Harrison v. Casa de Emdeko, Incorporated, No. SCWC-15-0000744 (Haw. Apr. 26, 2018)

Holding

The Supreme Court of Hawaii held that, under the Hawaii Condominium Property Act, expenses for building components that served only particular units (residential units in this case) in a mixed-use project had to be allocated as limited common expenses to the units served, even though the declaration of the association did not assign the components as limited common elements.

The Facts

Harrison purchased two commercial condominium units out of a mixed use condominium project consisting of both residential and commercial units. The residential units were completely separate from the commercial units. Even though she only owned commercial units, Harrison was assessed expenses for elevators, lanai railings, and drains for the residential buildings. After Harrison brought suit for being improperly charged, alleging that the items were limited common elements, the association responded that Harrison never objected to the costs during her 30 years of ownership or her tenure on the association’s board of directors. Continue Reading Commercial Units in Mixed-Use Condominium Not Responsible for Residential Unit Costs

The Condominium Statutes are written such that associations can collect their actual attorneys’ fees if they proceed in a lien enforcement action for unpaid assessments. But, as in many things law-related, there are traps for the unwary, and if your attorney is not savvy, you may miss out on collecting everything you are owed…

Facts.  In a 2017 case, a unit owner was delinquent in paying assessments and the Association hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against the owner seeking collection of the assessments.  The attorney filed suit, seeking a “breach of contract” cause of action against the owner, since he violated the portion of the condominium documents that says owners must timely pay assessments. The attorney was successful in getting a judgment in favor of the association for the unpaid assessments, but when he asked the court for an award of his attorneys’ fees, the Court’s answer was no. Continue Reading Think You Will Get Your Attorneys’ Fees Paid in a Successful Collection Action? That May Depend on Your Attorney…

The Business Judgment Rule can be a great protection for condo and HOA boards—but only if the board is following the documents.

Facts.  The Declaration for an HOA stated that the Board had the discretion to raise the “maximum annual assessment” without a vote of the homeowners as long as it was “in an amount equal to 150% of the rise, if any, of the [CPI] for the preceding month of July.” Higher increases required the vote of the homeowners. The Association’s Bylaws contained a formula for calculating this “maximum annual assessment” raise, but the formula allowed the Board to accumulate the CPI increases year over year in calculating the maximum assessment. The Board followed the Bylaws formula, and owners sued, contending (1) that the increase to the maximum annual assessment was higher than the Board had authority to do under the Declaration; and (2) that the Bylaws formula conflicted with the Declaration. The HOA Board argued that it exercised good Business Judgment in following the Bylaws formula. Continue Reading How is the Business Judgment Rule Applied to Board Actions?

When a mortgage company faces having its mortgage interest swept away in a quiet title action following an HOA lien foreclosure, the mortgage company comes up with all sorts of arguments as to why its mortgage should remain intact. This time, the arguments did not carry the day.

Facts.  In a 2017 Nevada case, a successful purchaser at an HOA lien foreclosure sale bought the condo for $35,000.  The fair market value of the condo at the time was $335,000. The unit purchaser filed a quiet title action against Nationstar, who held the first mortgage on the unit, seeking to extinguish Nationstar’s mortgage so the purchaser could have clear title to the unit. Continue Reading Can a Court Set Aside a HOA-Lien Foreclosure Sale Because the Sales Price Was Too Low?

Condominium associations generally have a number of legal remedies to pursue when an owner stops paying assessments. An Ohio court recently found that associations may collect assessments as they come due during a lien foreclosure action by and through a court-appointed receiver.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an investor owner of a condominium unit, who had a rent-paying tenant living in the unit, failed to pay a special assessment to the association. The association filed a lien for the unpaid special assessment and started a lien foreclosure action. While the foreclosure action was in progress, the association also asked the court to appoint a receiver who would collect the rents from the tenant, as well as the current assessments as they come due. The unit owner argued that having the receiver collect assessments was a stretch of the statute, which only allowed a receiver to collect “reasonable rental” during the pendency of a foreclosure action. Continue Reading Can a Court-Appointed Receiver Collect Assessments Coming Due While a Unit is in Lien Foreclosure?

A defense owners can raise if the Board claims the owner has violated the rules is “selective enforcement,” meaning the Board arbitrarily picks on some violators and not others. In addition, owners oftentimes like to rely on approval given by one board member, taking that as “Board approval” of the owner’s actions.  The case below tackles both of these issues, in the context of a dispute over an owner’s installation of hard-surface flooring.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner who lived in an upper-level condominium unit replaced her carpeting with laminated flooring.  The problem is, the Association’s Declaration prohibited the installation of any flooring other than carpet, without prior Board approval. The owner had not received approval from the Board prior to installation of the flooring, but she did allegedly have an email exchange with the Board president wherein he said it would be ok. Continue Reading Hard-Surface Flooring in Upper Units—A Lesson in Selective Enforcement and Officer’s Authority

An owner violates the rules. The Board assesses fines to the unit owner.  Will the fines hold up in a court of law? In this case, they did—and your Association can take note of what this Court says the HOA did right.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner who lived in a subdivision with an HOA planted bamboo in their yard, which then spread and infested a neighboring owner’s yard and some common areas.  When the owner failed to remove the offending plants after notice, the HOA Board started to fine the owner, rather than to exercise “self-help” and take care of the bamboo infestation for the owner.  Continue Reading A Board of Directors’ Right to Fine for Violations

A Board’s blatant mishandling of an emotional support animal request led to the owner not only having a Fair Housing claim against the Association for wrongful failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, but also a claim for third-party harassment when the Association failed to step in and stop other unit owners from blasting the owner publicly on a blog.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, an owner that lived in a no pets community applied to the Board requesting an emotional support dog, providing a doctor’s letter prescribing the dog. The Board didn’t want to deal with the request and kept putting it off, hoping it would go away. Meanwhile, a Board member told another owner about the emotional support animal request, and the owner, who was an active blogger and upset by the presence of a dog in their community, started blogging about the situation, naming the owner and poking fun at her need for an emotional support dog using cruel and chastising language. Continue Reading Can an Association’s Denial of a Valid Emotional Support Animal Request Create a Hostile Environment?

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

Most states, including Wisconsin, follow the American Rule when it comes to attorney fees.  In simple terms, it provides that each side in a lawsuit is responsible for their own attorney fees (win or lose) unless:

  1. A statute or law provides otherwise; or
  2. A contract provides otherwise.

Because the law recognizes your Association documents as contracts between the Association and it owners or members, a provision allowing attorney fees may be found there. Continue Reading Attorney Fees – How Do I Get a Court to Award Them to My Association and What is a Fee Shifting Provision?