Bills That Passed This Legislative Session and How to Comply

March 26, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

The 2013 Utah General Legislative Session has ended and the bills that passed have been finalized in their enrolled form to await signature by the Governor. Which bills passed and which ones didn’t?

Only three of the six bills I discussed in my last post ended up passing the House and the Senate.  They all affect condo and non-condo HOAs in more or less the same way.

SB 64 Homeowner Association Reserve Account Amendments

As I noted before, this law will give the decision back to the board of whether and how to fund a reserve (as most CC&Rs require, and where the decision makers will be subject to fiduciary duties).  Specifically, the law:

  • Specifies that a reserve analysis must include certain things, such as a list of the maintenance items that will require reserve funds,  their remaining useful life, and their cost to repair or replace; an estimate of the contribution to a reserve fund necessary to meet the cost to repair or replace each component; and a reserve funding plan that recommends how the association may fund the annual contribution.
  • Requires an association to provide a summary each year of the reserve analysis to each owner (not just to those at the annual meeting) and a complete copy of the reserve analysis, including any updates, to an owner upon request.
  • Requires the board to include a reserve fund line item in the annual budget in the amount the board determines based on the reserve analysis and based on what “the board determines is prudent under the circumstances” (there is no requirement that the amount be higher than 1$ or even 0$ – not that I recommend that).  This is important because it is almost inevitable that the association will not agree with the amounts recommended by a professional reserve study.  Almost every association feels that their reserve professional has recommended that they set aside more than they really need.  This law allows flexibility so the board can fund reserves in the amount they deem is prudent with all things considered.   However, if the CC&Rs requires a certain level of reserve funding, the CC&Rs will control; this law does not authorize a board to fund reserves lower than what their governing documents might require.
  • Allows the homeowners to veto the reserve fund contribution if they don’t like it (whether too low or too high) by a 51% vote of the owners at a special meeting called within 45 days of when the annual budget is adopted.

Additionally, the law provides for specific enforcement procedures if the association fails to comply with certain of its provisions.  An owner can sue for a court order compelling the association to comply, for $500 or the owner’s actual damages, whichever is greater, other available remedies, and costs and attorney fees.

HB 101 Homeowners Association Amendments

This revision to the statute requiring all HOAs to register as an HOA with the state of Utah merely restates what it said before in a little different way. There is no change in the law’s requirements or implications.

SB 90 Condominium and Community Association Amendments

  • With this new law, an association cannot charge a fee for review and approval of plans for construction or improvement of a unit or lot that exceeds the actual cost of reviewing and approving the plans.
  • The law clarifies what happens when there’s a loss to a unit that initially doesn’t look like it will exceed the association’s deductible but then the loss ends up costing more than the amount of the deductible.  The law says that if the board determines that a covered loss is likely not to exceed the deductible, and until it becomes apparent the loss exceeds the deductible and a claim is submitted to the association’s insurer, the unit owner’s policy is the primary policy for coverage.  So, the unit owner’s policy is primary, but only until it becomes clear that the damage will cost more to repair than the deductible.
  • For commercial condominium projects ( projects with no residential units), the insurance requirements of Utah Code 57-8-43 no longer apply for insurance policies issued or renewed after July 1, 2013.  For mixed-use projects (projects with both commercial and residential units), a commercial unit, including any fixture, improvement or betterment therein and including appurtenant limited common area, does not have to be insured by the association, unless the CC&Rs require it.
  • The Community Association Act is now applicable to any association with at least one residential lot (not just associations made up entirely of residential lots).  So, it will generally apply to mixed-use (commercial/residential) projects (except the insurance provisions were amended to not be applicable to commercial lots, the same as with condominium projects).

The following changes will not take effect until July 1, 2014:

  • The law will now authorize not only condos, but non-condo HOAs as well to access a unit or lot as necessary for maintenance, repair or replacement of common areas or for making an emergency repair, provided that 24 hours’ notice is given, or reasonable notice is given (or attempted) in an emergency.  The association is liable to repair damage it causes to the common areas or to a lot or unit the association uses to access common areas, and it must repair that damage within a reasonable time, except in developer-controlled community associations (where many of the laws in the Community Association Act don’t apply, thanks to legislators favoring developers much more than homeowners (contact your legislator and let them know favoring developers over homeowners isn’t acceptable!)).
  • The law authorizes a unit or lot owner to remove or alter a wall between two units or lots if the owner owns both units/lots, even if the wall is common area, unless restricted by the CC&Rs (most condo CC&Rs do, in fact, restrict this) and unless it would impair the structural integrity, mechanical systems or support of the building, the common areas, or a unit/lot.  The board may require the owner to submit, at the owner’s expense, an engineer’s or architect’s opinion stating that a proposed change will not impair the structural integrity or mechanical systems of the building or either lot, reduce the support or integrity of common areas, or compromise structural components.  The board may require the owner to pay all of the association’s legal and other expenses related to the proposed alteration, as well.  The removal or alteration of the wall does not change the assessment or voting right attributable to either of the units/lots (unless the CC&Rs say so).
  • The law also contains a procedure for the unlikely event that two or more associations want to consolidate or merge together into one association.

