Condo residents should inform themselves before crying foul

 
Updated 2/10/2011 11:35 AM

By Jordan Shifrin

Last year a movie was released entitled "Dinner With Schmucks," a not-so-funny comedy. A better idea would have been to film "Dinner With Schmucks Living in Condos." It would have been a much better film.

 

There are so many instances when you have to scratch your head and wonder, "What are these people thinking?" An enormous amount of time and energy is devoted by managers and volunteer board members dealing with issues raised by people who -- you might wonder how -- actually get up in the morning, dress, feed themselves, go to a job, and find their way home every day.

Some are highly educated professionals and sometimes even lawyers! (Hard to believe that one.)

Here are some examples of issues addressed by associations that make everyone's life a lot easier, both on the giving as well as the receiving, end.

I am unhappy about something so I want to see all of the records.

I do not mean to infer that all associations are well-run and that owners do not have a right to question board actions or even challenge the board on policy decisions. However, if you are fined for putting out your garbage before sundown, what is the logic of making a records demand?

Section 19 of the Illinois Condominium Act and 1-30 of the Common Interest Community Association Act requires that the board respond within 30 days to a written request for records, including ballots from the last election, minutes for seven years, receipts and expenditures showing repairs and maintenance, contracts, etc. Every owner is certainly entitled to them, but in most cases unless you are questioning the result of an election, or challenging the need for a special assessment, why would an owner need records because they had their car towed?

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Invariably though, most people who are raising a beef do so because "this will teach them." Of course, no consideration is given to the amount of time and effort that goes into putting together a response, or the fact the owner making the request has to pay for this and must also demonstrate a good-faith, proper purpose.

If an owner attends an occasional meeting, reviews the proposed budget before it is adopted, looks at the year-end statement that must be furnished to all owners, and reads bulletins and newsletters, they will have 90 percent of the information they will ever need or want. If someone suspects a board member is stealing money, then an audit needs to be performed immediately, although every association should have an annual audit anyway.

The point of all of this is that if an owner is requesting records, there should be a point to all of this.

If I do not get my way, I am being discriminated against.

The cop out defense. Certainly, there have been instances of ignorant, blatant and intentional discrimination by boards of directors. It has arisen in the instances of race and handicapped status. There are tough laws on the books with significant fines and sanctions for these types of actions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

However, white western Europeans are not a protected class and just because you think the assessments are too high, does not mean the board is picking on you. It never ceases to amaze me how often people play the "discrimination card." The best one is when a community is primarily "over 55" and in many instances the practicality of it is older than 75, and then someone cries "age discrimination." I guess the over 85s are picking on the kids in their 70s.

The board is not enforcing the rules, so why do I have to obey them.

So often my office will send a letter for a covenant violation, such as a truck parked in a driveway, and the response will be that the accused went around the neighborhood and made a list of 500 other violations not being enforced. Aside from the fact that it is not a defense, rules are self-policing by the owners; board members are not the association police. What has dog poop on a lawn have to do with a plumbing truck parked in the driveway every night blocking the crosswalk?

We are servicing a petition on the board and now they must obey us.

If someone accosts you in the parking lot, or lobby, or comes to your door with a petition, please read it before you sign it. Sometimes people are unhappy and neighbors, when given a petition to sign, do so thinking it will make the person happy (I think not). Many times the petition will be to challenge a rule or to fire the manager, and then when the meeting comes up the people who signed it say "I never wanted this or that." Well, you signed the petition!

Truth be told, most petitions have no legal effect. There are very precise situations when petitions are relevant and they have strict procedural requirements in order to be valid (For example, to challenge an assessment in excess of 115 percent of last year's budget, a petition must be signed by 20 percent of the owners and submitted within 14 days of the board's action; otherwise, it is void.)

(Oh, and while we are at it; 1) it must be signed by owners, not unit occupants, and 2) the original must be submitted to the board -- so keep copies for yourself.)

Associations are a pure form of representative democracy and most power lies with the duly elected board. An owner will probably get more accomplished just sending a letter to the board and attending a meeting to discuss it rather than stirring up the entire community for a nonissue.

I am going to the board meeting to set them straight.

While we are on the subject of meetings, most associations start off with an owners' forum to ask the board questions, and presumably make them accountable. It is not intended as an opportunity to attack the board and the manger because you are unhappy. It is amazing how many rabble-rousers attend a meeting and stir up a lot of noise. Then you find out they have never attended a meeting nor have they bothered to read anything.

I am sure I can think of dozens of other examples of "open mouth, insert foot," but if people living in associations did their homework first, and actually talked with each other rather than at each other, things might go a lot smoother.

• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at jshifrin@ksnlaw.com. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel. Past columns can be read at www.ksnlaw.com.