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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Davis v. Echo Valley Condominium Association, No. 17-12475 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 7, 2018)

Summary

The Eastern District of Michigan court held that a smoking ban demanded by a disabled owner was an unreasonable accommodation for purposes of the Fair Housing Act since the measure was not approved by the owners, and the Association was powerless to impose a ban without an owner vote.

The Facts

Plaintiff owned a Unit in the Echo Valley Condominium Association (the “Association”). Plaintiff complained to the Association that her neighbors smoked tobacco. She alleged that she could regularly smell it and that it exacerbated her existing respiratory health conditions.

Plaintiff informed the Association about her medical issues and asked the Association to address the smoking by creating a rule that all smokers in the Association should be required to seal gaps around doors and windows to prevent smoke from escaping. The Association declined to enforce a rule because neither the Association documents nor state law prohibited people from smoking in their homes.
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The answer to the question of when are fees unreasonable is simple: when a court says they are.  Fairfield Ridge Homeowners Association (association) is an HOA in Ohio.  The association entered into a management agreement with Elite Management Services, Inc. (EMS) to manage the association, including providing closing certification letters to sellers just before the closing on a sale.  EMS charged a unit owner $395 for these letters along with a $100 fee if they needed expedited service.  The association declaration provided that a “reasonable charge” could be assessed to a unit owner for these letters.  Ms. Barger viewed the $495 in charges as unreasonable and filed a class action suit against EMS.
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Issue:  If your association was destroyed by fire or some other hazard, and it did not make sense to rebuild, how would the funds be divided?

Problem.  Odds are that you don’t know the answer.  The fact that you don’t know should scare you.  Is every unit in your association worth the same amount?   I doubt it.  Do you each pay the same amount in assessments?  Does that control?  What does your declaration say about the distribution of insurance proceeds if the unit owners elect not to rebuild?  Do you understand what it says? Does it even make sense?
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