Sammi Goldstein has gone through more trials in life than most of her neighbors in the quiet bedroom community of Stevenson Ranch, north of Los Angeles. Her daughter Stephanie suffered for years from IBD. Sammi fought for her daughter’s life through 16 agonizing surgeries at the best hospitals in the country. But the trial that really broke her down was the one she was never allowed to attend until she had to defend herself from a contempt of court charge. You could say it was a case of color. When her homeowner’s association, Southern Oaks Society, asked Sammi to paint her house, she complied by painting it almost the exact same color as a neighbor with the same tract model, with the exception of a blue door and shutters. But, according to Southern Oaks, the color was all wrong. So wrong, that they sued Sammi for it, and obtained a judgment against her without her even knowing about it. +
While Sammi was in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic during several of her daughter’s surgeries, the homeowner’s association served her husband, with whom she was separated at the time, with the summons and complaint, took Sammi’s default and she didn’t find out about it until the homeowner’s association wiped her children’s savings accounts out to the tune of $5,000, on an assessment and attorney fees bill of over $50,000. The homeowner’s association finally did succeed in personally serving Sammi, but it was with a contempt of court citation, threatening her with imprisonment if she didn’t repaint her house. +
Sammi’s case is now pending before the Los Angeles County Superior Court for a trial on the merits, having succeeded in getting the default judgment set aside, but homeowner’s associations continue to badger homeowners with infractions of rules and regulations under the authority of Civil Code Section 1354, which entitles them to enforce deed restrictions as equitable servitudes in California.+
Homeowner’s association should be mindful of the principle that “one who seeks equity must do equity” and the equitable relief must be fashioned with the equitable rights of the defendant in mind. [Dickson, Carlson and Capillo v. Pole], 83 Cal. App. 4th 436 at 445-46 (2000). This principle makes a perfect shield against outrageous fines and fees. Homeowners facing adverse action from their homeowner’s association should suggest reasonable equitable remedies to the court that solve the problem without being punitive in nature.