Developers of condominium communities and HOAs often reserve access easement rights within the Declaration/Deed Restrictions for the subdivision, especially when the Developer owns yet-undeveloped neighboring property. But what happens if the Developer forgets to reserve such easement rights specifically within the Declaration or Deed Restrictions? A recent case explores this dilemma, and at least in this case, the HOA owners come out on top.

Facts

In a 2019 case, some lot owners within a subdivision, which had been advertised as a private, gated community, sued the Developer for trying to enforce an access easement he had for the main road within their subdivision. The Developer claimed he needed access to that main road in order to develop the neighboring lots behind the gated community.  The Developer also believed he could grant access to the owners of the neighboring lots through the gated community. 
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Summary

A 79-unit condominium association held a meeting to remove the directors from office and elect new ones. The president objected to the meeting, the procedure and the notice, but since the association followed the documents and had more than half of the unit owners vote for the removal, the directors were removed.
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As Condominium and HOA attorneys, we often receive questions from our clients dealing with all the issues that can get in the way of conducting a successful annual meeting. Most often, it is the issue of not being able to achieve a quorum of owners in attendance—which stymies the Association’s ability to hold Board member elections, approve the budget, and take other important actions to further the HOA’s business for the coming year.  So what happens if an Association’s Bylaws calls for annual board elections, but the Association does not hold elections for a number of years?  Is there a Board? Does the Board have any authority? A recent case addressed these issues, and the court’s findings might surprise you.
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Disgruntled unit owners love to review their association documents and then demand every document that they think they might be entitled to.  In this case, the court made clear that reasonableness and discretion will play some part in what must be provided.

The Facts

In December of 2014 the Plaintiff sought to inspect the Associations records, including the:

  1. December 2012 and 2013-2014 bank statements;
  2. General ledger from 2013-2014;
  3. Specific 2013 and 2014 invoices;
  4. Official communications between the Association board members and the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (OSE);
  5. 2012 and 2014 end of fiscal year and year-end balance sheets;
  6. 2012 and 2014 profit and loss reports;
  7. December 2014 accounts receivable aging report; and
  8. December 2014 open invoices report.

The Association was incorporated in 1973 in New Mexico. Plaintiff wanted to inspect the records because she was concerned over the increase in unpaid dues owed the Association and the Board’s financial reporting.

The Board produced most of the records, but “did not produce for inspection the bank statements, the general ledger, invoices, the accounts receivable aging reports, an open invoice report, and communications between board members and the OSE.”
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The Board of Directors always has the power to make and amend Rules and Regulations on its own, without owner approval…right? Wrong.  The Board’s rule-making power and authority completely depends upon what authority is given by the Declaration and Bylaws, and as we know, all associations’ Declarations and Bylaws are different!  This is true in Wisconsin and in many other States.  Knowing what is in your governing documents will keep you out of troubling lawsuits.
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With the Spring 2020 Presidential Primary and election for various state court judges looming on the horizon, many of Wisconsin’s condominium associations are proactively deciding on how to delicately navigate and employ rules regarding unit owner rights with respect to displaying American flags and political campaign signs. Naturally, the close-quarters of condominium living presents a different set of circumstances unlike single family homeowners who are free to scatter an unlimited amount of political signs and flags about their property with impunity. The very concept of a condominium is grounded in shared space and shared cost; and while one unit owner’s patriotism or unwavering support for a particular political candidate may be viewed as noble, another unit owner may view the same support as distasteful or even offensive.
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Problem

What do you do if you want a detached garage but your documents don’t allow it?

Facts

Plaintiffs sought to enjoin the construction of a detached garage in their association on the grounds that it was specifically prohibited by the declaration. However, the declaration provided a procedure for review of any proposed structure that would otherwise violate the declaration. That process required submission and approval in writing from the Trustee (think Architectural Control Committee or “ACC”). However, the Association had not had any ACC in place for approximately nine years.
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