The Board of Directors always has the power to make and amend Rules and Regulations on its own, without owner approval…right? Wrong.  The Board’s rule-making power and authority completely depends upon what authority is given by the Declaration and Bylaws, and as we know, all associations’ Declarations and Bylaws are different!  This is true in Wisconsin and in many other States.  Knowing what is in your governing documents will keep you out of troubling lawsuits.
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With the Spring 2020 Presidential Primary and election for various state court judges looming on the horizon, many of Wisconsin’s condominium associations are proactively deciding on how to delicately navigate and employ rules regarding unit owner rights with respect to displaying American flags and political campaign signs. Naturally, the close-quarters of condominium living presents a different set of circumstances unlike single family homeowners who are free to scatter an unlimited amount of political signs and flags about their property with impunity. The very concept of a condominium is grounded in shared space and shared cost; and while one unit owner’s patriotism or unwavering support for a particular political candidate may be viewed as noble, another unit owner may view the same support as distasteful or even offensive.
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Facts

When you are headed down the wrong path – TURN BACK.  This applies to owners and associations when they act on their belief of what their documents say, but then learn that their understanding may be wrong.  Often parties who make a mistake, or learn that they might have made a mistake, refuse to reevaluate their situation and at least allow turning back to be an option.  Such appears to have been what happened in the recent case of Fritz v. Lake Carroll Property Owners Association, Inc., (2019 unreported case out of Illinois) where the association passed a rule that required inspection and pumping of the owners privately owned septic system every four years and that if an owner failed to follow the rule they would be fined $250 and $25 per day. 
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Frequently we are asked about either inconsistent association documents or advised that although our documents say X we have always done Y so won’t our past precedent control? The answer is NO.  Your documents control.  You must follow what your documents say, unless there is something in them that is illegal or against public policy. This same point is continually stressed by the courts around the country.
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Harbour Island Condominium Owners Association, Inc. v. Alexander, No. B285755 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2019)

Summary

In Harbour Island, the Court of Appeals of California held that tenants renting a unit that was part of a condominium association did not have standing before the board concerning meeting attendance and fines imposed for violations. The association did not have to give the tenants an opportunity to be heard, unlike the rights of actual unit owners.
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Master v. Country Club of Landfall, — S.E.2d — (2018)

Issue

Does due process require a hearing before an impartial tribunal (Board)? NO!!!

The Facts

Masters was a member a private golf club within his HOA. The golf club (“Club”) sought to make significant changes to its bylaws. Masters opposed the changes and wrote and sent a series of emails to other members claiming the proposed changes were unethical and immoral.  Specifically, within the emails Masters “made references to Hitler, Barabbas, Jesus and slavery.”  After several Club members complained, the Board concluded that Master’s actions were “insulting and inappropriate and had no place within the Club.” As a result they voted unanimously to terminate his membership.  In accordance with the Rules the president referred the matter to a hearing panel.  Master’s was given notice of the hearing and although he did not appear, his attorney did attend and argued for “suspension” instead of termination, but did not ask any members to recuse themselves. The hearing panel voted to terminate Masters membership and he filed suit.
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Courts across the country have been hearing cases about short-term rentals of homes and condominium units, and there is not much consistency in the decisions made. Sometimes, it is the homeowners’ association that is trying to enforce its covenants in a manner that prohibits short-term rentals, and sometimes it is a municipality trying to enforce its zoning ordinances.  In the two cases discussed below, we have one of each—and in both cases, the language of the covenant and the ordinance made all the difference.
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