Summary

If your Association excessively fines an owner, expect a court to find a way to penalize the association.

The Facts

In 2004 Mr. and Mrs. Mills (“Mills”) bought a home in the subdivision called Galyn Manor.  In 2007 Galyn Manor began fining Mills for a commercial work vehicle parked in their driveway in violation of the association rules.  Galyn Manor advised Mills that the fines would be $50 for each day that the commercial vehicle was parked on their property.  By the end of 2007, the fines amounted to $645.  In January of 2008, the association hired the Andrews Law Firm (“Law Firm”) to collect the fines.  Between 2008 and May of 2015 many demands for payment were made, and many payments were made.
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Summary

If smoking is otherwise allowed in your association, you do not need to ban it as a reasonable accommodation for a person with asthma.

The Facts

Phyllis Davis suffers from asthma but lives in a condominium complex that allows residents to smoke in their units.  Davis claimed that the smoke from a neighboring unit aggravated her asthma.  Davis is a cancer survivor with “a history of asthma and multiple chemical sensitivity disorder.”  When the association didn’t ban smoking in her building she sued alleging that the association had discriminated against her by not granting her reasonable accommodation request to ban smoking in her building thereby violating the Fair Housing Act because of her disability.  Davis also alleged a nuisance claim under the bylaws.
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Summary

The United States District Court held that a prior recorded condominium lien had priority over a federal tax lien but only to the extent of the amount stated in the lien notice. SO make sure you get everything you should in your lien filing.

I want to thank attorney William Z. Kolobaric and Hirzel Law, PLC in Michigan for bringing this case to my attention and for allowing me to reprint large portions of their blog on this subject.

The Facts

Defendant Pamela Norwood (“Norwood”) bought a condominium unit in March 2015 in the Yarmouth Commons Condominium project (“Condominium Unit”).  On April 6, 2015, the IRS made an assessment of past due income taxes against Norwood for the 2009 tax year she failed to pay but it was not until February 8, 2016 that the IRS recorded a Notice of Federal Tax Lien with the Macomb County Register of Deeds against Norwood’s property in Macomb County, which included the Condominium Unit.  About 10 days earlier, on January 28, 2016, Yarmouth Commons Association (“Association”) recorded a notice of lien with the Macomb County Register of Deeds in the amount of $1,490.00 for unpaid assessments, exclusive of interest, costs, attorney fees and any future assessments which may become due.
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Even though most private residential Associations are not subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”) still applies and protects owners who have service animals. In some cases, the Association has the right to ask the owner for documentation supporting the need for a service animal, but not always…and the case below illustrates how pressing for documentation when the Association is not entitled to it can end up being quite costly for the Association.
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For years the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) has been used as a sword by debtors and debtors attorneys as a means of exacting revenge from those creditors attorneys who failed to strictly, and I mean STRICTLY, follow every small detail of the law. It reached the point that one court called it a “cottage industry” for debtor’s attorneys.

The FDCPA was so difficult to comply with, that even the Federal Circuit Court (the 7th Circuit) in one of its opinions literally included in the opinion the language that it recommended that debt collectors (including attorneys) use in order to comply with the FDCPA.  Unfortunately, even the letter that they wrote within the opinion failed to comply with one aspect of the FDCPA illustrating how difficult compliance can be.
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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 Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) was enacted to protect consumers from unscrupulous debt collectors; as a shield against prohibited acts. However, it is now often used as a sword, by attorneys who are part of a “cottage industry” that simply look for even the smallest of violations and then claim thousands of dollars of attorney fees and damages in their first letter to the alleged violator.
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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.
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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).
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A unit owner claimed that she needed an emotional support animal because of a disability, and provided a doctor’s note to the condominium association supporting this need. The unit owner selected a dog as the emotional support animal, and as a reasonable accommodation the association agreed to allow the dog into a no-pet building.  The unit owner demanded the right to take the dog everywhere, including into the swimming pool, making various arguments and attaching various Fair Housing Act articles relating to the need to allow people with disabilities equal access to the property of an association. 
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