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Assembly Bill 1720 Allows Private Investigators to Access Gated Communities in Order to Serve Process Upon residents

By Jeffrey A. French, Esq.

AB 1720 was sponsored by the California Association of Licensed Investigators and introduced by Assembly member Norma Torres.  The bill was recently signed into law by Governor Brown.  From the outset, AB 1720 was a rather benign bill in that it was not opposed by any particular group within the state, but it will impact gated communities by expanding the scope of persons that may obtain access in order to serve legal papers upon residents.  It should be noted that this bill only applies to gated communities that have a guard or other security personnel assigned to control access to the community at the time service of process is attempted.  Under current law, only individuals acting as a representative of a county sheriff, or a registered process server may access a gated community in order to serve process.  AB 1720 effectively adds licensed private investigators to the list of who may obtain access and under what circumstances. 

While private investigators are exempt from registering as process servers and are allowed to serve legal papers on individuals, they were not specifically authorized to enter gated communities under Code of Civil Procedure section 415.21.  Section 415.21 only granted this access to registered process servers and sheriff representatives.  Per Judiciary Committee testimony from private investigators, this lack of access thwarted service within gated communities and caused inefficiencies.  AB 1720 corrects this inconsistency in the law and specifically authorizes private investigators to obtain access to gated communities.  The private investigator must present to the guard identification, a valid private investigator license, and   identify the resident to be served.  Then, the private investigator must be granted a “reasonable” time in which to execute the service of process.  This access is granted only for service related activities and not for other unrelated investigation activities.  Further, because of the specific requirement to present both identification and a private investigator license, both employees and agents of private investigators will continue to be denied access to gated communities.

Finally, the legislation makes clear that it is not intended to upset the holding of Bein v. Brechtel-Jochim Group, a case which authorizes substituted service upon a gate guard if reasonable and diligent efforts to achieve physical service have previously failed. Substituted service may still be made upon a guard by a process server or private investigator if a person is using the gate to evade physical service.

Again, this new legislation only applies to gated communities that have guards. In such communities, it will be important for the association or security provider to brief staff on this change in the law and make sure that staff is aware that private investigators will now have the same access rights as process servers and sheriff representatives. The effective date for this new legislation will be January 1, 2013.


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