Habitat urges action to protect affordable homebuilding in California
May 29 update: The Judicial Council has acted to revise this rule — which now gives affordable developers a certain date on which they know they can proceed with homebuilding without legal challenge.
Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco has this week urged the Judicial Council of California to act to protect the ability of affordable developers to continue to build as we weather the coronavirus crisis.
The Council — the policymaking body of our state courts — issued a battery of emergency rules earlier in April. These sensible measures aim to protect the ability of the judiciary to serve Californians as much as possible while the shelter-in-place ordinances are in effect across our region and state.
One of these emergency rules tolls the statutes of limitations for civil actions — the time periods during which litigants can file lawsuits — extending the deadlines until 90 days after the Governor ends the state of emergency.
What does that mean in practice? Well, affordable housing developers make sure that the statute of limitations on legal challenges to their building has passed before starting construction. Once it has passed, developers can be confident in proceeding without the jeopardy of an adverse legal ruling.
In our view, it is reasonable to assume that the Governor will not lift the state of emergency for a considerable period — perhaps a year or more. In the meantime, new affordable housing projects will stall without the definitive knowledge of whether litigation will be forthcoming. Developers must wait until this as-yet indefinite period of time has elapsed. This is the case even though, in the interim, courts may well reopen and be ready to receive lawsuits.
Many, if not most, of these projects would not be subject to legal challenge. But this rule as currently written prevents all of them from obtaining certainty that the statute of limitation has passed.
Habitat Greater San Francisco CEO Maureen Sedonaen has asked the Judicial Council to amend the rule, separating the tolling of limitations periods from the indefinite period the emergency declaration is in effect. By doing so, our courts will protect the ability of California’s homebuilders to continue the essential activity of constructing affordable homes for our families and our communities.
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