair hearing because the administrative law judge considered improper evidence, including expert testimony from several witnesses the Department did not designate as experts. Plaintiffs also contended the administrative law judge erred in ruling they violated statutes in the Business and Professions Code.   The trial court denied the petition and Plaintiffs’ appealed. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court wrote that Plaintiffs’ contend they did not receive a fair hearing because, while the Department “did not properly identify any expert witnesses” prior to the hearing and represented at the hearing that “no expert opinion testimony would be offered,” the testimony of all three witnesses went far beyond permissible lay witness opinion.” The court explained that Plaintiffs’ cite the wrong legal standard governing their contentions. As the trial court correctly observed, a hearing under the Administrative Procedure Act “need not be conducted according to technical rules relating to evidence and witnesses,” unless expressly required by the Act. Further, the court held that even if the Department’s decision to revoke Nijjar’s and Miller’s licenses was partially motivated by its belief Plaintiffs had some responsibility for the fire, Plaintiffs would still not be entitled to reversal of the judgment. View "Miller v. Dept. of Real Estate" on Justia Law

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Borrower took out a $5.6 million dollar bridge loan, with 8.5% interest per annum, secured by a deed of trust on real property. They defaulted on a monthly payment of $39,667, triggering late fee provisions: a one-time 10% fee assessed against the overdue payment ($3,967) and a default interest charge of 9.99% per annum assessed against the total unpaid principal balance. Borrower filed a demand for arbitration, alleging the loan was in violation of Business & Professions Code 10240 and the late fee was an unlawful penalty in violation of section 1671. The arbitrator rejected both claims and denied the demand for arbitration. Borrower petitioned to vacate the decision, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded their authority by denying claims in violation of “nonwaivable statutory rights and/or contravention of explicit legislative expressions of public policy.”The court of appeal reversed the denial of that petition. The trial court erroneously failed to vacate an award that constitutes an unlawful penalty in contravention of public policy set forth in section 1671. Liquidated damages in the form of a penalty assessed during the lifetime of a partially matured note against the entire outstanding loan amount are unlawful penalties. There is no precedent upholding a liquidated damages provision where a borrower missed a single installment and then was penalized pursuant to such a provision. View "Honchariw v. FJM Private Mortgage Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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After “one of the driest years in recorded state history,” in 2015 the Water Resources Control Board issued orders to curtail water use in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The trial court concluded that the Board’s curtailment notices violated the due process rights of irrigation districts and water agencies by failing to provide them with a pre-deprivation hearing or any other opportunity to challenge the bases for the notices. The court addressed the due process issue, even though it was technically moot.The court of appeal affirmed. The Board has no authority, under Water Code section 1052(a), to curtail the diversion or use of water by holders of valid pre-1914 appropriative water rights—a group with distinctive rights rooted in the history of California water law--on the sole ground that there is insufficient water to service their priorities of right due to drought conditions. This statutory language “subject to this division other than as authorized in this division” excludes the diversion or use of water within the scope of a valid pre-1914 appropriative right, even during times of limited water supply. Section 1052(a) provides the Board authority to enjoin a diversion or use of water that falls outside the scope of a right held by a pre-1914 appropriative right holder. View "California Water Curtailment Cases" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff purchased four contiguous lots in Santa Monica in 1994. In 2004, Planitiff demolished the structures and erected four single-family homes. In 2009, Plaintiff rented one of the units to Defendant. At issue in this case is whether Plaintiff's property was subject to the City of Santa Monica’s (City) rent control law. The trial court found that it was.The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that because the house is an “accommodation” under section 7060.2(d) of the Ellis Act; it was constructed on the same property as the five former rent-controlled units; and it was offered for rent within five years from when the five units were withdrawn from the rental market. The legislative history of the Ellis Act makes clear the Legislature intended to discourage landlords from evicting tenants from rent-controlled accommodations under the false pretense of leaving the rental business. View "Hirschfield v. Cohen" on Justia Law