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A Riverside woman will have to remove a $10,000 7-foot wall she built in her front yard.

Sandra Burns built the wall June 30, 2017, without the approval of the Orangecrest Country Homeowners’ Association.

She claimed that the HOA’s April 27, 2017, letter, which stated “The stucco walls in the front yard have been denied,” meant that she could build the walls, as long as they were not made out of stucco.

Burns defended herself as she fought the HOA, without a lawyer, all the way to the Court of Appeal.

“You just don’t put the term conditional approval not relating to anything. So I don’t have a reading comprehension problem. I have a Ph.D. I think I can read, and I think I can articulate what I’m reading. . . . I spent $10,000 on that wall. I wouldn’t be sitting here [having] dedicated 28 months to this case if I truly believed I don’t have in my possession a conditional approval for the wall,” Burns said in closing arguments of the bench trial, according to the unpublished June 9 appellate ruling.

The 7-foot wall violated city zoning ordinances, which limit walls at 3 feet, according to the appellate ruling.

The HOA attempted to tell Burns by mail, email and telephone that she could not build the wall while construction was ongoing, according to the appellate ruling.

She responded by saying she did not have time for the conversation, according to an HOA representative.

At a disciplinary hearing, Burns said she had “nothing to say” to them, according to the appellate ruling.

The HOA filed the lawsuit after Burns did not respond to a letter requiring her to remove the wall.

Riverside Superior Judge Steven Cornelis ordered Burns to remove the wall after a two-day bench trial, and Burns appealed.

The Court of Appeal found that Burns’ arguments were unreasonable.

“To begin with, there is no basis for her interpretation of the May 9 letter. The association couldn’t have been more clear. The letter was entitled (sic) a ‘partial approval’ is (sic) because everything in Burns’s application except the wall had been approved; nothing about the direct assertion ‘[t]he stucco walls in the front yard have been denied’ suggests a condition or the opportunity for negotiation. But even more importantly, even if there were two ways to interpret the May 9 letter, the association made it abundantly clear that it had flatly denied the walls on June 30, when they contacted Burns through multiple media to ask her to stop construction and reiterate that she did not have approval for the wall,” the ruling says.

Burns also claimed that the HOA permitted other walls in the community.

Both the Court of Appeal and the trial judge found that these walls had no similarity to Burns’ wall. None of them was higher than 3 feet, and none abutted the sidewalk as hers did.

Case information

Riverside Superior Judge Steven Cornelis presided.

Sandra Burns represented herself throughout the trial court, and Mitchell Keiter of Beverly Hills’ Keiter Appellate Law represented her on appeal.

Sarah Kyriakedes of Tinnelly Law Group’s Mission Viejo office represented the Orangecrest Country Community Association. 

Trial court case number RIC1813722.

Appellate court case number E074445.Read the ruling here.

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