You may think it’ll never happen to you. You're the nicest person around. You love your neighbors, and have never quarreled with the board of your condo community over anything. This is all great—but unfortunately, it doesn't amount to much when legal issues flare up. Accusations fly. Feelings are hurt. Lawyers get involved. And the whole thing goes downhill from there.
In the context of a co-op or condo community, legal issues can surface for any reason—between a resident and the board, between two or more residents, or between a group of residents and the board or management, just to name a few of the more common permutations. Knowing the best practices to use when a lawsuit hits your association is key in getting through it and moving on from the experience.
The past few years have seen an increase in the number of complaints filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the City of Chicago Commission on Human Rights, which handles fair housing, discrimination, inaccessibility and other related actions. Kelly Elmore, a principal with the Buffalo Grove-based law firm of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, attributes the rise to bad economic times. “The trend we see is that when people don’t have money, they tend to sue more. They’re disgruntled, and looking for a way to make a quick buck.”
Whether you’re an association or individual, Elmore advises the first thing you should do immediately upon learning that you're being sued is contact your attorney so he or she can “file an appearance.” This indicates to the court and the parties involved that you have legal representation, and includes all the associated contact information for subsequent communication between parties.
For an association being sued by an individual, another reason to involve an attorney right away is because as a not-for-profit corporation, a condo association can’t represent itself, Elmore explains. She notes that there has been debate in the legal community about changing this stipulation depending on the size of the building—“It applies to a four-unit building the same as a 400-unit building”—but for now, it applies to everyone.