Monday, July 31, 2017

Q&A: Scheduling of Annual Meetings



By: J. DAVID RAMSEY

Q. We're not prepared for our annual meeting which is in August. We'd like to reschedule for September. Can we do that or should we just have an unprepared annual meeting in August to just say we had one?

A. While we would normally not advise a board to ignore the requirements of the governing documents, assuming there is no ulterior motive for delaying the annual meeting – for instance, the board desires to obtain bids on a large contract and award it before new members who are opposed to the contract might be elected to the board – then our usual advice in this situation would be to schedule the meeting on the earliest date that you know you would be prepared to have the meeting.  Most  bylaws contain an agenda for the annual meeting.  The board’s preparation for the meeting need not include anything not listed on the bylaws agenda.  Also keep in mind that if there are matters beyond the agenda, for instance, the preparation of, and vote on, an amendment to your governing documents, a special meeting of the members may be scheduled for that and it need not be undertaken at the annual meeting.

While bylaws often contain language that requires the annual meeting to be on a specific day of a particular month, there is little relief an owner can seek for delaying the meeting by a reasonably short period of time.  It may also be that since August is a peak vacation month, it may be difficult to obtain a quorum for the meeting.  Under some state statutes an owner dissatisfied that the annual meeting is not being held consistent with the requirements of the bylaws may go to court and obtain an order requiring the annual meeting to be held on a specific date; but it is unlikely that a court would schedule it earlier than you are planning and, typically, under statutes that provide for this, there is no penalty to the board or the association for failing to have held the meeting earlier. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Q&A: Unsightly Neighboring Property

Q. We want to clean up the property next door to our association. The association does not own the property. It's less money to just have it cleaned up compared to getting the current owner to clean it up. We would have permission from the owner. As a board can we approve or do we need to advise all the owners for their input?
A.  There are several variables that need to be resolved to know whether spending the Association’s money is appropriate and lawful in this case.  First, while you state that the adjoining property needs to be “cleaned up,” you do not indicate whether this is a matter of cleaning brush, or whether there might be old cars there, perhaps an old barrel that held an unknown substance, etc.  If there is any chance that there is something like old vehicles, in connection with which you do not know who holds the title, or any materials that might constitute a “hazardous substance” under federal or state law, we would recommend against becoming involved in any way, since the possibility of serious liability is much too great.

Assuming that the issue is limited to cleaning up overgrown vegetation and the association has written permission from the owner to undertake the cleanup that details exactly what the owner is agreeing to allow the association to do, you need to ask two additional questions.  First, do the governing documents permit the Association to expend money for this purpose?  Typically there are two places to look for an answer to this question.  One would be in a provision that refers to the budget and the purpose of the expenses the association can include in the budget.  Secondly, there is usually a section of the bylaws setting forth the duties, powers and authority of the board.  In some instances these are stated permissibly, in other words suggesting that the board has, at a minimum, these powers.  Other times the section of the bylaws is stated in such a manner so as to limit the powers of the board.

Finally, there also needs to be a determination by the board that this is truly an association matter.  Is this to help a small portion of all the unit owners, but does not impact the vast majority of owners?  Is there a board member that is impacted and that is why the board is considering this action?  How much money would actually be spent?  If the amount is relatively nominal given the scope of the association’s budget and it is for the general benefit of the association that suggests one direction, but if it benefits few owners or it were to particularly benefit a member of the board, it suggests a different answer.

There are enough complexities in this issue that we would urge the board to consult with legal counsel before taking action.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Q&A: Handling Requests for Emotional Support Animals


Q:
I live in a 40-unit condo building, which has a NO PET AMENDMENT from 1980. A woman recently purchased a unit and has been seen with a dog that barks all the time. She signed all the disclosure forms that stated “no pets” and had given the Board a note from a nurse practitioner that the dog is an emotional support animal. What can we do?

A:

The Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §§3601-3619) and the regulations promulgated thereunder require “housing providers,” including entities such as condominium associations in New Jersey, to make “reasonable accommodations” to disabled persons in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.) similarly requires accommodation of the disabled.  Decisions of federal and state courts in interpreting the Federal Fair Housing Law and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination have held that in certain instances housing providers, such as a condominium, must accommodate those with a legitimate physical or emotional disability requiring the support or assistance of an animal.

Notwithstanding, simply providing a note from a nurse practitioner stating that “the dog is an emotional support animal,” does not provide the governing body of a condominium the reasonable opportunity to establish that the resident suffers from a disability defined by law; and, further, requires the physical assistance or emotional support of a dog to reasonably accommodate their disability. Thus, in this instance, it likely would not be unreasonable for the association to request additional information to allow its governing body to evaluate the reasonableness of the request.

For example, the association may reasonably request that the resident provide a certification of a Physician or other qualified Treating Professional certifying: (a) the disability or handicap suffered (b) said disability or handicap meets the standards set forth by the Federal Fair Housing Act; (c) to the major life activities substantially limited by the disability or handicap; (d) whether treatment is available for the disability or handicap; (e) to the description of the accommodation requested; (f) as to whether the accommodation requested alleviates or mitigates the disability or handicap; and, (g) as to whether any alternative accommodations exist. If, upon receipt of such additional information, the association concludes that the resident is disabled under the law and that the physical assistance or emotional support of the identified animal is reasonably necessary to accommodate the disability, then approval of the accommodation is required by law.

Where an accommodation is required by law, the resident is still required to maintain the animal in accordance with existing rules and regulations; which often include, among other requirements, that residents permit no activity that creates a nuisance or annoyance to other residents. Such rules require the resident to take all actions necessary to prevent the animal from making noise that may unreasonably annoy or disturb the peace of neighboring residents.


Keep in mind that where an accommodation is required to be made by law, the animal is not considered a “pet.” Rather, it is an animal that the resident has claimed is required under the law for the physical assistance or emotional support for the disability that the resident is afflicted with. Therefore, the governing board of a community association should seek the advice of legal counsel before denying the request of a resident for a physical assistance or emotional support animal. The association’s legal counsel is best suited to advise and assist the governing board with implementation of appropriate procedures should the board receive such a request.