This is an all too common phrase uttered by members of associations. It is most uttered when the Board is enforcing its condominium documents, including its rules.  The chant increases in volume when the violating owner is able to find some other violation of some other rule that they believe the Board is not enforcing.  Frequently it has this ring to it: “this is discrimination.”  For many reasons that argument fails to hold water.  However, courts do listen to owners who can show that an association is only enforcing or selectively enforcing its rules.  Continue Reading You Can’t Do That

You might think that when a tenant breaks a rule, that you can simply fine him like you would fine an owner-occupant. Or, you might think that you can just notify and fine the owner/landlord for his tenant’s violation, since he’ll ultimately be responsible for the fine anyway, right? These assumptions are intuitive; however, anyone who has been around condominiums and HOAs long enough can tell you that the laws governing them are not always intuitive. In fact, sometimes it seems like the legislators threw common sense right out the window! Continue Reading Fining for Tenant Violations? You Might be Doing it Wrong.

It has been said that insurance is the only product that both the seller and buyer hope is never used. That certainly rings true when it comes to community Associations’ insurance policies, but it does not diminish the need for Associations to protect themselves and their unit owners from an ever-widening array of damages they could suffer. Wis. Stat. § 703.17 requires Condominium Associations to obtain insurance against potential hazards, but only discusses scope by saying that the Association must acquire insurance “for not less than full replacement value of the property insured against.” Continue Reading It’s Never Too Late to Ensure Your Association is Properly Insured

Governing Documents for Condominium and Homeowner Associations don’t age well. They are not like a fine wine.  They are more like cheap cheese.  Remember, they were likely written by a developer who really only cared about them until it had sold all of its units or lots (assume 10 years or less).  So if your documents were written before 2008, it is unlikely that they have anything in them to deal with:

  1. Emotional Support Animals;
  2. Drones;
  3. Short Term Rentals (AirBnB was founded in 2008 in San Francisco);
  4. Medical Marijuana; or
  5. Unit or Lot Owners buying insurance to cover a large insurance deductibles that could be assessed against them if their actions cause an insured loss.

Continue Reading Our Governing Documents Have Aged Nicely

In Wisconsin condominium associations are required to insure all of the property (other than the personal property) of the unit owners. (See, Sections 703.17(1) and 703.02(14) Wis. Stat).  Many unit owners worry (needlessly I would contend) that their neighbors have improved their unit more than they have and then argue that they don’t want to pay the insurance for those improvements.  Ignoring for the moment that those improvements also likely increase the value of their neighbors unit and therefore increase the value of their unit, which they are more than happy to accept, this argument simply misses how insurance companies actually insure condominiums in Wisconsin.  The law requires all of the property to be insured.  The law requires that the insurance be paid as a common expense.  (Section 703.17(1) Wis. Stat).  Accordingly, arguing over who has to insure what, considering the clear language of the statute, wastes both the time and resources of an association.  However, there is something a board of directors can do to increase the insurance it provides unit owners without any material cost to the association.  To adequately explain where these savings can be obtained, I first need to explain how insurance companies currently charge premiums and pay condominium claims in Wisconsin. Continue Reading Free Money from your Association Insurer

I have written before on the subject of associations’ continuing struggle to convince enough unit owners to attend owner meetings in order to meet quorum requirements, and otherwise to simply get business done. Recognizing that not every condominium association may be ready to take the step to convert to “E-voting,” another way to ease the burden of low-owner attendance at meetings is the proper use of directed proxies or absentee ballots. While similar in concept, the two are legally distinct and it is important for associations to understand the differences to determine which process they can use. Continue Reading Directed Proxies vs. Absentee Ballots: What is the Difference and Can Our Association Use Them?

Picture this: an urban condominium complex and neighboring apartment building, built by the same developer, with one parking garage between the two. The condominium owners were led to believe that the garage belonged to them as a common element; however, just before turning over control to the unit owners, the developer/declarant secretly recorded an easement over 40 parking spaces for the benefit of his neighboring apartment building (essentially, giving an easement to himself). The developer sat tight for a few years, and then asserted his easement rights out of the blue.  Continue Reading Turnover From Developer—Unfair Easement

Is your condominium or homeowners association currently controlled by the declarant/developer? Would you like to be prepared when the developer is ready to hand over the reins to you, the owners?  In Wisconsin, developer turnover is governed by Section 703.15 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  To ensure a seamless transition, there are certain steps associations should take both before and after developer turnover.

Before turnover, it is essential that you obtain all financial and corporate records of the association, all construction documents, all association contracts, as well as a complete list of the names, address and contact information for all unit owners and mortgagees. You should meet with the developer and project manager to determine if there are any ongoing issues (financial, construction, etc.).  Set up an insurance committee of unit owners to review your insurance policies.  Decide if your association is going to hire a management company and interview potential managers.  Hire a knowledgeable condominium attorney to represent the association for the turnover. Continue Reading Turnover – Considerations for your Condominium Board of Directors and Officers

What happens when a fire caused within a condominium unit destroys that unit, some common area, and damages other units? It becomes an expensive situation for the association.  Even though insurance should pay for all of the damages, the association’s insurance premiums going forward could increase dramatically.  This is exactly what happened to a small condominium association in Wisconsin. Continue Reading Unit Fire Increases Association Insurance Premiums

A unit owner sought to expand their unit by building additional living space on the roof of the association. The declaration, like all declarations, defined the various units and their locations.  Unlike many declarations, this one allowed top floor unit owners to expand their units on the roof of the building.  Expanding a unit would, by definition, take common element and convert it into unit space.  Continue Reading Declaration Amendment – Sometimes There is No Other Way to Accomplish Something