Maryland Appeals Court Voids Condominium Parking Rule

A Maryland condominium Rule which barred delinquent condo owners from using the common property parking lot and swimming pool has been struck down by the Maryland Court of Appeals–the highest state appellate court.

In Elvaton Towne Condominium Regime II v. Rose, the appeals court decided that a condominium board of directors can not rely on general rulemaking authority to adopt a Rule which interfered with the owner’s statutory property right to use the common elements. However, the court ruled that the Maryland Condominium Act permits a condominium Declaration to provide that an owner’s  parking and pool privileges may be suspended where the owner is in arrears in payment of condo assessments.

Although recognizing a condo board may adopt reasonable Rules regarding the use of the common elements, the court noted that such Rules must be consistent with the condominium Declaration and Bylaws and with the Maryland Condominium Act. Continue reading

2017 Maryland Condo and HOA Legislation–The Final Score

During the 2017 Maryland legislative session, the General Assembly considered many bills regarding condominium and homeowner association governance, foreclosure procedures, state registration of community associations, and regulation of community association managers.

Legislation passed includes bills to make it easier to amend condo bylaws and an HOA declaration; require lender notice of foreclosure sale postponement and cancellation; and require community associations to provide owner notice of common property sales, including government tax sales. Continue reading

Montgomery County CCOC To Require Negotiation of Association Disputes

After a year-long examination of the operations of the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (CCOC), the County Council has enacted a new law which makes changes in the CCOC dispute resolution process.   More than 340,000 Montgomery County, Maryland residents live in over 1,000 condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives.  The CCOC was created in 1991 to provide a forum for certain disputes between association residents and the board which govern the association to be resolved without going to court, and to provide educational resources for associaiton residents and leaders

Where the CCOC staff determines that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that a violation of law or association documents has occurred, the new law requires the staff to attempt to resolve disputes filed with the CCOC through informal negotiation and possibly mediation.

If the party who filed the CCOC dispute does not attend the mediation, the dispute must be dismissed.  If the party who is alleged to violation applicable law or the association documents does not attend the mediation, the matter must be set for a hearing and that party is prohibited from appearing at the hearing to present testimony and evidence. Previously, there was no requirement for active staff negotiation, and mediation was voluntary.

The new law also requires all members of the CCOC  to take the same CCOC training on community association governance which association board members are required to take, and any other training provided or approved by the County Attorney.   Additionally, volunteer arbitrators who chair CCOC hearing panels will be prohibited from representing any parties in disputes before other hearing panels.

Separately, the annual community association registration fee was increased from $3 to $5 per dwelling unit beginning July 1 to allow the CCOC to provide more staff and and educational resources. The CCOC is now part of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in  Maryland Counties of  Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, and Frederick County; and in Washington, D.C.

 

Maryland Condominium Rule May Not Suspend Use of Common Elements by Delinquent Owner

A Maryland condominium’s policy of towing vehicles of unit owners who are delinquent in payment of condominium assessments was recently struck down by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals–an intermediate appeals court.

In an effort to get owners to pay the condominium assessments, the Board of Directors of an Anne Arundel County condominium passed a rule which prohibited parking in the condominium common element parking lot if an owner was in arrears in payment of condominium assessments and other charges for more than 45 days.  The rule was enforced by towing vehicles from the condominium property.  The condominium Board also enacted a rule to prohibit use of the community pool by owners who had not paid their assessments.

When the owner filed suit challenging the suspension of the right to use the parking lot and pool, the appeals court concluded that the Board was not authorized to take such action unless the condominium declaration or bylaws were amended to allow suspension of use of the common elements a tool for the collection of delinquent assessments.

The court relied on a prior decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals–the highest state appeals court–and a provision in the Maryland Condominium Act which recognize that the right to use the common elements is a property right which can only be limited by the condominium declaration.  Although the Court of Special Appeals ruled that the use of the of common elements could not be restricted by Board rule, it concluded the declaration or bylaws could be amended to allow suspension of the common element parking lot and pool for non-payment of condo assessments.

The court decision in Elevaton Towne Condominium Regime II v. Rose is an “unreported” decision which is not a binding precedent applicable to any other condominium.  However, it is instructive on how Maryland courts view limitations on the authority of condominium boards to restrict the use of common elements by owners who are delinquent in paying assessments.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in Maryland counties of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, and Frederick County; and Washington D.C.

 

 

Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Enforcement of Association Truck Covenant

A homeowner association restriction on trucks has been determined by a Maryland appeals court to be enforceable against the owner of a large military-style vehicle.

The 3-axle camouflaged vehicle was taller than the first story of the home and as wide as the driveway. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed with the trial court that the truck covenant had not been waived by allowing other smaller Sport Utility Vehicles built on a truck chassis.  It was appropriate and reasonable to distinguish between “consumer vehicles” and a “massive army-surplus truck”.

Although the appeals court noted that restrictive covenants may become invalid and unenforceable if the original development plan has been abandoned, or the character of the neighborhood has changed so much as to defeat the purpose of the restriction, those factors were not applicable to the community of single family homes in Harford County where the over-sized military truck was parked.

