Even the best and most established real estate developers can face hard times, especially in the aftermath of recession and economic downturn, as we experienced a few short years ago. Many condominium and subdivision developments found themselves half completed, both in terms of units and homes built, and common area improvements (like streets and curbs) left undone.  Where a new developer comes in to build upon the remaining lots, what responsibilities does he take on?  As related in a recent 2019 case, the answer may be found in the original development agreements with the municipality.
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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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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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Problem & Facts

The association’s detention pond overflowed causing damages to property downhill from the pond. The developer built the detention pond in 2007. The owner of the downhill property (who bought in 2012) sued the association in 2013 for damages in excess of $300,000. (Kowalski v. TOA PA V, L.P. and Traditions of Amercia at Liberty Hills Condominium Association, Pa., May 22, 2019). The owner, through expert testimony, claimed $300,000 was the cost to install an appropriate storm water management system. The association filed a third party complaint against the developer.
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Summary

An insurance company can’t sue a condominium tenant in subrogation, even if they were negligent in starting a fire.

The Facts

The Declaration required the association to “obtain and maintain a … policy of all risk property insurance” for the association.  The Declaration also required the policy to name as insureds the unit owners and their bank mortgage holders (Mortgagees) and that “any insurance maintained by the association shall contain [a] ‘waiver of subrogation’ as to the Units and Mortgagees.”  Finally, the Declaration also prohibited the owners from obtaining fire insurance and required all occupants and tenants to comply with the Declaration.

One of the unit owners leased its commercial unit to the tenants (Defendant). The lease did not specify who would carry fire insurance. 
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Facts

When you are headed down the wrong path – TURN BACK.  This applies to owners and associations when they act on their belief of what their documents say, but then learn that their understanding may be wrong.  Often parties who make a mistake, or learn that they might have made a mistake, refuse to reevaluate their situation and at least allow turning back to be an option.  Such appears to have been what happened in the recent case of Fritz v. Lake Carroll Property Owners Association, Inc., (2019 unreported case out of Illinois) where the association passed a rule that required inspection and pumping of the owners privately owned septic system every four years and that if an owner failed to follow the rule they would be fined $250 and $25 per day. 
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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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Frequently we are asked about either inconsistent association documents or advised that although our documents say X we have always done Y so won’t our past precedent control? The answer is NO.  Your documents control.  You must follow what your documents say, unless there is something in them that is illegal or against public policy. This same point is continually stressed by the courts around the country.
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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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