Yes in My Back Yard v. City of Culver City (2023): Court Clarifies Limits on Local Zoning Under Housing Act

This case involves a challenge under California’s Housing Crisis Act to the City of Culver City’s ordinance reducing the floor area ratio (FAR) permitted for single-family homes. Plaintiffs Yes in My Back Yard and Sonja Trauss (collectively, YIMBY) filed a petition for writ of mandate after the city adopted Ordinance No. 2020-010, which lowered the FAR from 0.60 to 0.45 in the single-family residential (R-1) zone. 

The trial court ruled in favor of YIMBY, finding a violation of the Housing Crisis Act’s prohibition on reducing residential land use intensity. The Court of Appeal of California affirmed, holding that the ordinance’s FAR reduction plainly violated the Act’s definition of “reducing the intensity of land use.” The court also upheld a fee award to YIMBY under California’s private attorney general statute.


California has been facing a persistent housing shortage crisis. In 2019, the state legislature adopted the Housing Crisis Act to address this problem by limiting restrictions on housing development. The Act prohibits cities from enacting zoning changes that reduce the intensity of land use below what was permitted as of January 2018. This includes express prohibitions on reductions to housing density, height, or FAR.

In July 2020, following a study on “mansionization” concerns, the City of Culver City adopted Ordinance No. 2020-010 to amend its single-family residential zoning standards. Among other changes, the ordinance reduced the maximum FAR from 0.60 to 0.45 for primary structures in R-1 neighborhoods. This change decreased the size of single-family homes that could be built by several hundred square feet.

YIMBY submitted comments asserting that the FAR reduction violated the Housing Crisis Act’s proscription against lessening land use intensity. Nevertheless, the city council unanimously approved the ordinance. YIMBY then filed a petition for a writ of mandate seeking to void the ordinance.

Trial Court Proceedings

The trial court ruled in favor of YIMBY after a hearing, finding the ordinance clearly violated the Housing Crisis Act. The court issued a peremptory writ ordering the city to repeal the ordinance. The court also awarded YIMBY $131,813.58 in attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure §1021.5, California’s private attorney general statute.

Appellate Court Analysis

The Court of Appeal independently reviews questions of statutory interpretation and affirmed the judgment. The court held that the plain language of Government Code §66300 prohibited the city’s FAR reduction. The court explained that the statutory definition of “reducing the intensity of land use” expressly includes decreases to FAR. This unambiguous language reflects the legislature’s intent to broadly limit local policies that negatively impact housing development. 

Though the city argued the purpose was only to restrict density reductions, the court declined to rewrite the statute by reading the language out. The FAR reduction was not exempt as affordable housing policy, nor did the city show the ordinance actually increased density. Given the clear statutory violation, the award of attorney fees was also proper as YIMBY’s action enforced important housing rights and benefited the public interest.

Key Takeaways

  • Cities cannot reduce single-family residential FAR below January 1, 2018 baseline levels per the Housing Crisis Act.
  • Plain statutory text controls over arguments about legislative purpose.
  • The Housing Crisis Act broadly limits policies that reduce land use intensity.
  • Substantial attorney fee awards are available under California private attorney general law.
  • Ordinances violating state housing laws face heightened scrutiny.
  • Zoning changes must ensure no net loss of residential density.


In Yes In My Back Yard v. City of Culver City (2023), the Court of Appeal of California affirmed a ruling that the City of Culver City’s ordinance lowering the permissible floor area ratio in single-family zones violated express provisions of the Housing Crisis Act prohibiting reduced land use intensity. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s order to repeal the ordinance and substantial attorney fee award under California’s private attorney general statute. 

This precedent reinforces cities’ limited authority to alter single-family housing zoning regulations in a manner that lessens residential development capacity, absent special exemptions. Additionally, the availability of fee recovery provides incentives regarding legal challenges enforcing housing laws against zoning actions that run counter to state policy objectives. Given the clarity of the statutory text, courts are likely to strike down similar municipal FAR reductions without much deference.

Property Litigation in The Wake of Natural Disasters

Natural disasters in California sometimes lead to complicated property disputes and insurance claims. The aftermath of a natural disaster can leave property owners grappling not only with the physical aftermath but also with boundary issues and insurance claims. You need a serious and committed real estate attorney to help you successfully work through any property disputes.

Insurance Claims in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters in California

While insurance is intended to provide relief during challenging times, navigating the claims process can be a daunting journey. These are a few challenges faced by homeowners and commercial property owners:

Policy Interpretation

Insurance policies are notorious for their intricate language and fine print. Deciphering the terms, conditions, and exclusions requires careful reading and a comprehensive understanding of insurance jargon. Ensuring you interpret your policy correctly is the first step in addressing potential challenges.

Disputed Valuations

One of the most frequent challenges involves the valuation of property damage. Insurance adjusters may offer assessments that property owners find inadequate to cover the true cost of repairs or replacements. Disputed valuations can hinder the progress of your claim and require negotiation skills to rectify.

