By David Swedelson, Partner, SwedelsonGottlieb, Community Association Attorneys
The LA Times reports that the Los Angeles City Council has adopted a new system that allows police officers to issue citations for minor “quality of life” crimes that would typically be resolved with a warning. Read the article here.
According to the article, “a pilot program, called Administrative Citation Enforcement, gives the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Animal Services a new enforcement tool that bypasses the court system. It allows city officials to impose fines for offenses such as urinating in public, having dogs off leashes or dumping garbage in public streets.”
Currently, law enforcement officers can issue a warning or write a citation for a misdemeanor “criminal” case against individuals who commit these “minor” crimes. The City Council apparently recognizes that law enforcement is reluctant to file criminal charges and the City is accused of not enforcing the law.
“The city just needs a little clout,” City Counselman Paul Koretz is quoted as saying. “This is one of the most frequent complaints we get: that the city doesn’t enforce its regulation — and it’s true.”
The Times reports that under the program, most first offenses would be $250, the second $500 and the third $1,000. Fines for animal-related offenses begin at $100, which then increases to $250 and then $500 for subsequent violations. In each incident, officers can still decide whether to issue a warning, a financial penalty or a criminal case. If the City can levy these kinds of fines, so can California community associations.
One issue I see with this new proposed system is the lack of due process, as it appears that law enforcement can issue a fine without a hearing. I am assuming that a person who is issued a citation has the right to ask for a hearing. And I also assume that a citation with a fine can only be issued if the law enforcement officer actually witnesses the violation, such as the dog not being on a leash. We will have to see.
Under the Davis-Stirling Act, California condos and homeowner associations CANNOT follow the same system, unfortunately. In the old days, this was the system at many associations. But then owners complained to their legislators that their associations were issuing tickets with fines without first giving them a hearing. The legislature adopted a change to the Civil Code to address these owners' concerns, making it more difficult for many community associations to enforce their rules and CC&Rs, as many boards do not want to have to go through the hearing process.
The Davis-Stirling Act has for many years required a hearing before the board can levy a fine. Follow this link to see Civil Code Section 5855 that states that the board cannot impose “discipline” (fine, monetary charge, suspension of privileges, towing, etc.) upon an association member, without first giving the member notice and holding a hearing.
The Times also reports that this new system is a revenue generator for the City, as it is expected to generate $1.59 million in net revenue annually. It still requires final approval from Mayor Eric Garcetti before it can go into effect.
David Swedelson is a condo lawyer and HOA attorney. David can be contacted via email: email@example.com