Summary

Earlier this year, I blogged on the case of Johnson v. Board of Directors of Forest Lakes Master Association, 454 P.3d 623 (2019) unpublished (Kansas) and explained how improperly passing and/or filing amendments can be VERY expensive. This is true in every state, and today we learn of another way that amendment errors can be costly.

The Facts

The developer created the condominium in 2008 that authorized the development of 109 units in a seven-year period.  The initial phase consisted of 33 units and through properly filed amendments the developer authorized another 18 units, for a total of 53 units.  Before the expansion time passed, the developer had sold 48 of the 53 units.  The day before the development period was to expire in 2015, the developer recorded two amendments to the deed to add 56 partially completed units.  In the initial 2018 case, the association argued and won, the court finding that “the final number of the units in the Condominium was fixed at 53 and that no additional units could thereafter be phased into the Condominium without the vote of the then existing 53 unit owners…” The association then argued that the unbuilt and partially completed units were part of the common area owned by the owners of the completed units, thereby significantly affecting the five mortgages that existed on these partially completed units.  The five mortgagees and developer took the opposite position, as otherwise the mortgages would be subordinate to the master deed and declaration of trust of the association.  It is undisputed that at the time of the sale of each of the 48 units, the mortgagees released its interest in all the common area.
Continue Reading Improper Amendments Are VERY Expensive

Summary

Your Association should ensure that the language and definitions in governing documents reflect the intentions of the Association.  If they don’t, amend them, don’t just pretend they say something they don’t say

Facts

Sunburst Farms East (the “Association”) is a residential community consisting of four sections with individual lots (Sections 2, 3, 4, and 7).  Each Section had its own deed restrictions embodied in their own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”).  Every property owner in each Section automatically became a member of the Association, which was created to provide water to its members.  Under the CC&Rs the Association could impose assessments on its members, even if they didn’t use the services.  Over time, a majority of the owners in Sections 3, 4 and 7 voted to amend their CC&Rs to revoke mandatory payment obligations, and Section 7 also voted to revoke automatic membership.

Obviously, this created differences between the various Sections, since they now had different rules.  In 2007, all four Sections attempted to amend the existing CC&R’s and stated in the document that all four Sections seek to amend their CC&R’s and the prior CC&R’s are superseded.  After an election, the CC&R’s were recorded because they had been allegedly approved by a majority of property owners in each Section.  In response to a suit brought by owners, the Association filed a suit seeking a declaration that the 2007 CC&R’s were valid.  During the suit, the owners learned that the CC&R’s had not in fact been approved by a majority of the owners in Section 7.  Therefore, these owners argued the 2007 CC&R’s were invalid.
Continue Reading The Language Used in Documents, Amendments and Motions Matters

Facts

The dispute in this case centered on what rights owners of lots that did not have frontage on a lake (“Non-Lake Lot Owners”) had to place a dock in the lake based on the restrictive rights for their homeowner’s association (“HOA”) which were recorded in 1922.  The HOA consisted of 146 lots.  All Non-Lake Lots were granted a perpetual easement over and across seven lakefront outlots for their use and enjoyment, including access to the lake.  Some of the Non-Lake Lot Owners construed this broadly enough that they installed a dock and used one of the outlots for activities unrelated to the water (picnics and such).  Plaintiff, a “Lake Lot Owner”, had a letter sent to the Non-Lake Lot Owner Defendants demanding that they stop using the outlot and remove the dock.  The parties disagreed.  Plaintiff sued.
Continue Reading HOAs & Riparian Rights-Can I Put a Dock Here?

Summary

Not following ALL of the required procedures when preparing amendments to your association governing documents can be VERY expensive.  Take the time, money and effort to do it right.

The Facts

In 2015 the board for Forest Lakes Master Association distributed notice that it would be holding a vote to amend its voting procedure at its annual meeting.  The board and property manager alleged that they had received the required votes for the amendment.  Because of some interesting counting techniques, the number of votes in favor of the amendment kept rising.  One owner, Johnson, emailed the board and stated that he believed the board failed to follow proper voting procedures and that the amendment did not pass.  After counting the votes, Johnson confirmed his belief that the board had violated the voting procedures in their documents.  Johnson demanded that the Board find the voting procedure void.  When the board refused Johnson filed suit.  Both parties moved for summary judgment and the association also asked for attorney fees.
Continue Reading Improper Association Governing Document Amendments – How Expensive is it When You Do it Wrong? VERY

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.
Continue Reading If Your Association Fails to Hold Board Elections at an Annual Meeting, Do You Still Have a Board? The Answer May Surprise You…

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.
Continue Reading Know What is in Your Documents—The Board Might Not Have the Authority You Think it Does…

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?

A unit owner sought to expand their unit by building additional living space on the roof of the association. The declaration, like all declarations, defined the various units and their locations.  Unlike many declarations, this one allowed top floor unit owners to expand their units on the roof of the building.  Expanding a unit would, by definition, take common element and convert it into unit space. 
Continue Reading Declaration Amendment – Sometimes There is No Other Way to Accomplish Something