Attorney fees only awarded to developers of affordable housing projects

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In Honchariw v. County of Stanislaus, the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District ruled that the housing developer was not entitled to attorney fees under California Government Code § 65589.5(k) because the project was not for low-income housing.

Nicholas Honchariw submitted an application to subdivide a 33.7-acre parcel into residential lots. The Planning Commission of Stanislaus disapproved the application. Honchariw then filed an administrative appeal but it was disapproved by the Board of Supervisors. Subsequently, Honchariw filed for a writ of mandamus.

The Superior Court denied Honchariw’s petition for writ of mandamus. Honchariw then appealed to the Fifth District. The Petitioner won on appeal on the ground that the Board did not make the required findings under Government Code § 65589.5(j). Honchariw then filed a motion for attorney fees under Government Code § 65589.5(k). The Superior Court denied the motion, finding the statute only authorizes an award of attorney fees to developers of “affordable housing”.

Section 65589.5(k) of the Government Code states that the court “shall award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of suit to the plaintiff or petitioner who proposed the housing development… .” The Court looked into the legislative history of the bill, and found out that the legislature, in enacting Section 65589.5(k), intended to strengthen current law by awarding attorney fees to an affordable housing developer that has a project unfairly denied by a local agency.

The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s ruling and concluded that Government Code § 65589.5(k) only provides for an award of attorney fees to developers of affordable housing projects.

Brian Fu also contributed to this article.