Category: General

Spurred by headlines about hard-hearted, heavy-handed homeowner associations foreclosing on “helpless” homeowners to collect often miniscule unpaid assessments, lawmakers in several states have enacted measures limiting the authority of associations to use foreclosure, or the threat of it, to encourage delinquent owners to pay their fees and to recover unpaid assessments from those who refuse. The negative headlines often obscure two essential points: Homeowners living in common interest ownership communities have an absolute obligation to [Read More...]

Every profession has its war stories. For community associations, these stories increasingly involve owners who, because of age, emotional problems, or both, pose a threat to themselves and to others in the community. Like the woman with Alzheimer’s, who wandered regularly from her complex when her son, with whom she lived, was traveling on business. Or the elderly owner whose toilet overflowed, creating a mess in his unit and a stench unbearable to everyone else [Read More...]

Discussions of controversial and even not so controversial community association issues are not always models of civility and reasoned political discourse. In this respect, the decision-making process in many homeowner associations does not differ much from what passes for intelligent debate in the halls of Congress today. Insults, name-calling, and allegations of evil intent are not uncommon forms of expression for owners expressing their dissatisfaction with board policies and the trustees who adopt them. These [Read More...]

The transition from developer to unit owner control of the board can be a stressful, uncertain and overwhelming time in the life of a community association. A new board may be confronted with questions regarding the condition of the common area, the financial health of the association and a myriad of operational issues. Many of the steps the board takes, or fails to take, in this critical period will have long-lasting impacts on the health [Read More...]

The development community greeted the permitting reform bill that Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law a few weeks ago with relief and high hopes that it will eliminate many of the costly and time consuming legal logjams in which Massachusetts real estate projects regularly become ensnared. But a realistic review of the law and its likely effects suggests that developers would be well-advised to curb their enthusiasm and scale back their hopes for sweeping changes [Read More...]

Question: How can community association boards alter the uses of common areas? Answer: Very carefully, and with scrupulous attention to the requirements of the community’s governing documents and the wishes of its residents. A recent decision by a California appeals court illustrates what happens when a board ignores that common sense advice. The story, which reads like a case study in what not to do, takes place at Pelican Hill Community Association in Orange County, [Read More...]

The condominium association’s board of directors has just approved a large special assessment to finance the replacement of an aging heating and cooling system, and owners are not pleased, to say the least. But one owner in particular is infuriated by the decision. He shouts obscenities at the board during the meeting and continues to hurl insults at the board president after the session ends, blocking the door as the president tries to leave the [Read More...]

Thoreau famously advised writers to “simplify, simplify.” But for community associations writing or negotiating management contracts, “Specify, specify” is far better advice. When relationships between associations and their managers break down, as they do occasionally, the problems can often be traced to the failure on both sides to articulate their expectations at the outset and state them clearly in the contract they sign. A well-drafted contract can avoid many problems and provide a framework for [Read More...]

Jayne and Ed Elebiari said their dog “Pooky” helped them cope with the debilitating depression from which they both suffered, and asked the board of their condominium association to waive the community’s “no-pet” policy so they could keep their tiny companion. The board said no – a decision that cost the association $12,500 in damages, awarded by a court that found the association had improperly denied the Elebiaris’ request. Following similar logic, a Michigan court [Read More...]

Many homeowner associations, if not most of them, have established Web sites for their communities; far too few of them have also created the privacy and use policies that are essential both to protect residents from the theft or misuse of their personal information, and to help associations reduce and manage those potential Internet risks. Privacy policies describe the framework for protecting the personal information associations collect from residents and make available on the community’s [Read More...]

The Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has adopted regulations implementing the state’s new law requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in virtually all residential structures. The statute applies to all residential structures that either contain “fossil-fuel burning equipment” (defined as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers or other equipment that produces carbon monoxide as a byproduct) or incorporate enclosed parking within the structure. The implementing regulations, published in February, 2006 and revised [Read More...]

A fire in a community association is always upsetting and often destructive, but, it is hardly a rare occurrence anymore. This one, however, made the national news. The fire, in an Arizona condominium, started in a carport crammed with debris and then spread to the owner’s equally cluttered residence. The owner survived, but was burned severely, because debris covering virtually every surface and stacked several feet high in every room, blocked her escape. The elderly [Read More...]

All homeowner associations have rules and regulations and most have at least some residents who violate those rules occasionally, if not repeatedly. Enforcing the rules and the association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions, is the responsibility of the association’s governing board — a responsibility that some boards execute more effectively than others. The boards that do the best job realize there is a lot more to enforcement than simply identifying violations and punishing violators. Effective enforcement [Read More...]

What’s in a name? When Shakespeare’s Juliet asked that question, she was talking about Romeo, whom she loved despite the name that placed him on the opposite side of a family feud. Community associations asking that question today would more likely be thinking about their Web sites, because “what’s in a name” on the Web is the potential for confusion, litigation, and liability. That’s why it is essential for a community to protect its name [Read More...]

Not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) describes the common and (for developers) frustrating reaction of community residents to plans for the construction of new housing, new commercial structures, or new anything in close proximity to where they live. But NIMBY doesn’t begin to describe the reaction to news that a convicted sex offender may be living nearby. NIMBies protesting low-income housing are concerned (or say they are concerned) primarily about their property values. Residents protesting the presence of a [Read More...]