While these bills are not actually law until signed by the Governor, there is little chance that the Governor will veto any of them (I will, of course, let you know if he does).   (UPDATE: Each of these bills were signed by the Governor and are now law.)   The laws take effect May 14, 2013, except the ones mentioned above that don’t take effect until July 1, 2014.

As always, please note that none of the above is legal advice and should not be relied on as statements of the requirements of the law applicable to any particular scenario or circumstance.  The statutes themselves should be referred to for their exact and full contents and an attorney consulted with for application of any relevant law to a particular set of facts.

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Can Enforcing the CC&Rs Equally and Consistently Ever be Illegal?

January 30, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Has your board ever faced a demand for a “reasonable accommodation” by a disabled resident?  Have you ever heard of a “reasonable accommodation”?  What about a request for a modification to a unit or common area to accommodate a disability?  As explained by the following excerpt from our Utah HOA Law app, if certain requirements are met, granting the request for accommodation or modification is not optional, and enforcing a covenant or rule in such a case can actually be illegal.

Excerpt from RKW’s Utah HOA Law app:

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by landlords and HOAs, as well as others associated with providing housing whose discriminatory practices make housing unavailable (or restrict the use of housing) to persons because of:

•   race or color
•   religion
•   sex
•   national origin
•   familial status, or
•   disability

. . .

Discrimination Based Upon Disability

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all types of housing transactions.  It’s important to realize that discrimination against disabled persons is unlike any other type of discrimination.  At the core of the policy against discrimination is the concept that everyone should be treated equally.  The Act, however, requires that housing providers give special treatment to the disabled when it is necessary to allow them to have an equal opportunity to enjoy their dwellings.

Reasonable Accommodations.

Specifically, a disabled person is entitled to “reasonable accommodations” (exceptions) in the rules, practices, or services of a housing provider (including an HOA) that are necessary for a disabled individual to use or enjoy a dwelling.  So, while uniform enforcement of the governing documents and rules is crucial as a general principle in an HOA, such uniform enforcement is actually against the law when a rule interferes with a disabled person’s use and enjoyment of their dwelling.  For instance, an HOA has a “no pets” policy.  A resident who is deaf requests that the HOA allow him to keep a dog in his unit as a reasonable accommodation.  The resident explains that the dog is an assistance animal that will alert him to several sounds, including knocks at the door, sounding of the smoke detector, the telephone ringing, and cars coming into the driveway.  The HOA must make an exception to its “no pets” policy to accommodate this resident.

When considering a request for a “reasonable accommodation,” an HOA must normally evaluate whether: (1) the individual is disabled, (2) the requested accommodation is reasonable, and (3) the requested accommodation is necessary for the individual to use or enjoy a dwelling.

1.  Disabled.  An individual can be disabled in one of three ways. A disability is: (a) a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (b) a record of having such an impairment, or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.

The term mental or physical impairment may include conditions such as blindness, hearing impairment, mobility impairment, mental retardation, alcoholism, drug addiction (but current drug users are not considered disabled), chronic fatigue, learning disability, head injury, and mental illness.  The term major life activity may include seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, speaking, or working.

2.  Reasonable.  To be reasonable, an accommodation cannot impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the HOA and the benefit of the accommodation to the disabled person is weighed against the burden on the housing provider.  Those things are determined on a case-by-case basis taking various factors into account, such as the cost, the resources of the provider, the benefit of the accommodation, and whether alternatives would meet the disability-related needs.

3.  Necessary.  For a requested accommodation to be necessary for the individual to use or enjoy a dwelling, the requested accommodation must affirmatively enhance a disabled plaintiff’s quality of life by ameliorating the effects of the disability.  In other words, there must be a nexus between the disability and the requested accommodation.

Modifications.

The Act also requires an HOA to permit a disabled person to make reasonable modifications to the common area or to a unit in order to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises.  The modification is made at the disabled person’s expense (unless it is to be used by anyone other than that person, or if the HOA requires more expensive materials or options than those proposed by the owner, the HOA pays the difference).  This is in contrast to an accommodation. Accommodations are made by the housing provider (HOA) and can result in an expense to the HOA (unless it creates a financial burden on the HOA).