Underestimated Repairs

Initial assessments of property damage might not reveal hidden or underlying issues that could escalate repair costs. Discovering these underestimated repairs after the claims process has begun can lead to disputes with the insurance company over additional compensation.

Documentation Gaps

Comprehensive documentation is important in the claims process. Gaps in evidence, missing documentation, or insufficient records can weaken your case and delay the resolution. Being diligent in documenting the condition of your property before and after the disaster is necessary to ensure a smoother claims process.

Claims Denials

Insurance claims can be denied for various reasons, such as policy exclusions, inadequate documentation, or disputes over causation. Facing a denied claim can be disheartening, but it is not the end of the road. Seeking legal help to appeal the denial and provide additional evidence can overturn the decision.

Delayed Claims Processing

Natural disasters often result in a surge of claims, overwhelming insurance companies and leading to delays in claims processing. For property owners needing immediate repairs and recovery, these delays can exacerbate challenges and hinder timely restoration efforts.

Negotiation Challenges

Negotiating with insurance adjusters can be challenging, especially when their assessments don’t align with your expectations. Achieving fair compensation often requires skilled negotiation and a clear presentation of evidence supporting your claim.

Types of Property Claims After a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters have the potential to wreak havoc on properties, leaving a trail of destruction and losses in their wake. In the aftermath of such events, property owners often need to file insurance claims to recover their losses and rebuild their lives. 

Here are a few common types of property claims that arise after a natural disaster in California:

  • Property Damage Claims
  • Contents Claims
  • Additional Living Expenses (ALE) Claims
  • Debris Removal Claims
  • Landscaping and Outdoor Property Claims
  • Business Interruption Claims
  • Water Damage Claims
  • Fire Damage Claims
  • Earthquake Damage Claims
  • Smoke and Soot Damage Claims
  • Mold and Mildew Damage Claims
  • Wind and Storm Damage Claims
  • Vandalism and Theft Claims

The process of filing property claims after a natural disaster can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with multiple types of damages. Seeking guidance from experienced legal professionals can help property owners deal with the complexities of insurance policies, coverage limitations, and the claims process, ensuring that rightful compensation is obtained for the damages incurred.

Types of Land Ownership Concerns Following Natural Disasters in California

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the landscape of land ownership can undergo significant changes. California’s susceptibility to earthquakes, wildfires, and other disasters underscores the importance of understanding the legal implications that arise when dealing with land ownership disputes.

  1. Property Boundaries and Disputes: Natural disasters can shift land boundaries, leading to conflicts over ownership between neighbors, and necessitating legal intervention.
  2. Title Disputes and Insurance: Disasters may unveil title vulnerabilities, resulting in clashes over ownership rights, mitigated by title insurance protection.
  3. Adverse Possession Impact: Natural disasters inadvertently trigger adverse possession claims, where squatters occupying abandoned properties claim ownership rights.
  4. Eminent Domain and Balance: Government exercise of eminent domain for disaster-affected properties requires property owners to understand their rights and compensation.
  5. Liens and Financial Obligations: Disasters causing financial disruptions can lead to property liens; resolving these obligations with legal aid preserves ownership rights.

Real Estate Attorneys Can Help in Post-Disaster Property Ownership Disputes

A real estate lawyer can provide strong legal representation as well as assistance in various ways when you are dealing with land ownership issues following natural disasters:

  1. Boundary Disputes: Attorneys can navigate shifting property boundaries caused by natural disasters, resolving disputes with neighbors, and preventing prolonged conflicts.
  2. Title Issues: Real estate attorneys can investigate and resolve title disputes arising from disaster-related changes, ensuring clear ownership rights and preventing potential legal challenges.
  3. Adverse Possession Claims: Attorneys can swiftly address adverse possession claims triggered by disasters, protecting property owners from unintended property loss.
  4. Insurance Negotiations: Real estate attorneys aid property owners in negotiating with insurers to ensure fair compensation for property damages and losses caused by natural disasters.
  5. Mediation: Attorneys negotiate with parties involved in land ownership disputes, striving to achieve amicable resolutions without resorting to lengthy litigation.
  6. Litigation Representation: When necessary, attorneys offer skilled representation in court, safeguarding property owners’ interests and pursuing rightful outcomes.

Consult Our Experienced Real Estate Attorneys Today to Safeguard Your Property Rights

The knowledgeable real estate attorneys at Peterson, Martin & Reynolds LLP can help you protect your rights with effective legal strategies. Our attorneys are here to guide you every step of the way.

Whether it is boundary disputes, title issues, insurance negotiations, or regulatory changes, we provide comprehensive legal representation. Let us be your advocate in securing your property rights and achieving favorable outcomes. To schedule a consultation, call us at (415) 399-2900 or fill out this online contact form.