The Pledge of Allegiance (to the United States flag) remains a morning ritual for students in many classrooms throughout the country. While there is no comparable public oath recited by the volunteers elected to the boards of their homeowner associations, association directors do make a formal, if silent, promise to execute their responsibilities in good faith and to act in the best interests of the communities they serve. Unlike the pledge of allegiance, which often [Read More...]

Picture this, although it’s not a pleasant image. A fire caused by an electrical short swept through your community last night. No one was hurt, fortunately, but one building was destroyed completely and two others suffered extensive damage. Your first thought as a member of the board of directors: Buildings can be repaired or replaced. Your second thought: It’s a good thing our insurance will cover the costs. But will it? There is no question [Read More...]

Although the governing documents of most community associations include nuisance provisions, an increasing number of attorneys are concluding that these provisions themselves may represent a nuisance for the boards responsible for enforcing them. One problem, although not the only one, is simply defining the term. Most documents use language similar to this: “No owners shall engage in noxious or offensive activities, or do anything which may become an annoyance or a nuisance, or in any [Read More...]

A homeowner association is really a small business, and like any business, it generates volumes of documents. Invoices, bank statements, minutes of board meetings, contracts, communications with owners and vendors, committee reports — the list is endless and the document management task can be onerous. All of the varied documents associations produce are not equally important, of course, but for trustees wrestling with mounds of paper, the distinctions between what is essential and what is [Read More...]

Special assessment. The mere mention of the term infuriates condominium owners and terrifies condominium trustees, who duck and cover instinctively whenever the topic comes up. In an ideal world, special assessments – levied to finance major and unanticipated expenditures – would never be required, because community associations would always have the funds they needed, either in their operating budgets or their reserves, to cover the costs. But the world, as you have no doubt noted, [Read More...]

“This land was your land, but now it’s my land….” That cynical rewrite of the popular folk song overstates the case, but it accurately reflects the angry reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kelo v. New London, Connecticut, affirming the right of a local government to take private property to further an economic development plan. The public outcry notwithstanding, the decision was really a logical extension of existing judicial precedent, highlighting rather [Read More...]

The formal ceremony lasted only a few minutes, but it took credit card companies, banks, and large retailers eight years to win Congressional approval of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act President Bush signed into law April 20. “This law will protect those who legitimately need help, stop those who try to commit fraud, and bring greater stability and fairness to the system,” President Bush said of the new law, which mandates the [Read More...]

Tenants often withhold their rent as a means of pressuring their landlords to make essential repairs. Following similar, if not identical logic, condominium owners sometimes withhold payment of their common area charges, because they think the fees are too high, inappropriate or unjustified, or because they just don’t like the way the association is being run. But there is a crucial difference between the actions of tenants, who rent their units and the residents of [Read More...]

Litigation having become something of a national pastime, the odds of being sued are now, if not quite as high as the likelihood of catching a cold, close enough to make risk reduction a major concern in the community association industry, as it is in virtually every other business sector. It is not surprising then, that community association managers and management companies almost always insist on including indemnification clauses in their contracts. Because my firm [Read More...]

Insurance companies hate mold and they aren’t terribly fond of water, either. This will hardly qualify as news to any community association that has purchased an insurance policy recently or tried to renew existing coverage after having filed a claim for mold or water damage. A mold or water claim on your insurance record is the equivalent of a scarlet letter, virtually guaranteeing that your insurer will increase your premium costs and possibly refuse to [Read More...]

Eminent domain – the governmental authority to take private property for public purposes – and the right of property owners to be compensated for those “takings,” are well-established legal principles, grounded firmly in Constitutional law and reflected in the policies and practices of state and local governments. These legal concepts are not new, nor is the dynamic tension that has long existed between them. But it appears that attitudes about how and where to strike [Read More...]

Mold continues to frighten homeowners, infuriate insurance companies, and unnerve property managers, despite a raft of studies concluding that the concerns may be exaggerated, if not unjustified. Several different reports have now challenged the conventional wisdom – made so by media coverage of huge liability judgments – that mold is a health hazard, responsible for many severe and even life-threatening ailments. The most recent of those studies, overseen by the Institute of Medicine (an affiliate [Read More...]

The call comes, as these calls always seem to come, at midnight. Water is pouring into two units and an adjoining common area from a breach in the newly installed roof. The trustees contact a contractor, who makes the necessary repairs the next day. The quick action pleases the affected owners, who were not enjoying the waterfall in their living rooms. But, unfortunately, the repair also destroyed the evidence the association needs to pursue a [Read More...]

Landlord-tenant relationships have never been held up as models of harmony. Insert them in a condominium community, and an already unstable mix becomes potentially combustible. In almost any homeowners’ association, the subject of rentals will divide owners between those who rent their units or might want to, and those who don’t rent their units and don’t think anyone else should be allowed to either. The nay-sayers cite a host of arguments to support their view [Read More...]

It would be hard to think of an area that attracts less attention than notary public services, but concerns about fraud and the illegal practice of law have produced new rules that will mean significant changes for the state’s 130,000 notaries. The rules, embodied in an executive order signed last year by Gov. Mitt Romney, set specific performance standards and impose extensive record-keeping requirements on anyone providing notary public services in Massachusetts. The order, signed [Read More...]

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