Associations are responsible for repairing the common areas. This obligation is found in an association's governing documents and in the Davis-Stirling Act. (Civ. Code § 4775)
Trip Hazards. In Alpert v. Villa Romano HOA, a woman suffered injuries when she tripped over a portion of the city's sidewalk that had been raised by tree roots. The offending roots came from one of the association's trees. The association had known of the sidewalk's condition and took no action to warn pedestrians of the dangerous condition or to repair it. The trial court found in favor of the association. On appeal the decision was reversed. The Court of Appeal noted that under Civil Code § 1714, persons (including associations) are responsible for injury to others occasioned by their want of ordinary care or skill in the management of their property.
Trivial Defects. However, boards are not obligated to fix trivial defects that may exist in the common areas. It is impossible for landowners to maintain heavily traveled surfaces in a perfect condition and that minor defects, such as cracks, are inevitable. The court held owners are not liable for damages caused by a minor, trivial or insignificant defects. Josephine Caloroso v. Larry Hathaway (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 922. Defects in walkways are trivial where the separation is 3/4 to 7/8 of an inch in depth (plus other factors). (Cadam v. Somerset Gardens.)
Recommendation: Even though associations are not liable for trivial defects in their sidewalks, parking lots, etc., they should nonetheless regularly inspect the development and keep the common areas in a safe condition. That sometimes requires the removal of trees where roots are lifting sidewalks.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.