The same three criteria applicable to reasonable accommodations (disability, reasonableness, necessity) must be met or the HOA is not required to allow the modification.

HUD has given examples of modifications that are typically considered reasonable, which include:

1. widening doorways to make rooms more accessible for persons in wheelchairs;
2. installing grab bars in bathrooms;
3. adding a ramp to make a primary entrance accessible for persons in wheelchairs; or
4. altering a walkway to provide access to a public or common use area.

. . .

This is a tricky area that can be counter-intuitive for boards.  A board should be familiar with and understand the above concepts, but this is definitely one area where a qualified attorney should be consulted prior to a board making any final decision to grant or deny a request for reasonable accommodation.


5 Ways to Reduce Assessment Delinquencies

January 7, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Our law firm helps many HOA boards and managers collect past-due assessments (dues) from members.  Collecting on delinquencies is not easy work in any event, but it can inadvertently be made even more difficult than necessary by a manager or board.  Here are 5 ways to help ensure delinquencies can be collected in a timely manner.

1.  Have a collection policy in place and let your owners know about it.  A collection policy should explain due dates, when late charges are incurred, the interest rate on late amounts, returned check charges, and what actions will be taken on delinquent accounts and when.  At the same time, a collection policy should be somewhat flexible, rather than taking a hardline approach requiring a series of actions taken at set-in-stone dates.  Seek the advice of the association’s attorney because many laws and the association’s governing documents must be taken into consideration.  Finally, follow all the steps in the policy.

2.  Ensure the names and addresses of owners are accurate and up to date.  Sure, it’s generally the job of the owner to ensure the association has an accurate mailing address.  But, a board can avoid some headache by doing what they can to ensure accurate contact information.  Try to ensure actual contact with an owner is made before sending their account to collection.  Be aware of returned mail and vacant properties.  The primary complaints we see from owners are, “I’ve never heard anything from the association” and “if they had just knocked on my door and talked to me about it.”

It’s not a volunteer board member’s job to go knocking on doors to collect money, rather, it’s the individual owner’s duty to make sure their debts are paid.  Additionally, casual collection procedures that embarrass owners should be avoided.  But, communication is key, and communication can’t occur without accurate owner information.

3.  Implement effective procedures that will identify accounting errors.  Every HOA must use good, basic accounting practices.  I’m not saying every small association must strictly use GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), which is a codification of how CPA firms and large corporations prepare and present their business income and expense, assets and liabilities on their financial statements.  But using a homemade accounting system on a spreadsheet or hand-written ledger can be a recipe for a mess and can significantly delay proper collection remedies.

Ideally, use bookkeeping software that will give you reasonable reports of every individual property account with a history of charges, payments, and a running balance.  Make notes that identify payments by check numbers and sender’s identity.  Identify charges to the individual’s account by item or purpose.  Be able to provide an accounting that will clarify the what and why of an individual’s balance at any given time.  When switching accounting systems or switching property managers, make sure to have a means or require a means of providing the history for any balance forward carried into the new system.

4.  Take action when assessments remain unpaid.  The association has rights that should be preserved early on with a delinquent account.  Follow the association’s collection policy.  Ensure letters are sent to the owner, a lien is filed against the property, and additional remedies are being pursued, as appropriate.  The more time passes, the harder it will be to collect.

5.  Take collection action uniformly and consistently with all owners who are delinquent.  Do not let personality conflicts or personal relationships factor into the actions taken on a delinquent account.  Treat all owners equally and fairly.

Associations that consistently follow good and effective practices, such as the ones listed above, have more success obtaining the cooperation of the owners and collecting delinquent assessments without having to resort to extreme legal measures.  Contact us if you’d like assistance implementing any of these practices or to help your association collect on delinquencies.


Our New Utah HOA Law App Helps Associations Follow the Law

December 6, 2012

Up until a few years ago, it seems that a board could get away with not referencing the Utah statutes that apply to HOAs.  Especially in non-condo HOAs, there just weren’t a lot of issues addressed by Utah law, except the procedural and corporate issues set out in the Nonprofit Corporation Act.

But today, the landscape is different.  Many day to day issues, such as adoption and enforcement of rules, spending reserve money, records, providing payoffs, insurance, budgets, and so forth are now addressed in the law and their requirements are not optional.  They must be followed or an association risks expensive litigation and other disputes, especially in today’s  increasingly litigious climate for HOAs, where a technicality or trivial failure of association procedure can lead to a major and costly headache.

