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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IMPRESSION: A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling served as a stiff reminder to investor-purchasers of condominium units: request of association resale disclosure certificates should be undertaken as a matter of course (in Wisconsin this is essentially the Section 703.165(4) Wis. Stat. statement of the amount of unpaid assessments).

DETAILS: In Bridge Investments, LLC v. Lowry Ridge Townhomes Assoc., LLP, A17-1221 (Minn. Ct. App. 2018) the owner of a condo unit in the Lowry Ridge Townhomes community defaulted on association payments owing over $3,500.00 in assessments.  After foreclosure proceedings, the condo was purchased by the owner’s bank at a sheriff’s sale.  Later, the defaulting owner reacquired the condo via redemption and on the same day sold the unit to Bridge Investments (“Bridge”)—a venture capital and private equity firm.  Bridge recorded its purchase with no knowledge of Lowry Ridge’s assessment lien; which was junior to the bank’s mortgage, but not eliminated by the redemption, and remained attached to the condo when sold. By this time, the outstanding balance reached over $9,000.00 prompting Lowry Ridge to record a lien for the unpaid balance, late fees, attorney’s fees, and costs.  Lowry Ridge attempted to amicably collect its debt rather than foreclose on the unit; however, Bridge felt it was not responsible for payment since it had no notice of the preexisting lien prior to purchasing the condo.
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Harrison v. Casa de Emdeko, Incorporated, No. SCWC-15-0000744 (Haw. Apr. 26, 2018)

Holding

The Supreme Court of Hawaii held that, under the Hawaii Condominium Property Act, expenses for building components that served only particular units (residential units in this case) in a mixed-use project had to be allocated as limited common expenses to the units served, even though the declaration of the association did not assign the components as limited common elements.

The Facts

Harrison purchased two commercial condominium units out of a mixed use condominium project consisting of both residential and commercial units. The residential units were completely separate from the commercial units. Even though she only owned commercial units, Harrison was assessed expenses for elevators, lanai railings, and drains for the residential buildings. After Harrison brought suit for being improperly charged, alleging that the items were limited common elements, the association responded that Harrison never objected to the costs during her 30 years of ownership or her tenure on the association’s board of directors.
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