Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Legislation to Enhance Owner Participation in Community Association Elections


On Thursday, July 13, Governor Christie signed legislation to enhance owner participation in community association elections. The CAI Legislative Action Committee, with Community Association Practice Chair, Dave Ramsey, leading the effort, worked side-by-side with Senator Gordon, the primary sponsor of the bill, to ensure that the final version of the law would be balanced and not impose undue burdens on community associations while making the election process democratic where it currently isn’t. Only through an eleventh-month effort and the willingness of Senator Gordon to listen to, and accommodate, CAI’s concerns was this able to occur.
A few important features of the new law:
• Although the law is effectively immediately, the implementation of portions of the bill that may require associations to modify some procedural aspects of their election process are delayed until October 1, 2017 to give associations an adequate opportunity to prepare.
• Subject to certain exceptions, in those few associations where the owners are not members of the association, effectively immediately, they are.
• Starting with elections occurring after October 1, Unit owners in good standing will have the right to nominate themselves or other owners in good standing. Bylaws requiring nomination by a Nominating Committee or requiring the signing of a petition by other owners will no longer be required, though Nominating Committees may continue to nominate owners for election to the board – but not exclusively.
• Certain time periods are statutorily imposed, including notices seeking nominees for the board must be sent to all owners not less than 30 days before the notice of the election meeting is sent.
• Notice of the election meeting must go out 14 or more days before the meeting but not more than 60 days before (this impacts many associations that previously had a minimum time notice period of 10 days).
• Board members’ names must be listed alphabetically on all ballots.
• Electronic voting in board elections is statutorily authorized and electronic notice of meetings is also authorized if permitted under the bylaws.
• In a provision unrelated to elections, governing boards may amend bylaws without a vote of the owners in two methods: First, it may amend the bylaws to be consistent with federal, state or local law. Second, it may propose an amendment to the bylaws together with a ballot to reject the amendment and if not more than 10% of the owners’ vote, within 30 days, to reject the bylaws amendment, it becomes enacted.
A number of other parties also voiced concerns about the new law, including the Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Builders Association. While a number of language clarifications from each of those parties were accepted, through the efforts of the Legislative Action Committee provisions that were overly burdensome or had negative impacts on community associations were successfully fended off. While there were numerous association election bills posted in the Senate and Assembly this year, most of which would have imposed significant burdens on associations were therefore unacceptable to CAI, only this bill reached the Senate and Assembly floors for a vote, and passed each house unanimously.
Look forward to a future article by Dave Ramsey in Community Trends providing additional details about this bill and a CAI program in late August in which he will provide information concerning important exceptions to the law and tips on how to take advantage of certain beneficial provisions in it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Benefits of the Municipal Services Act

Many communities are either not receiving the benefits of the Municipal Services Act or are being substantially shortchanged by the municipality in reimbursements due

New Jersey’s Municipal Services Act (the “Act”), N.J.S.A. 40:67-23.2 – 23.8, requires that every municipality provide “qualified private communities” with certain municipal services on its roads or streets or reimburse those communities for such services.  The purpose of the Act is to eliminate double payment for services (such as snow and ice removal, lighting of the roads and streets and collection or disposal of garbage, recyclables and leaves) by residents who pay for them through both their property taxes and association common expenses.  The vast majority of condominiums, as well as other community associations in the State of New Jersey, meet the requirements of a “qualified private community,” as defined in the Act.

If the municipality chooses to perform the designated services, it must do so in the same fashion as it does throughout the municipality.  However, if the municipality selects the reimbursement option under the Act, the municipality enters into a written agreement with the Association to reimburse it annually for the municipality’s actual cost (not that of the Association’s) to obtain the covered services.  While these costs may be significantly less than the Association’s cost to hire private contractors, as is often the case, many municipalities reimburse communities amounts which do not reflect the true full costs to the municipality.  For example, costs associated with the services should include and take into consideration direct and indirect costs such as: labor (straight and overtime), supervisory and administrative personnel, employee benefits, materials, fuel and oil, vehicles and equipment, and the housing of vehicles and equipment and maintenance of same.   Moreover, in some circumstances, a community may be entitled to greater reimbursements when taking into consideration certain “difficulty” factors, such as the steepness of the roads. 

Those communities that do not currently have an agreement in place with the municipality may be entitled to significant monetary sums for the prior years the municipality failed to either provide services or reimburse the community for same.  For newer developments, it is important to keep in mind that it is not necessary that the roads meet municipal standards/specification or that they be accepted by the municipality for dedication for the Act to apply.  In such circumstances, the municipality still has a duty to reimburse the community. 

Despite the enactment of the Act in 1993, many communities are either not receiving the benefits of the Act or are being substantially shortchanged in the municipality’s calculation of the costs for such services.  For this reason, it is important that communities have counsel who specialize in common interest communities, such as those at Becker & Poliakoff, LLP, to carefully negotiate with a municipality in order to assure they receive the maximum amount to which they are entitled.  

Fear Not the Dreaded Legal Fees: Part Two

BY:  ANGELA M. MORISCO, ESQ. Very often boards of condominiums and other community associations hesitate to engage in litigation ag...