As part of Kimble Law’s commitment to provide real value to its clients and to help all community associations operate effectively and properly, we brings you a free app for your smartphone and tablet that provides quick reference to the laws that apply to your association.

Now the laws are available right in your pocket, no Internet connection required!  The statutes are formatted and indented for easier reading than the state’s own website, plus search and bookmark functions make it much easier and quicker to use.  Certain federal regulations applicable to HOAs, such as Fair Housing Act and satellite dish regulations are also included, together with summaries and explanations of those requirements.

Utah HOA Law App Now Available.  Access the Web App online, or download the app to your mobile device today for free!

Click below or search Utah HOA Law in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

Utah HOA Law for iPhone, iPod:

Utah HOA Law for Android:
Android app on Google Play

file-dec-16-6-51-54-pm


Exposing Common Myths in HOA Operations

October 25, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

We frequently hear about and see associations acting on myths that seem to persist despite being clearly incorrect. Here are some of those myths and misunderstandings and the truth behind them:

1. An association can deny a request of a members to view the records of the association.

False.  An association member is generally entitled to view and inspect the records of the association upon making a proper request (with limited exceptions, such as for confidential or privileged records).  An association must either maintain its records in written form or in another form capable of conversion into written form within a reasonable time.  Every association should have a records retention policy to ensure the association keeps records for the proper period of time, to provide for the proper disposal of records, and to assist in making and complying with records requests.

2.  An association can require pre-approval for, or prohibit, small satellite dishes installed on owners’ porches, balconies and patios.

False, except  an owner (or installer) cannot drill through an exterior wall to install the dish.

The FCC has adopted a rule applicable to “Over-the-Air-Reception Devices” (“OTARD”).  OTARD prohibits HOA restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of small satellite dishes in areas that are within the exclusive use or control of the dish user (such as limited common area).

The rule prohibits restrictions as to such areas that:  (1) unreasonably delay or prevent installation, maintenance or use;  (2) unreasonably increase the cost of installation, maintenance or use; or (3) preclude reception of an acceptable quality signal.

The rule does not apply to common areas (such as the roofs and exterior walls of a condominium building).  It only applies to areas within the exclusive use or control of the dish user.  So, an association can certainly restrict or prohibit satellite dishes from being installed on common area roofs and walls.  Additionally, the association can regulate dishes on limited common area to some degree.

Contact us for assistance adopting a satellite dish and antenna installation policy if you don’t already have one in place.

3. A director must abstain from voting on matters that the director has a conflict of interest in.

False.  As long as the underlying transaction being voted on is fair to the association, a director can have a conflict and still vote.  (Utah Code Sec. 16-6a-825).  However, it is highly discouraged that the director vote for several reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty in establishing that a transaction is fair and defining exactly what fair is.  If the conflicted director simply abstains from voting after fully disclosing to the board the material facts as to the conflicting interest transaction, then most conflict of interest problems will be cured.

4.  The association president has authority to make decisions and take actions on behalf of the association.

False, except to the extent the president is authorized by the board or by the bylaws to make decisions and take actions.  All powers of an association must be exercised by or under the authority of the the board and the business and affairs of the association must be managed under the direction of the board.  (Utah Code Sec. 16-6a-801).  The president has no independent authority to exercise the powers of the association or manage the business and affairs of the association.

The bylaws may authorize a person to exercise some or all of the powers that would otherwise be exercised by the board.  (Utah Code Sec. 16-6a-801).  And, the board can delegate certain authority of the board to a person (including the president).  (Utah Code Sec. 16-6a-819).  But, otherwise, the president and any other officer have no more authority than any member of the association.  It’s very important a board clearly authorize a president to perform the actions and make the decisions they expect him or her to carry out.  This authorization should be in a board resolution or reflected in the minutes of a board meeting.

5.  A board can adopt a rule about any issue they deem necessary.

False.  The board must have authority to restrict or regulate the specific subject of the rule.  This authority usually comes from the law or from the CC&Rs.  A general provision in the CC&Rs granting the right to adopt rules does not give a board the unfettered authority to restrict rights of individual owners, especially as to units or lots.  On the other hand, a board will usually have authority to adopt reasonable rules to govern use of the common property, to govern the use of individually owned property to protect the common property, and to protect the members’ use and enjoyment of their own property and the common property from interference caused by use of other individually owned lots or units.

An association should have a qualified attorney review a proposed rule before it is adopted, and have the attorney review existing rules periodically to ensure the rules are authorized under the governing documents and the law and that they don’t open the association to discrimination claims or present other problems.