The court also rejected the homeowner’s contention that suit to obtain an injunction to enforce the truck covenant could not be filed before complying with the dispute resolution procedure in the HOA bylaws.  The bylaws required notice of the alleged violation and an opportunity for a hearing before the HOA Board of Directors before imposing a fine, suspend voting rights or infringe on other rights of a homeowner.

The appeals court concluded that the right to enforce the covenants by court action was provided for in the Declaration without conditions and, therefore, the dispute resolution procedures in the HOA Bylaws did not apply.  Even if the suit was deemed to be an attempt to “infringe” on the rights of the owner, the terms of the Declaration which had no pre-conditions to litigation prevailed over the notice and hearing provisions in the Bylaws.

Although the decision in Maloney v. Fountain Glen Homeowners Association, Inc. is an “unreported” decision and, therefore, not a binding precedent, it is instructive on how courts view enforcement of homeowner association covenant restrictions.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLC, attorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

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Pit Bull Legislation Stalls

by Tom Schild

After considering several bills regarding liability for injuries caused by dogs, the Maryland General Assembly has adjourned until January 2012 without enacting any dog bite legislation.

During the recent Special Session, the Senate and House passed different versions of legislation which would impose dog bite liability on landlords and others who have the right to control the presence of dogs on their property only where there is knowledge of a particular dog’s presence and vicious propensity.  This would have restored the negligence standard of liability modified by a recent appeals cout decision with respect to injuries caused by pit bulls and mixed breed pit bulls.

For dog owners, the proposed dog bite legislation would have extended the strict liability standard to injuries caused by all breeds of dogs, with a few exceptions for specific circumstances.

After passing casino legislation, the General Assembly adjourned on August 15 without taking final action on the dog bite bills.

Appeals Court Ruling–Strict Liability for Pit Bulls

The proposed dog bite legislation was in response to the April 26 ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals–the highest state appellate court–that both the owner of a pit bull dog (or pit bull mixed breed) and a landlord or other person with the right to control the presence of such dogs would be strictly liable for all injuries caused by such dogs whether or not there was any knowledge that a particular dog had a history of being vicious. Concluding that pit bulls are inherently dangerous animals, the court decision in Tracey v. Solesky changed the long-established common law (i.e. court-made law) liability standard for pit bull owners and property owners.

The  appeals court stated that the new strict liability standard applies to any new claims arising after the date of its decision.  Faced with greater potential liability for pit bull bites, some landlords reportedly began terminating leases of tenants who had pit bulls and some pit bull owners surrendered their dogs to animal shelters.  Condominium, homeowner association and coop boards began consideration of a ban on pit bulls and pit bull mixed breeds.

On May 25, the Court of Appeals was asked to reconsider its decision.  This created  uncertainty whether the ruling would remain effective as of April 26 if it was not modified on reconsideration.  In response to a legislator’s inquiry as to the status of the court ruling, a Maryland Assistant Attorney General issued an opinion letter on July 10 advising that, in her opinion, the new liability standard announced by the Court of Appeals was not yet in effect because the court ruling was not a final decision, so long as the request for reconsideration was pending.  But, that letter also indicated it was uncertain if the court would agree with her opinion and urged private parties to consult their own legal counsel for advice.

The court decision has been widely criticized for its conclusion that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, for applying a different standard of liability to one breed of dog, and for making landlords and others with the right to control the presence of pit bulls on their property strictly liable for injuries caused by such dogs.

Legislation Proposed to Overturn Court Ruling

In response to criticism of the appeals court ruling by animal rights advocates, landlords, the Community Associations Institute, and insurance companies, the Maryland General Assembly acted quickly during its August special session to consider legislation to overturn the court ruling while the request for court reconsideration was still pending.

On behalf of the Community Associations Institute, I attended the House Judiciary Committee hearing to explain the special problems of condos, HOAs and coops in banning, identifying and removing pit bulls and mixed pit bull breeds.  Unlike landlords which can readily ban pit bulls and evict tenants who violate pet restrictions, it is far more difficult, time-consuming and costly for a community association to ban certain breeds of dogs and have prohibited dogs removed from the community.  The final House version of the legislation included an amendment to make clear that condominiums, homeowner associations, and housing cooperatives are not subject to the strict liability standard.

With the support of animal rights groups, the Senate and House passed bills to generally extend the strict liability standard to owners and keepers of all dogs, with a few exceptions for veterinarians, police and military personnel, and other specified circumstances.

With the support of organizations representing landlords, community associations, insurance companies and animal rights advocates, both the Senate and House-passed versions overturn the strict liability standard for property owners and restores the common law liability standard for property owners which was in effect prior to the court ruling in Tracey v. Solesky Under the negligence standard, a landlord, condominium, homeowners association, housing cooperative or other person with control over the presence of a dog can still be liable for injuries caused by a dog where there is knowledge of the dog on the property and knowledge of its vicious propensities.

No Dog Bite Legislation Enacted

Although similar (but different) versions of dog bite legislation was introduced, considered,  and passed by the Maryland Senate and House in less than a week during the special legislative session, the differences were not resolved and no new law was approved by the General Assembly.  The entire topic of dog bite liability is expected to be revisited again during the regular January 2013 legislative session….when the legislative dogfight will continue.