Summary

Declarant owned nine of 10 units, controlled the board and association, failed to have an association bank account, intermingled the assessments that were paid into his business account, never held elections or annual meetings and kept no separate corporate records.  Yet, the Court held that these failures could not be used as an excuse for not paying assessments that were due under the condominium documents.  In other words, you bought into an association, pay your assessments.
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Summary

An entity that ultimately bought the prior interests of the declarant learned the hard and expensive way that not perfectly following the documents can be very costly.

The Facts

Property owners brought action against declarant and their associations seeking a declaratory judgment that declarant was not a proper successor declarant and requiring the alleged declarant to pay assessments they otherwise would have been exempt from paying.  The property owners claimed that the defendant had not validly obtained declarant rights and therefore had wrongfully claimed the unilateral right to appoint the directors of the homeowners’ associations.  The property owners also claimed that they did not owe the assessments because: the right to levy assessments was vested in the associations’ boards of directors; the boards were never duly elected or were otherwise illegally constituted; and in the absence of properly constituted boards, the associations lacked authority to impose the assessments and record the liens at issue.  At the heart of the issue was a foreclosure on a couple of loans against the original declarant followed by a number of subsequent transfers of the declarant rights and the property.  Both parties moved for summary judgment.
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Summary

A 79-unit condominium association held a meeting to remove the directors from office and elect new ones. The president objected to the meeting, the procedure and the notice, but since the association followed the documents and had more than half of the unit owners vote for the removal, the directors were removed.
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As Condominium and HOA attorneys, we often receive questions from our clients dealing with all the issues that can get in the way of conducting a successful annual meeting. Most often, it is the issue of not being able to achieve a quorum of owners in attendance—which stymies the Association’s ability to hold Board member elections, approve the budget, and take other important actions to further the HOA’s business for the coming year.  So what happens if an Association’s Bylaws calls for annual board elections, but the Association does not hold elections for a number of years?  Is there a Board? Does the Board have any authority? A recent case addressed these issues, and the court’s findings might surprise you.
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Disgruntled unit owners love to review their association documents and then demand every document that they think they might be entitled to.  In this case, the court made clear that reasonableness and discretion will play some part in what must be provided.

The Facts

In December of 2014 the Plaintiff sought to inspect the Associations records, including the:

  1. December 2012 and 2013-2014 bank statements;
  2. General ledger from 2013-2014;
  3. Specific 2013 and 2014 invoices;
  4. Official communications between the Association board members and the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (OSE);
  5. 2012 and 2014 end of fiscal year and year-end balance sheets;
  6. 2012 and 2014 profit and loss reports;
  7. December 2014 accounts receivable aging report; and
  8. December 2014 open invoices report.

The Association was incorporated in 1973 in New Mexico. Plaintiff wanted to inspect the records because she was concerned over the increase in unpaid dues owed the Association and the Board’s financial reporting.

The Board produced most of the records, but “did not produce for inspection the bank statements, the general ledger, invoices, the accounts receivable aging reports, an open invoice report, and communications between board members and the OSE.”
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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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