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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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.
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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.
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A Court in Colorado recently dealt with a developer who placed a provision in the declaration of a condominium association prohibiting amendment of the declaration – ever – without the declarant’s written consent, and requiring that all construction defect claims be resolved through arbitration (Vallagio at Inverness Residential Condominium Association, Inc. v. Metropolitan Homes, Inc. (395 P.3d 788)).
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A Court in Louisiana recently tackled the issue of short-term rentals (New Jax Condominium Association, Inc. v. Vanderbilt New Orleans, LLC, 219 So.3d 471). A Condominium Association adopted an amendment to its bylaws during its annual meeting prohibiting short term rentals. When a Unit Owner continued to engage in short-term rentals, the Association sued and received a permanent injunction, preventing the Unit Owner from continuing to engage in short-term rentals. The Unit Owner appealed, alleging that the amendment to the bylaws was invalid because certain board members had conflicts of interest, and because one board member changed his vote during the voting.
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This issue arises more than one might suspect. Because of association apathy, many committees go unfilled and often even boards don’t have members.  The results of this apathy could be much different than you would expect.

Facts.  In a 2017 case, the relevant property “was subject to a 1996 restrictive covenant that required the approval by an architectural control committee [‘ACC’] before any building … could be erected.”  The ACC consisted of two named persons within the documents, one of which was dead and the other refused to act.  The owner of the property filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to have the court declare the covenant unenforceable based on impossibility of performance.  Other property owners objected, claiming the covenant could be made enforceable by modification.  The documents did not provide a means by which new members could be added to the ACC.
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Facts. The documents required the consent of the first floor unit owner if the second floor unit owner wanted to erect a terrace above a first floor unit.  When the first floor unit owner refused to give consent, the Board waived the consent requirement and allowed the second floor unit owner to construct a terrace, after determining that it would have no impact on the value of the first floor unit.  The first floor unit owner sued to annul the board’s decision.
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In 2018 three separate acts amended Chapter 703 of the Wisconsin Statutes. Chapter 703 is Wisconsin’s Condominium Ownership Act.  The amendments mostly took effect on April 18, 2018, but some will go into effect later in the year.  (For an in-depth review of the actual laws: 2017 Senate Bill 131, 2017 Assembly Bill 518 and 2017 Assembly Bill 818.)

Only a few of the changes will affect most associations, but it never hurts to have an idea of what the legislature spent its time on.
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Noise coming from adjacent units is a common problem. It can be caused by many things, including music, instruments, appliances, running, jumping, or a myriad of other causes.  Our advice has almost always been that if you have a rule, you need to enforce it uniformly against all.  However, with noise, it is often difficult to determine what is too loud and what is simply an over-sensitive neighbor.  To combat some of the noise issues, many associations require second floor and above units to have carpeted floors.  For those who want hardwood or tile, it is sometimes permitted provided the plans are pre-approved by the board.  These plans then often require soundproofing to be placed between the two floors.
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