Apathy And The Condo Owner

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 12 October 2016 13:17

Question. I live in a condominium development consisting of more than 200 townhouses. Our Bylaws state that to have a quorum, we must have a majority of the homeowners of the Condominium Association, either in person or by proxy. A majority did not attend the recent annual meeting, either in person or by proxy. The Board of Directors said we could not elect new Board members or have an official meeting because there was no quorum. We returned for second meeting and again could not meet the quorum requirements.

A few of us (about 100 in person and by proxy) are quite upset because we cannot elect new members to the Board or have our concerns raised with respect to such items as budget, maintenance and repairs. What recourse do we have?

Answer. If down the road you ever get the chance to amend your Bylaws, drop the quorum requirement down to 33 1/3 percent.

Unfortunately, those of us who work in or with community associations have to admit that apathy is often very strong. Indeed, often the reason given why people are purchasing a condominium unit is because they do not want to get involved anymore. They do not want to shovel the snow, or to cut the grass. They want others to handle all of these matters.

The most obvious answer I can give is to sell your unit. You are facing the beginning of what appears to be significant problems in your community, and if a majority of owners are not interested in casting their votes either in person or by proxy, the democracy of the community will fall to the will of the minority.

Obviously, it is clear you do not want to sell but would like to get more deeply involved in the day-to-day activities of your Association. I suggest you start a major political campaign within your community, quite similar to the political campaigns of candidates for public office.

Ask the Management Company for the names, addresses and phone numbers of all unit owners -- whether they reside in the complex or are absentee owners. This should be public information, although I don't believe that private phone numbers should be released. Circulate a petition for a new special meeting. I am sure your Bylaws spell out how many people will have to sign such a petition to require the Board of Directors to hold that meeting.

Before the meeting it will be your responsibility to line up as many proxies as possible. Even if you have to stand on the street corner when people are on their way to or returning from work, you have to educate your fellow owners about the serious nature of the problems within your Association.

The purpose of the special meeting should be to elect directors so that the Condominium will be run by the will of the majority. If it is a special meeting, the only business that can be held is that which was spelled out in the meeting notice.

One caveat: read your Bylaw provisions on proxies. There may be restrictions on the number that can be given any one owner.

You also should have a lawyer review local law to determine whether there are any comparisons that can be drawn from corporate law. Often, there are provisions in the law dealing with the inability to obtain a quorum, and there may be other legal avenues available to you that have not yet been addressed.

I also suggest you plan to run for the Board of Directors. Obviously, you are concerned enough about the stability and the future of your Association, and people like you should not sit by on the sidelines. You should get involved; that is the essence of condominium living.

One final solution is to go to court and have the court appoint a receiver to run and manage the Association until the Board has an opportunity to establish a new election. I am not advocating this severe remedy, because it is not only time-consuming and expensive, but the courts should not get involved in running your own Association.

After all, the court might take the position that if the membership of your condominium is not interested in attending the annual election or even giving proxies, why should the court get involved?

Unfortunately, the problems facing community associations today are varied and complex. The condominium is a community. It has to be run by a strong Board of Directors, with full authority from the membership. The Board, however, must recognize that, like any other elected official, it owes its allegiance and gets its authority from the community at large.

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Benny L Kass

Author of the weekly Housing Counsel column with The Washington Post for nearly 30 years, Benny Kass is the senior partner with the Washington, DC law firm of KASS LEGAL GROUP, PLLC and a specialist in such real estate legal areas as commercial and residential financing, closings, foreclosures and workouts.

Mr. Kass is a Charter Member of the College of Community Association Attorneys, and has written extensively about community association issues. In addition, he is a life member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. In this capacity, he has been involved in the development of almost all of the Commission’s real estate laws, including the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act which has been adopted in many states.


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