Does your Association have rules that target children?  Does your Association have rules that apply differently to children and adult residents within the community?  The following case is a cautionary tale for Condominium Associations and HOAs—repeal those rules now, or potentially face a losing battle pursuant to federal law.

Facts

In a federal district court case from early 2020, a homeowner brought suit against his HOA alleging that the Association’s rules with respect to use of the tennis courts, the pool, and clubhouse were discriminatory.  The tennis court rules stated that adults had court privileges over children after 3:00 PM on weekdays and any time on weekends and holidays.  The pool rules stated that residents 14 through 18 years of age were limited to one pool guest per person, while adult residents were permitted to have up to 6 pool guests at a time.  The clubhouse rules stated that it was reserved for adult use only during summer months while the pool was open.  The homeowner claimed that these three rules discriminated against families with children (also known as “familial status”), which is prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Continue Reading Rules that Target Children Really Target Your Association (for Discrimination Lawsuits)

Summary

A company that handled fee collections for an Association engaged in unlawful practices when it falsely indicated that a lien had been filed against two homeowners.

Facts

Plaintiffs Chad and Caitlin Truhn fell behind on their assessment payments to their Homeowner’s Association. In their agreement with the Association, the Truhns agreed to pay the cost of collecting their fees, a task the Association outsourced to EquityExperts.org, LLC (“the Collector”). The Truhns eventually settled their debt and brought suit alleging that the Collector’s practices violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The Truhns claimed that the Collector’s collection letters contained incorrect and misleading information.
Continue Reading Debt Collectors Adherence to Generic Forms Were Inaccurate and Misleading

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.
Continue Reading Excessive Fines Cause Courts to Find Liability – A Lesson in Fair Debt Collection Practices

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.
Continue Reading Must Your Association Ban Smoking as a Reasonable Accommodation? NO

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.
Continue Reading Your Condo Lien can be Prior to a Federal Tax Lien if you File it Correctly, Timely & for the Full Amount Due

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.
Continue Reading Documenting a Service Animal—Is the Association Allowed to Ask? The Wrong Answer will Cost You.

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.
Continue Reading FDCPA – Fair Debt – The Latest Case Actually Benefits Creditors

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.
Continue Reading Smoking Ban Was An Unreasonable Request

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.
Continue Reading Foreclosing on a Unit When Owner Discharged in Bankruptcy

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.
Continue Reading Can an Association’s Denial of a Valid Emotional Support Animal Request Create a Hostile Environment?