The Business Judgment Rule can be a great protection for condo and HOA boards—but only if the board is following the documents.

Facts.  The Declaration for an HOA stated that the Board had the discretion to raise the “maximum annual assessment” without a vote of the homeowners as long as it was “in an amount equal to 150% of the rise, if any, of the [CPI] for the preceding month of July.” Higher increases required the vote of the homeowners. The Association’s Bylaws contained a formula for calculating this “maximum annual assessment” raise, but the formula allowed the Board to accumulate the CPI increases year over year in calculating the maximum assessment. The Board followed the Bylaws formula, and owners sued, contending (1) that the increase to the maximum annual assessment was higher than the Board had authority to do under the Declaration; and (2) that the Bylaws formula conflicted with the Declaration. The HOA Board argued that it exercised good Business Judgment in following the Bylaws formula. Continue Reading How is the Business Judgment Rule Applied to Board Actions?

When a mortgage company faces having its mortgage interest swept away in a quiet title action following an HOA lien foreclosure, the mortgage company comes up with all sorts of arguments as to why its mortgage should remain intact. This time, the arguments did not carry the day.

Facts.  In a 2017 Nevada case, a successful purchaser at an HOA lien foreclosure sale bought the condo for $35,000.  The fair market value of the condo at the time was $335,000. The unit purchaser filed a quiet title action against Nationstar, who held the first mortgage on the unit, seeking to extinguish Nationstar’s mortgage so the purchaser could have clear title to the unit. Continue Reading Can a Court Set Aside a HOA-Lien Foreclosure Sale Because the Sales Price Was Too Low?

Condominium associations generally have a number of legal remedies to pursue when an owner stops paying assessments. An Ohio court recently found that associations may collect assessments as they come due during a lien foreclosure action by and through a court-appointed receiver.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an investor owner of a condominium unit, who had a rent-paying tenant living in the unit, failed to pay a special assessment to the association. The association filed a lien for the unpaid special assessment and started a lien foreclosure action. While the foreclosure action was in progress, the association also asked the court to appoint a receiver who would collect the rents from the tenant, as well as the current assessments as they come due. The unit owner argued that having the receiver collect assessments was a stretch of the statute, which only allowed a receiver to collect “reasonable rental” during the pendency of a foreclosure action. Continue Reading Can a Court-Appointed Receiver Collect Assessments Coming Due While a Unit is in Lien Foreclosure?

A defense owners can raise if the Board claims the owner has violated the rules is “selective enforcement,” meaning the Board arbitrarily picks on some violators and not others. In addition, owners oftentimes like to rely on approval given by one board member, taking that as “Board approval” of the owner’s actions.  The case below tackles both of these issues, in the context of a dispute over an owner’s installation of hard-surface flooring.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner who lived in an upper-level condominium unit replaced her carpeting with laminated flooring.  The problem is, the Association’s Declaration prohibited the installation of any flooring other than carpet, without prior Board approval. The owner had not received approval from the Board prior to installation of the flooring, but she did allegedly have an email exchange with the Board president wherein he said it would be ok. Continue Reading Hard-Surface Flooring in Upper Units—A Lesson in Selective Enforcement and Officer’s Authority

An owner violates the rules. The Board assesses fines to the unit owner.  Will the fines hold up in a court of law? In this case, they did—and your Association can take note of what this Court says the HOA did right.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner who lived in a subdivision with an HOA planted bamboo in their yard, which then spread and infested a neighboring owner’s yard and some common areas.  When the owner failed to remove the offending plants after notice, the HOA Board started to fine the owner, rather than to exercise “self-help” and take care of the bamboo infestation for the owner.  Continue Reading A Board of Directors’ Right to Fine for Violations

A Board’s blatant mishandling of an emotional support animal request led to the owner not only having a Fair Housing claim against the Association for wrongful failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, but also a claim for third-party harassment when the Association failed to step in and stop other unit owners from blasting the owner publicly on a blog.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner that lived in a no pets community applied to the Board requesting an emotional support dog, providing a doctor’s letter prescribing the dog. The Board didn’t want to deal with the request and kept putting it off, hoping it would go away. Meanwhile, a Board member told another owner about the emotional support animal request, and the owner, who was an active blogger and upset by the presence of a dog in their community, started blogging about the situation, naming the owner and poking fun at her need for an emotional support dog using cruel and chastising language. Continue Reading Can an Association’s Denial of a Valid Emotional Support Animal Request Create a Hostile Environment?

In New Jersey, the United Stated Bankruptcy Court held in In re. Smiley, 569 B.R. 377 (2017) that a Unit Owner/Debtor can modify the Association’s lien and strip off all but the six month super lien allowed under the state’s condominium act.  The facts at the time were that the Association was owed $9,000 for filed liens and another $4,700 that it recognized as unsecured.  At the time of the bankruptcy filing, the monthly assessment was $250.  The fair market value of the property according to the bankruptcy schedules was $142,000, but it was under water because of a $174,000 first mortgage on the property.  Based on these facts the Unit Owner/Debtor claimed, and the court found, that despite the proper lien filings, the Association only had security for $1,500 ($250 x 6 months). Continue Reading Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – Can the Association’s Lien for Unpaid Assessments be Stripped Off? YES

Most states, including Wisconsin, follow the American Rule when it comes to attorney fees.  In simple terms, it provides that each side in a lawsuit is responsible for their own attorney fees (win or lose) unless:

  1. A statute or law provides otherwise; or
  2. A contract provides otherwise.

Because the law recognizes your Association documents as contracts between the Association and it owners or members, a provision allowing attorney fees may be found there. Continue Reading Attorney Fees – How Do I Get a Court to Award Them to My Association and What is a Fee Shifting Provision?

In Welsh v. McNeil, 162 A.3d 135 (2017) a board member and unit owner (“Board Member”) sued another unit owner (“Landlord Unit Owner”) for violation of the Association documents claiming that the Landlord Unit Owner violated the leasing provisions by allowing someone (the “Tenant”) to occupy the premises who was not on the lease.  The lease was only to an unincorporated entity, and did not name who would be occupying the premises.  Before suit was filed the Landlord Unit Owner and Tenant asked the Board to waive the bylaw provision as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Administration (“FHA”) to afford recovering alcoholics an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a single family dwelling of their choice. Continue Reading Can Your Association End a Unit Owner’s Suit by Post-Suit Filing Actions?

In a 2017 New York case, a dispute arose over what authority the Association had to perform landscaping maintenance on an individual homeowner’s lot (Minkin v. Board of Directors of Cortlandt Ridge Homeowners’ Association, Inc., 149 A. D.3d 723 (2017)).  When the owner refused to pay the assessment for the landscaping services, the Board started assessing fines.  The owner sued the Board.  The New York Supreme Court (the lowest level court in New York) decided that the Board did have the authority to perform the landscaping services on the front lawn and the homeowner was required pay the assessment as well as the fines.  Unfortunately for the Association, there was also a larger issue dealing with the work performed and assessed on the side and rear of the house.  The problem was that the Board and managing agent could not provide backup or evidence for exactly what work was done in each area, and accordingly, the assessments and fines were not upheld in those areas. Continue Reading Know Your Governing Documents