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Special Relationships in Negligence: Housing/HOAs

GENERALLY, NEGLIGENCE LIABILITY REQUIRES THE EXISTENCE OF A DUTY

Generally speaking, California law does not create negligence liability for people or entities who “fail to act” to prevent harm to others. This is because negligence liability requires the breach of a duty, and as a general rule the failure to act to prevent harm is a breach of duty only where some relationship between the parties creates a duty to act.

However, where a legally-recognized “special relationship” exists between the injured party (or the class of persons to whom the injured party belongs) and the person or entity whose actions could have prevented harm, the law does sometimes impose a duty to act.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS MAY EXIST BETWEEN PUBLIC HOUSING AUTHORITIES AND THEIR TENANTS

In many cases, people who live in public housing depend upon the housing authority to protect them against the dangers of criminal activity which may occur within the public housing development. California law has held that residents of public housing have a right to depend upon the housing authority (and the public housing authority has a duty) to take reasonable steps to protect residents against the criminal acts of others. While not all criminal acts are preventable, and the public housing authority’s obligations are not absolute (nor is the housing authority liable in negligence for all damage and injury that occurs to residents), if you or someone in your family was injured by criminal activities within a public housing development, you should consult an attorney for an evaluation of your legal rights and potential claims.

CC&RS DO NOT GENERALLY CREATE A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH RESIDENTS OBLIGATING THE HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION TO PROTECT AGAINST ALL POTENTIAL HARM.

Although the CC&Rs that govern certain housing developments often give the homeowners’ association (HOA) broad rights to control activities within the development, the CC&Rs generally do not create a special relationship when it comes to protecting the residents of the community against all hazards. For example in Titus v. Canyon Lake Property Owners Association, a California court failed to find a special relationship between the HOA and the community residents sufficient to impose liability on the HOA for failing to stop and prevent injuries caused by a drunk driver, even where the CC&Rs allowed the HOA to protect and police the development’s common areas.  (See: Titus v. Canyon Lake Property Owners Ass’n (2004) 118 CA4th 906, 911–912, 13 CR3d 807, 810–811)

However, there may be circumstances where the existence or content of CC&Rs does give rise to a special relationship obligating an HOA to act on residents’ behalf, and imposing negligence liability if the HOA fails to behave properly. If you or a family member has been injured on property owned or managed by an HOA, consult an attorney promptly for an evaluation of your rights and potential claims.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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