Facts

In 2016, a Master Association adopted seven amendments to its declaration.  The amendments addressed the Master Association’s authority to approve proposed uses of certain buildings, increased assessments on them, and imposed additional restrictions on those buildings’ tenants.  In response, the building’s prior owner (“Building Owner”) filed suit against the Master Association and eight individual directors and officers, seeking six forms of relief: (1) a declaratory judgment concerning the legality of the amendments; (2) damages for tortious interference with a business relationship; (3) damages for breach of fiduciary duty; (4) an accounting; (5) a temporary injunction; and (6) a permanent injunction.
Continue Reading Amendments to Condominium Documents MUST be Reasonable to be Valid

Facts

The property was subject to a discriminatory restrictive covenant recorded in 1953 that stated: “No race or nationality other than the white race shall use or occupy any building on any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant.”  In 2017 Plaintiffs obtained the property by deed referencing that the deed was subject to covenants.  Plaintiff then filed suit to “have the discriminatory restrictive covenant declared void and to ‘strike that same subsection from public record and eliminating it from the title of the property.’” 
Continue Reading Covenants that Discriminate on Race – ARE STILL A PROBLEM

Facts

Defendant, Castletown Corner Owner’s Association, Inc. (“Association”), had a duty to maintain a lift station.  Specifically, the declaration imposed an obligation on the Association to pay “all Maintenance Costs in connection with” improvements constructed at the Association.  Maintenance costs are then defined as “all of the costs necessary to maintain the … sewers, utility strips, and other facilities … and to keep such facilities operational and in good condition, including, but not limited to, the cost of all upkeep, maintenance, repair, replacement … for the continuous operation of such facilities.”  Plaintiff, owner of one of the commercial units, sued the Association for failing to properly maintain the lift station after an incident where the sanitary lift station malfunctioned and flooded the building with human sewage, which allegedly caused Plaintiff’s tenant to terminate its lease.
Continue Reading Language in Declaration Makes Association Strictly Liable

Does your condominium or homeowners association (HOA) have owners who don’t pay their assessments?  Owners are finding more excuses to avoid paying their assessments.  Filing multiple bankruptcies, submitting payments with conditional language, NSF payments, claiming they don’t owe since they don’t use the common elements. . .  The list goes on and on.

So how does your association handle these “Sophisticated Debtors”?  Does your Association have a strong written collection policy?  Are your governing documents updated and in compliance with current law?  If not, your association will spend more than you should be in trying to collect unpaid assessments.

To ease the pain and headache of collecting unpaid assessments, make sure your association has:
Continue Reading Dealing with Sophisticated Debtors

Facts

Plaintiff, O’Donnell, bought his condo in 2012 and sold it in 2019.  Beginning in 2013, O’Donnell missed various assessment payments.  In late 2013 the association filed a lien, and in 2018 the association commenced a foreclosure action.  To bring the lawsuit to an end, O’Donnell sold his unit.  The sale allowed O’Donnell to pay off the claimed past due assessments and attorney fees.  At the time of sale, he paid $23,342 to the association and $22,234.94 to the attorneys which brought the case to an end.  Plaintiff then filed suit against the association’s law firm alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by filing a foreclosure suit without legal authority.  Specifically, O’Donnell alleged the law firm failed to satisfy several of the prerequisites to proceed with a foreclosure suit against him.  Both parties moved for summary judgment.
Continue Reading Attorney Fees – FDCPA Violation – Failure to Follow Association Document Procedures

Mental health issues can impact community associations in a myriad of ways.  Often Associations become the “reluctant care provider” (owners have no family/next of kin, or the family “dumped” the owner in the Association rather than in a care facility).  This can be true of older residents (“aging-in-place”) as well of younger residents.  The COVID pandemic, and the corresponding year of lockdowns, has added extra stress and increased isolation, exacerbating existing mental health conditions.  This has led to an increase of emotional distress, substance abuse, and suicides.

