A quote often attributed to the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck in the mid-1800s says something to the effect that laws are like sausages—it's better not to see either of them being made. It's a clever quip, and it's not entirely inaccurate, but the truth is that if you serve on the board of your condo, co-op, or homeowners association, or if you manage any kind of multifamily community, you should have at least some awareness of the laws and legislation affecting you, your neighbors, and the residents you serve. This awareness not only enables you to do your job better but it can help save your community money by planning in advance, avoiding fines, and keeping compliant with emerging regulations.
In Chicago itself and around the state, lawmakers are nearly always debating at least one major housing and condo-related bill at any given time. To help board members and owners alike in keeping track of the developments that could impact their homes and investments, here's a quick overview of some of the laws and legislation making its way through the halls of state and local government.
One of the hot-button topics is an attempt to ban smoking in condos. State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-12, Chicago) has been trying to give Illinois condo associations the right to restrict smoking in multi-unit buildings and proposed legislation (HB 4134) in 2011-12 to do so. Smoking in public spaces and businesses has been banned in Illinois since 2006 under the Smoke-free Illinois Act, but private residences—even those in multi-unit buildings such as condos, were exempt from the ban. This act included private residences, so that residents would have to leave their condo (even if they owned it) and go outside to have a cigarette.
“I sponsored the bill because I had constituents who were wanting these kinds of policies in place in their buildings,” Feigenholtz says. “They were living in condos and they suffered from asthma and couldn’t bear the chain-smoking neighbor. They were really suffering, and were looking for help from their condo boards. This set in place an opportunity for a condo association to self-govern, and it would empower other people to get organized, which is what would have to happen to make changes.”
While Feigenholtz’s bill did not pass, one building that took advantage of the issue was at 2626 N. Lakeview Avenue in Chicago, where residents in the 491-unit tower enacted a smoking ban, which officially took effect January 31. Condo owners there voted by a 76 percent supermajority to amend their association bylaws, following the third fire that the building had.