For some people who own property along California’s beautiful coast, living on the beach seems to trigger a desire to keep others off “their” beach. As a homeowners’ association learned in a recent appellate court ruling, that can violate the California Coastal Act.

The Greenfields own a home in Mandalay Shores, a 1,400-unit complex in the City of Oxnard. In 2015, the Greenfields decided to rent out their home for short stays. Residents of the subdivision had been offering short-term rentals to vacationers for decades.

In June of 2016, the Mandalay Shores Community Association adopted a resolution barring the rental of homes in the community for fewer  than 30 days.

The Association argued the ban was necessary because short-term rentals caused problems with parking, noise and trash. But it did not explain why a 29-day rental caused more problems than a 31-day stay. Under the new resolution, the first violation of the ban would result in a $1,000 fine which would jump to $2,500 for a second offense, and $5,000 for a third!

(To Justice Steven Z. Perren, of the Second District Court of Appeal, the escalating fines suggested the Association regarded itself as a government entity that had appointed itself “Emperor of the Beach.”)

The Greenfields sued the Association in Ventura County Superior Court. They argued that this resolution violated the Coastal Act, which requires obtaining a permit from the Coastal Commission for any “development” that results in a change in use of or access to coastal land. The Association had not obtained a permit authorizing its new rule.

The Greenfields asked the trial court to issue a preliminary injunction barring the Association from enforcing the rule but the judge denied their request, saying they should take the dispute to the Coastal Commission. The Greenfields appealed.

The Coastal Act is intended to “maximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities to the coastal zone,” the appellate court noted, while conserving natural resources and honoring the rights of private property owners.

Under the Act, a “development” that affects public access to the beach can mean much more than construction, earthworks or other physical activities because the term is broadly defined to include any “change in the density or intensity of use of land” along the coast.

While the Association did not post a sign or erect a gate excluding non-residents, the ban on short-term rentals had effectively “erected a monetary barrier to the beach,” the appellate court noted.

Because short-term rentals had been allowed in the subdivision for decades, the new rule banning them amounted to a change in use of 1,400 beach properties, with the result that “arguably the public will be restricted in its access to the coast.”

The appellate justices said the trial court erred in ruling against the Greenfields and found their action proper because under the Coastal Act any person can “maintain an action for declaratory and equitable relief to restrain any violation” of it.

Furthermore the statute states that if a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of a violation, “preliminary equitable relief shall be issued to restrain any further violation.”

The appellate court sent the case back to the trial judge with an order to grant the Greenfields’  request for an injunction barring the Association from enforcing its ban.

By Laurie Murphy