Limits of Board Power Use vs. Abuse—and How to Tell the Difference

 Everybody sometimes disagrees with the decisions of their condo or HOA board.  Maybe the choice to rearrange the garbage receptacles out front seems  ridiculous, or the ongoing clattering of machinery on the roof is driving the  top-floor residents nuts and the board seems determined to let it fix itself.  These are the kinds of inevitable complaints that every board has to deal with  sooner or later, and most manage to handle such issues with prudence and  aplomb.  

 But what if the board does things that seem to be beyond the pale—perhaps even illegal? Where do boards’ powers end? While the board is the governing body of the association, there are  certain boundaries and limitations that they should operate within.  

 There are numerous examples across the country of alleged HOA abuse of power  from preventing owners to put up political signs or flags or changing the color  of their paint trim or window shades. Pets are also a sticking point as this  California woman found out: Pamela McMahan didn’t expect her cocker spaniel Ginger to become a problem at a historic condominium  building in Long Beach. But she was fined $25 each time she walked her dog  through the lobby because HOA rules required all dogs had to be carried.  McMahan, an elderly woman who walks with a cane, said she couldn’t carry the dog. She racked up $1,600 in fines and has since moved from the  building.  

 Overreaching?

 Overreaching boards may call to mind white-glove, old-money co-ops in  prestigious zipcodes, but the truth is that the issue is just as troublesome in  suburban condo developments as it is in ultra-exclusive urban high-rises. One  recent example of the turmoil caused by board stagnation and overreach is the  450-unit Shadowood condominium complex in Reston, Virginia. According to a  recent article in the Washington Post, “the Shadowood Condominium Association imposed fees for things like calling the  management office or having the wrong color blinds. It towed tenants’ cars for unpaid fees—on the day before Thanksgiving. It turned off the heat or air conditioning to  apartments of owners who were in arrears or in violation of its many rules.”  

 In 2011, a judge ruled that the association could not level fines and fees not  explicitly spelled out in the condo’s original master deed, and issued a legal injunction prohibiting the Shadowood  board from collecting any more such fines. The board appealed to the state  Supreme Court—and lost. Even with the most recent decision in favor of the condo’s residents however, the issue is far from settled. According to the Postcoverage, residents are still furious at the association board for allegedly  spending common funds on legal bills, failing to provide documentation for  contracting expenses, and fostering an antagonistic, “intimidating” atmosphere in the development. On the other hand, Shadowood administrators  argue that collecting fines and fees is the only effective tool they have to  enforce house rules and insure that residents and renters pay their fair share  of the complex’s operating expenses.  

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3 Comments

  • Hello -- I am an officer of a condo board. We have an owner who has moved out (out of state), is 4-5 months in arrears on his assessments, and will not respond to our calls or emails. The board would like to call a locksmith and enter his unit to check the smoke or CO2 alarm which was beeping for several days but stopped. We suspect the batteries are dead. I know the ILCA allows us to enter (Section 18.4(j)), but is there a specific process we must follow?
  • Is Section 18.4 Of Thee Condominium Act A Florida Act As Well?
  • I am a board director in a 100 unit Condo in Illinois. We have a large backyard with 1/2 the units overlooking this yard from our 5 stories. The first floor balconies are only about 5-6 feet above ground and can hear and see into yard as if in the yard. We are a pet friendly building with approximately 15% of owners having dogs. About 1/2 those owners have been walking their dogs in this yard and it has recently become an issue, because they have set up a social venue in a non neutral area, which has brought disturbance to residents at some very early hours and much attention to the disgusting attraction of flies and damage to lawns from the residue left in this common area. Can we restrict walking the dogs in this area?