Because community associations are communities, issues that arise with one resident can interfere with another resident’s use and enjoyment of their property.  Mental health issues don’t always stay “contained” within the affected owner’s property – noise, shouting, threats, trespassing, damage to property, physical violence – all can interfere with other residents’ quiet enjoyment of their property.  While these issues can manifest themselves as harassment and hostilities, they can also lead to dangerous situations.  [To read more on dealing with harassment and hostile environment, click HERE.]

While it is not the Association’s responsibility to determine if someone has a mental disability, it is the Association’s responsibility to help ensure that all residents live harmoniously. 
Continue Reading Tackling Mental Health and Aging Issues in Your Community Association

Facts

A dispute arose between four condominium associations within a master association as to obligations to pay for the maintenance, repair and upkeep of a roadway easement.  The road connected the four condos and other properties.  The master deeds for each association were recorded in the 1970s.  In 2013, Plaintiff, Bayberry Group, Inc. (“Bayberry”) sought an agreement to share the costs of the road.  As a result, a Common Area Maintenance Agreement (“CAM Agreement”) was created.  The CAM Agreement covered the road and the “lawns and entirety of any … landscaping in the roadway easement.”  A majority of the associations in the master association executed the CAM Agreement, but the four defendant associations did not.  The defendants also refused to pay their share of the fees under the CAM Agreement.  Bayberry filed suit alleging the road easement is a general common element of each of the associations.  Defendants answered denying any road easement as a common element.
Continue Reading Road Maintenance – Who Pays? (Duties under Association Documents and Case Law)

Most condominiums and homeowner associations (HOAs) are nonstock corporations under Wisconsin Chapter 181.  As such their members can make decisions one of three ways:

  1. Holding a meeting;
  2. Action by written consent (181.0704 Wis. Stat.). This may be used unless “limited or otherwise provided in the articles of incorporation or bylaws…”  For an association to act by written consent, the action must be “approved by members holding at least 80 percent of the voting power, or a different percentage, not less than 50 percent, specified in the articles of incorporation or bylaws.”  The written consents must be signed and dated after the date of the last meeting of the members and kept with the minutes
  3. Action by written ballot (181.0708 Wis. Stat.) This may be used “if permitted by the articles of incorporation or bylaws, any action that may be taken at an annual, regular or special meeting of members may be taken without a meeting if the corporation delivers a written ballot to every member entitled to vote on the matter, the ballot sets for the proposed action and provides an opportunity to vote for or against the proposed action.”  “Approval by written ballot … valid only when the number of votes cast by ballot equals or exceeds the quorum required to be present at a meeting authorizing the action, and the number of approvals equals or exceeds the number of votes that would be required to approve the matter at a meeting at which the total number of votes cast was the same as the number of votes cast by ballot.”


Continue Reading Condo and HOA Virtual/ZOOM Meetings in Wisconsin – How Legal Are They?

Summary

The language and definitions in your governing documents reflect the intentions of the Association.  You need to either follow them or amend them, but NOT ignore them.

Facts

Sunnyside Resort Condominiums is a private resort property located on Lake Gogebic in Gogebic County, Michigan, and governed by the Sunnyside Resort Condominium Association, Inc. (SRCA).  In 2006, the Plaintiffs purchased vacant lots within SRCA with an individual value of $13,000.  Unlike other lots, the Plaintiffs’ lots, among other things, lacked improvements to the property, utilities, and septic systems.

Assessments on Vacant Lots.  Although the Plaintiffs’ lots were free from any structures, Plaintiffs were charged assessment fees despite the association documents essentially providing that the Plaintiffs were not required to pay association assessment fees until a structure was built on the lot.  In part this was due to the fact that the percentages of value for the units were calculated based on several factors including, market value, size, and allocable expenses for maintenance. Plaintiffs stopped paying the monthly assessment fees for their two units in July 2015.
Continue Reading Vacant Land Units Can Have a 0% Percentage Interest