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Limits of Board Power Use vs. Abuse—and How to Tell the Difference

 Everybody sometimes disagrees with the decisions of the condo or HOA board.  Maybe the choice to rearrange the garbage receptacles out front seems  ridiculous, or the ongoing clattering of machinery on the roof is driving the  top-floor residents nuts, and the board seems determined to let it fix itself.  These are the kinds of inevitable complaints that every board has to deal with  sooner or later, and most manage to handle such issues with prudence and  aplomb.  

 But what if the board does things that seem to be beyond the pale—perhaps even illegal? Where do boards’ powers end? While the board is the governing body of the association, there are certain boundaries and limitations that they should operate within.  

 There are numerous examples across the country of alleged HOA abuse of power  from preventing owners to put up political signs or flags or changing the color  of their paint trim or window shades. Pets are also a sticking point as this  California woman found out: Pamela McMahan didn’t expect her cocker spaniel Ginger to become a problem at a historic condominium  building in Long Beach. But she was fined $25 each time she walked her dog  through the lobby because HOA rules required all dogs had to be carried.  McMahan, an elderly woman who walks with a cane, said she couldn’t carry the dog. She racked up $1,600 in fines and has since moved from the  building.  

 When the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition conducted a survey of owners, asking  about concerns or issues they have with their boards, more than 80 percent  complained that their directors “treat owners unfairly and unequally.” Other frequent complaints centered on the conduct of board meetings and board  actions to keep owners from seeing or obtaining association documents. The  overall results of the survey indicated that owners feel that their association  boards tend to overstep their bounds, sometimes to the point of tyranny.  

 The Law Says

 How are a board’s powers spelled out? How do boards know what they can and can’t do under the law? In New England, each state has its specific laws. Take, for  example, Massachusetts. “The basic information comes from the Massachusetts statute—although the statute is an enabling statute, meaning that for the most part, it  introduces topics and provides condo associations with broad authority, the  expectation being that the details get filled in by the association’s condominium documents,” explains attorney Gary Daddario of Perkins & Anctil in Westford, Massachusetts. Each association’s documents provide “more specific explanations and limitations of [statute] powers for the boards,  specifically the declaration of trust,” he adds.  

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3 Comments

  • Can a Board of Trustee request Mgmt. to fine a violater of Condo Rules w/o the entire approval of the Board?
  • I am replacing 2 doors and 2 windows in my 30 old condo. The appearance will be the same at time of purchase. The Board approved my application but required me to add at my expee were not in place at my purchase date. I am replacing these items for. Warmth and safety of my special needs. Does the Board require an addition of panes be added to this request for approval ? There will be no change inside or out . I am making no structural change. Is this legal? No rules in place only abuse of power? Arbitrary and capricous?
  • The Board decided that I should not be a candidate for member of Board. and did not place my name on ballot. I was the only announced candidate The reason was that I could not be a candidate because I had owned my condo for 2 years..new ownership. Assumed that I would have trouble getting along with Board and management. Then they recruited someone whose family had been long time owners as the canditate I learned of this one week prior to annual meeting where approval of another candidate was on the agenda. What legal action to I have? Thanks I contacted the President of the Board and that’s when I sensed Board interfearance. What is my recourse legally?