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Mark M. Wiechnik; Stark & Stark

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An ancient proverb states that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Generally, this means that it is easier to forestall a disaster than to deal with it. Little advice could be more important to condominium associations than this.

Many associations are plagued with a disease more devastating than termites, more troublesome than bed bugs and more financially damaging than delinquent unit owners. The plague is apathy. Living in an association requires a different way of thinking, and those of you who live in a community that is affected by uninvolved and disconnected unit owners know how frustrating it can be. Apathetic communities create an environment where incompetence, greed, fraud and lawlessness are permitted to grow unchecked.

For example, apathetic communities may be unable to amend the governing documents or do significant repairs in a timely fashion because they can't get a quorum of unit owners to vote at the meeting. This handcuffs the ability of the board to act quickly and efficiently to deal with a problem or opportunity.

Some communities may have board members who have served for years on the board without ever having been challenged for their seat, while other communities can't even find 3 people who want to serve on the board. Unit owners live elsewhere, don't have the time to serve on the board, or don't bother to show up for elections, and thus the same people keep getting elected (or appointed) to the board over and over. This can foster a belief from those long-serving board members that they are above the law.
Those board members may hire the vendors that will do their bidding most efficiently, and not those who necessarily are best for the community. Their units get repaired first, and sometimes exclusively.
In some cases this creates a situation where important decisions are made and months go by before the unit owners find out about it. These boards know that few people will question their decisions and even fewer will show up to an open meeting to publicly voice their concerns.
Apathetic communities may have numerous delinquent unit owners, because it is time consuming and expensive to chase those unit owners. Others have boards who violate the law with extremely high and illegal late fees. In some instances, board members have been convicted of fraud for stealing from the Association's funds for years before they were caught, in no small part because no one was paying attention to what they were doing.
In extreme cases the State has even take over control of the Association, or appointed a receiver to control the Association because none of the unit owners were willing to do so.
The best defense to all of this? Forestall disaster before you have to deal with it. Read your governing documents. Attend open meetings. Be more than a complainer, and ask productive questions. Write letters to the board suggesting changes that could be implemented and offering to help in effectuating that change. Volunteer to create or chair a committee.
Research the candidates for the board, and vote for those who you believe will make the best decisions for the Association. Encourage hiring of competent management and counsel. Ask for copies of meeting minutes for meetings that you can't attend. The presence of a significant number of unit owners at monthly meetings will in and of itself send a message to the board that the unit owners are engaged. All of these things will help prevent your association from having to deal with the cleanup of a disaster that could have been easily prevented with a small investment of time.
Stark & Stark - www.stark-stark.com specializes in Community Association Law. If you would like to discuss this client alert in more detail please contact Mark M. Wiechnik at mwiechnik@stark-stark.com or you can contact attorney David Byrne in NJ at (609)895-7365

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