IMPRESSION: Unit owners who initiate litigation over common elements do not necessarily recoup attorney fees from the association—even when their lawsuit is successful, and benefits the association as a whole.

DETAILS: A shared sewer system in Adams County, Wisconsin, was the focus of a recent dispute between the Sunset Condominiums at Northern Bay Owners Association (“Sunset Condo Assoc.”), and a unit owner of the Sunset Condominiums. Larson v. Castle at the Bay, LLC, 2018 WI App 71, 384 Wis.2d 633, 2018 WL 5307100.  Prior to 2013, the area’s local sewage system was mutually utilized by neighboring developments Timber Shores and Castle at the Bay—despite being considered a common element of Sunset Condominiums.  In 2013, Castle at the Bay declared partial ownership of the sewer system, and proceeded to impose a usage fee upon Sunset Condo Assoc. Rather than respond by threatening litigation, the Sunset Condo Assoc. chose a two-tiered amicable and less expensive approach: (1) agree to shared ownership of the sewer system; and (2) consent to Castle at the Bay’s obligatory usage fees. 
Continue Reading Stuck with the Tab: Initiating Suit Over “Common Elements” Without Association Approval can Lead to Unit Owners Covering Unexpected Attorney Fees

Facts: The facts in the case of Forrest v. The Ville St. John Owners’ Association, Inc., No. 2018-CA-0175 (La. Ct. App. Nov. 7, 2018) are straightforward.  In March of 2016 there was a fire.  It damaged common element and the Forrest unit.  The Association had two insurance policies: one for Property and one for Community Association Management Liability Coverage.  The Property policy was issued by Lloyd’s of London. Lloyd’s paid on its policy, for both the common element and unit damages, but the funds were insufficient to repair the common elements and the unit.  So the Association repaired the common elements.

Trial Court: The unit owner, Forrest, filed suit against the Association alleging breach of fiduciary duty and various other claims under state law. 
Continue Reading Insurance is NOT all the Same-Another Case Proving Why You Need an Insurance Committee

Castilian Hills Homeowners Association v. Chaffins, (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 22, 2018)

The Facts

Homeowner bought home in 2004. In 2016, the homeowner failed to pay his $147 assessment.  The homeowners association (“HOA”) assessed a $20 late fee. The homeowner still did not pay, despite the normal language in the HOA governing documents about interest, the right to lien and reasonable attorney fees. After more notices, the HOA filed a lien for $525.52 and then a complaint against the homeowner seeking the $525, plus interest and attorney fees.   The homeowner argued to the court that the HOA was “required by statute to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard” prior to filing a foreclosable lien.
Continue Reading How to Turn $147 into $10,000 – the WRONG Way

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

Some states have statutes that require that Associations provide a notice and opportunity to be heard to a resident before the Association can fine them for a violation of the governing documents. Even though Wisconsin does not have such a statute, providing residents a notice of the alleged violation and opportunity to give their side of the story is an important component of providing due process—which will help make your fines ultimately enforceable.
Continue Reading The Importance of Due Process—What is a “Notice and Opportunity to be Heard?”

IMPRESSION: The ruling in Great Am. Ins. Co. v. State Parkway Condo. Ass’n, No. 17-cv-3083 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 11, 2018), should serve as a cautionary tale to Condo and HOA boards.

DETAILS: In Chicago, a unit owner of a condominium located at 1445 North State Street filed an Illinois state discrimination claim in 2007 against the State Parkway Condominium Association (“SPCA”) for failure to accommodate his hearing disability during SPCA Board meetings.  The SPCA defended the claim under its 2006-2007 Non-Profit Management and Organization Liability Insurance Policy (“policy) issued by Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (“Travelers”).

A settlement between parties was reached in September 2007; but six months later, the SPCA sued the same unit owner in an entirely unrelated matter.
Continue Reading “Related Wrongful Acts” Can Exhaust an Association’s Liability Insurance Policy Limit

In New Jersey, the United Stated Bankruptcy Court held in In re. Smiley, 569 B.R. 377 (2017) that a Unit Owner/Debtor can modify the Association’s lien and strip off all but the six month super lien allowed under the state’s condominium act.  The facts at the time were that the Association was owed $9,000 for filed liens and another $4,700 that it recognized as unsecured.  At the time of the bankruptcy filing, the monthly assessment was $250.  The fair market value of the property according to the bankruptcy schedules was $142,000, but it was under water because of a $174,000 first mortgage on the property.  Based on these facts the Unit Owner/Debtor claimed, and the court found, that despite the proper lien filings, the Association only had security for $1,500 ($250 x 6 months).
Continue Reading Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – Can the Association’s Lien for Unpaid Assessments be Stripped Off? YES

A recent case in Colorado (Tyra Summit Condominiums II Association, Inc. v. Clancy, 2017 COA 73) held an Association trying to amend its Declaration to the strict standards for timing and details contained in state statute. The law in question required a Condominium Association attempting to amend its declaration to send out notice of the meeting at least 10 days in advance, along with the general nature of any amendments to the declaration.

In this case, the Association sent out one notice a month prior to the meeting, but only mentioned that an amended declaration was being drafted.
Continue Reading Compliance With State Laws is Important