6. The law regarding rental restrictions in the Condo Act applies to all condo projects, or the  law regarding rental restrictions in the Community Association Act applies to all community associations.

False.   Those laws don’t apply to the vast majority of associations out there.  Each of those laws only apply to associations where the original declaration is recorded after May 12, 2009.  So, if the community is older than 2009 (if the original CC&Rs were recorded before May 12, 2009), the rental restriction requirements in those two statutes do not apply to that association.

UPDATE 2015:  The two referenced laws (Utah Code 57-8-10.1 for condos, and 57-8a-209 for non-condos) apply to all HOAs who, on or after May 12, 2015, (1) adopt a rental restriction or prohibition, or (2) amend an existing rental restriction or prohibition.

7. The Utah reserve analysis law requires an association to have reserves.

False.  There is no state or federal law requiring a Utah homeowners association to have a reserve fund.  In fact, the law specifically requires an association to provide an opportunity for homeowners to vote on whether to fund a reserve fund.  Of course, many lenders, as well as FHA, require reserves.


Your Single Family Definition Could Land You in Hot Water

October 3, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced recently that it is charging a Florida homeowners association (HOA) and its management company with violating the Fair Housing Act by telling a family of eight that they had too many people living in their townhouse and threatening to evict them if they didn’t reduce the number of occupants based on an occupancy policy that permitted only six people to live in a four-bedroom home.

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to deny housing or impose different rental terms and conditions based on disability, race, national origin, color, religion, sex, or familial status. Overly restrictive occupancy policies may unlawfully discriminate against families with children by preventing them from living in a home.

“Homeowners associations and management companies have an obligation to ensure that their occupancy standards do not violate the Fair Housing Act,” said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD is committed to taking action against anyone who unlawfully denies housing to families because of the number of children in the family.”

If a federal judge finds discrimination did occur, the homeowners association and the management company could face up to $16,000 in fines plus damages.

This issue frequently arises as a result of the enforcement by an association of a requirement in the CC&Rs that a unit or lot be occupied by a “single family.”  If the definition of “single family” is too restrictive or narrow, the association could be faced with a discrimination claim and hefty fines from HUD or from the Utah Anti-discrimination and Labor Division.

HUD will look at and often defer to a local ordinance for permissible restriction on occupancy.  In the case above, the county permits up to eleven occupants in the townhome.  So, the Association was not able to point to that ordinance as a defense.  HUD also looks at the size of the unit and number of bedrooms to determine if an occupancy restriction is discriminatory.  In this case, the Association only allowed one and a half people per bedroom.  At least two people per bedroom should be allowed generally (although other factors are relevant, as well).

Pay to Play, Literally?

In a separate matter, HUD charged a Massachusetts condominium association and property management company with discriminating against families with children.  HUD accused them of unlawfully charging fees to parents for allowing their children to play in the common area.

The families were informed by the Association that they were being fined $10 a day for two days for children playing in the common area, $10 a day for two days for allegedly causing damage, $25 to reimburse for the damage and $437.50 for attorney fees. Prior to this, the families had not received any fines or warning, and when an adult resident was having a party on the common grounds, no fine was issued.

It’s illegal to impose different rules and restrictions on families with children, unless they are directly related to issues of safety or health, but even then, caution must be exercised.  Always consult a qualified attorney when adopting or enforcing restrictions that may trigger a discrimination issue.


FHA Has Revised its Requirements for Project Certification

September 13, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) today released a revision to its condominium project certification requirements.  There are a few changes to certain requirements that have been preventing or hindering associations that I’ve helped from obtaining FHA certification.

One change will certainly help regarding delinquencies.  Now, no more than 15 percent of all units may be more than 60 days delinquent.  Previously, the requirements prohibited 15 percent of the units from being 30 days delinquent, which was far too strict.  The change to 60 days is much more realistic and logical.

The fidelity insurance requirements have been adjusted slightly for professionally managed associations and may make it a little easier to comply with these requirements.

Finally, the requirement that no more than 10% of the units could be owned by one person or entity has caused difficulty for many associations.  That requirement has been changed for established projects.  A single person or entity may now own up to 50% of the total units as long as 50% of the units in the project are owner-occupied, principal residence units.

So, the changes provide some limited and welcome relief, but not much, and they definitely don’t provide the broader changes or relief many associations were hoping for.

Remember, certification expires every two years and you’ll want to plan ahead a couple of months at least to arrange for applying for re-certification.  Contact us to help your condominium association obtain certification or re-certification of your project.  While it can be challenging to obtain certification, it’s certainly possible for just about every association, and the benefits are well worth it.


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