The Court of Appeal has upheld a trial court’s power to order a neighbor to stop violating a law, a property right, or CC&Rs, while the lawsuit is still pending. The purpose of a preliminary injunction is to preserve the status quo and not allow the problem to get worse while the parties are waiting for the trial date and a judgment. What if the defendant has already unilaterally changed the prior status quo in a way that is causing harm to the plaintiff? Should the court let the defendant continue that violation and continue harming the plaintiff, for a year or more until the court conducts a trial and enters a judgment? The law is not stupid.
In Ryland Mews HOA v. Munoz, decided January 29, 2015, when Robert Munoz and his wife moved into their condominium unit, she immediately experienced allergic reactions to dust and mold in the wall-to-wall carpeting. Munoz, a lawyer, immediately replaced all the carpeting with wood floors. He did not apply for HOA approval as required by the CC&Rs. He refused to apply for approval of his floors or negotiate any compromise. Meanwhile, the downstairs were subjected to allegedly excessive noise transmission, not just footsteps, but also voices, music, television, and any other noise in the Munoz’s unit.
The court did not order Munoz to tear out the wood floors, but it did not let him continue to disturb the neighbors below. It ordered Munoz to cover the wood floors with area rugs and to submit an application for a solution to his wife’s allergy problem and the downstairs neighbors’ noise problem. Going through the HOA approval process before trial would fully explore and develop any remaining dispute by the time of trial.
I obtained a similar preliminary injunction ordering a neighbor to prevent 2-3 lbs. pine cones from falling from the crown of his 100 foot tall Stone Pine onto my clients’ home. By the time they reached the ground they were traveling over 50 mph. That’s enough momentum that falling pine cones had smashed a car windshield and dented the steel roof and hood of the car. What would even one have done to my clients, visiting friends and family, or their two year old?
It was clear that the nuisance was going to be prohibited, eventually. The court could not order the tree destroyed without a trial, and a trial would not happen for at least a year. But given the danger posed by the falling pine cones, the court prohibited the neighbor from letting his pine cones to fall on my clients’ property. After that, the case settled with the neighbor cutting down the tree.
If you have any neighbors who are using their properties or any portion of your property, either illegally or in violation of easements or CC&Rs, or in a way that creates a nuisance, consider seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the bad conduct while the lawsuit is pending. If you win that hearing, it will be a strong signal to the other side that they are likely to lose. That should give you the leverage to negotiate a compromise you can live with.