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California State Lands Commission versus Huntington Harbour Homeowners

On Behalf of | May 17, 2013 | Real Estate Litigation


If you are being threatened or have been served with a lawsuit from the California State Lands Commission, we urge you to contact Buffington Law Firm’s real estate litigation attorneys for a free legal consultation.  In this meeting we will advise you of your rights and answer your questions.  Call us today at 714-450-6568.  There is no obligation.

1. Background of State Lands Commission Harbor Controversy. Buffington Law Firm’s experienced real estate litigation attorneys are taking the lead in defending Huntington Harbour homeowners against what we believe to be an unlawful attempt by the California State Lands Commission to improperly force Huntington Harbour waterfront property owners to pay rent to the State. The State is now attempting to reverse a forty year policy in which the State had agreed not to assess rent on Huntington Harbour docks located on the main channel of the harbor. The agreement had always been that these docks confer a public benefit upon the entire community by offering refuge for distressed vessels, swimmers, and other users of the harbor. By building these docks, the homeowners saved the State from having to expend millions of dollars to build similar structures at taxpayer expense.  For decades the State acknowledged this and in reliance upon this understanding Huntington Harbour homeowners built docks and appurtenant structures on the main channel of the harbour.  Every year hundreds of distressed vessels as well as kayakers and swimmers utilize these docks for safety and refuge.

At the present time the State is employing bully tactics to suddenly force homeowners to sign expensive, non-negotiable, and coercive leases with the State. Buffington Law Firm’s real estate attorneys have successfully achieved interlocutory relief against the State in one instance where the State was trying to prevent the dock owner from making simple repairs to his dock. We brought the matter to court, and the dock is now repaired.

For more than 35 years it was the announced policy-and law– of the State of California that homeowners adjacent to state waterways could build docks at their own expense, and not be charged rent by the State. The State recognized, and codified into law, that this was the case. Thousands of homeowners throughout California built and maintained docks in reliance upon this public policy and law.

2. The Problem at Present. In 2012 the State announced that it was reversing this policy. When no one was looking a group of career California politicians squeaked through an obscure bill, SB 122, which purports to “require” the State Lands Commission to charge rent to owners of waterfront property who have erected docks in reliance on the State’s earlier promises. Not only that, the State is requiring each homeowner to pay the State an “application fee” of about $1,500 for the privilege of asking the State for a dock lease. Additionally, the State intends to charge rent to homeowners who have erected cantilever decks in the backyards. There is no negotiating process for these leases. The State has announced that it alone will dictate the terms and cost of any lease.  And there is no assurance whatever that the costs of these leases will not increase, and increase drastically, in the future.  We all know what that means.

Many of these homeowners would not have erected docks at all if they had known that the State would charge rent for such docks. Many harbor homeowners are retirees or people of otherwise modest means who do not want to pay the State what amounts to an extra property tax bill every year.

The State has now undertaken a program of targeting homeowners in Huntington Harbour on what appears to be an almost random basis, and filing trespass lawsuits against them. Essentially, the State is filing lawsuits the purpose of which is to coerce the homeowner into signing whatever lease the State dictates. No negotiation, no explanation as to the basis for the rent. Unless the homeowner agrees to this coercive lease, the State threatens to demolish the homeowner’s dock and appurtenant structures, haul them away, and send the homeowner a supplemental tax bill for the cost of the State demolishing the homeowner’s property. This bill will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

3. The Solution. The State’s strategy is to single out homeowners individually and subject them to the full power and might of the State. Understandably, many people do not want to tangle with the State or fight a lawsuit alone against the Government with all of its resources. But it does not have to be that way, and it is not necessary for an individual homeowner to resist the State alone. Buffington Law Firm’s managing attorney is himself a resident of Huntington Harbour, and we do not intend to allow the State to engage in what we believe to be an unlawful attempt to coerce homeowners in this fashion.  We believe that the State’s actions are illegal and that we have meritorious legal grounds to prevent the State from this reckless program. Buffington Law Firm is presently representing one family against the State, and coordinating with other attorneys in related lawsuits. If you have been served with a summons and complaint by the California State Lands Commission concerning your waterfront dock and cantilever deck, we urge you to contact us at no obligation for a free legal consultation with one of our experienced real estate attorneys either by telephone, in a face-to-face meeting, or both. There is never any charge for the consultation. At the meeting we will explain your rights to you and answer any questions that you have concerning this matter. Do not take on the State by yourself and you do not have to simply allow the State to bully you. Call us today.