Political Rallies in the Clubhouse? SB 407 is Now Law

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Editors Note: California's legislative session is not yet over, and more bills may be signed by the governor. Please watch the ECHO Journal, this website, and future events for more guidance on new laws for 2018.

SB 407 is somewhat mind-boggling, both in terms of what it requires of associations and the breadth of governmental intrusion into private property principles. The full text of the law is available on California's Legislative Information website.

Public Access Must Be Allowed

As of January 1, 2018, any member or resident in a CID with a clubhouse or other common area space suitable for gatherings will be permitted to sponsor meetings and invite the public to assemble inside the development to discuss “common interest development living, association elections, legislation, election to public office, or the initiative, referendum, or recall processes.” This can include, but is not limited to, inviting public officials, candidates for public office, or representatives of homeowner organizations to meet with members, residents, and those they invite in, to speak on matters of public interest.

HOA May Not Require Insurance Deposit

SB 407 will prohibit the association from charging for such use of the clubhouse or common area, demanding any deposit, requiring any insurance from the owner or resident inviting the public in, or require any payment of the association’s insurance premium or deductible. (The last item – the deductible – suggests that even if there is damage to the common area or other property that the association is obligated to maintain, or even if someone is injured as a result of the event, the owner or resident sponsoring the event will not have financial liability and that the association’s insurance policies – or the members, if a loss is uninsured – will have to bear the brunt.)

HOA Must Allow Door-to-Door Solicitation for Political Purposes

SB 407 further provides that owners and residents are free to go door to door soliciting their neighbors and distributing pamphlets and other material involving all of the permitted subjects.

There are provisions in SB 407 that will allow associations to require these permitted activities “during reasonable hours and in a reasonable manner.” Moreover, the gatherings must involve “peacefully assembling.” In today’s very troubled times, where political polarization is paramount, one can see serious problems in the future for associations and their management of common areas and their duties to ensure peaceful use and enjoyment to owners of their property within a CID. The insertion of “residents” – i.e., non-owners – within this broad trampling of private property rights for political goals is unprecedented.

Fines for Violations

Violations of the new law can be enforced judicially, including in small claims court, with injunctions available to aggrieved owners or residents, and civil penalties of up to $500 for each violation. Beneficially, an association can also use a claim made against it to demonstrate that its decision with respect to any particular use request was reasonable under the circumstances.

As more is considered about how this new law will apply, associations will, we believe, need to develop policies for compliance, while considering what is permitted under the requirement that assemblies be peaceful and held within reasonable parameters. There is also the potential for legal challenges to the enforceability of some portions of this new law.

Sandra Bonato, Esq. is a partner at law the firm of Berding | Weil. She is a member of the ECHO Board and the ECHO Legislative Committee. She is a frequent speaker at ECHO seminars, and articles written by her are a regular feature in ECHO's Journal.

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This new SB407, I understand that it pertains to meetings of a political nature.  My question is how does this affect the HOA from requiring deposits or umbrella insurance from HOA members who reserve the club house for personal venues that include non-member participants, such as family and friends, for events like birthday parties, family reunions, baby showers etc.  One of our common areas is a large campsite on the Klamath River and sometimes a member will reserve 1/2 dozen camp sites for their friends and family and reserve our Lodge as well.  Can the Associate require a deposit and unbrella insurance from them because they have so many non-member guests?  Is there a limit on how many non-member guests would trigger the requirement of an unbrella liability insurance from the sponsoring member?   My neighbor says this new SB407 forbids the HOA from charging members cleaning deposits  for any event and/or unbrella liability insurance for large events.  I'm not finding that information in this new SB407 law.
Thank you for your reply
Diana Gwaltney

Hi Diana - I'm not an attorney but I agree that the law only addresses gatherings held for the purposes laid out in the text: e.g. discussing matters relating to common interest development living, politics, etc. Other types of gatherings would be subject to your usual rules. There is some concern that people will frame their "birthdays and camping trips" as political or public interest gatherings which would trigger SB 407. The law presents a number of real concerns for associations.

Hi Tyler,
Another aspect of misrepesenting a family outing as an SB 407 type meeting could result in lack of insurance coverage should the insurance company become aware of the fraud. 
For example, someone trips and falls becoming injured, or someone forgets what's on the campstove and causes a fire..  If it is a legitimate SB407 meeting, the HOA's insurance would likely cover it.
But if an investigation reveals the claim of an SB407 meeting is actually a sham, that it was actually a famly outing, the insurance company can deny coverage claiming fraud.  The organizer would now be personally liable for damages.
Hope this helps,
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