November 6, 2017

Washington Appellate Court: Condominium Bylaws Amendment Is Invalid

A recent Washington unpublished opinion concerned the amendment of a condominium association’s bylaws.  The condominium’s declaration stated that amending the bylaws required the approval of a majority of the unit owners.  The bylaws were amended in 2015 without the approval of a majority of the unit owners, and an owner challenged the validity of that amendment.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the bylaws amendment was invalid.

The invalid 2015 bylaws amendment authorized the condominium association to impose assessments for limited common area expenses against the individual unit owners to which the limited common areas were assigned.  Since the declaration and the applicable state law did not authorize the imposition of limited common area expense assessments, the Court of Appeals ruled that the association could not impose such assessments.

Washington condominium and homeowners associations should obtain legal advice before they seek to amend their governing documents.    

October 27, 2017

Halloween: A Scary Time for Seattle-Area Condos and HOAs (and Their Attorneys)

Each year, some Seattle-area condos and HOAs are compelled to enforce their governing documents in response to Halloween-related activities.  One common type of enforcement action relates to installation of decorations that pose a fire hazard or otherwise violate the governing documents.  Another common type of enforcement action relates to the vandalism and other acts of malicious mischief that sometimes occur on Halloween.  Community associations can impose fines in response to these types of activities if properly adopted and distributed fine schedules are in place.  If fines are contested, then associations should consider obtaining legal guidance. 

My law office is available to help Seattle-area condos and HOAs understand and enforce their governing documents.

October 4, 2017

Homeowners Association Orders Owner to Remove Tank

Even the parking disputes are bigger in Texas.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee recently purchased a fully-functional World War II tank for $600,000. The board of his homeowners association was not pleased when Mr. Buzbee proceeded to park that tank outside his home. "It's not violating any ordinance, but it makes them uncomfortable," he said. The board informed Mr. Buzbee that the tank impeded traffic, caused a safety issue, and concerned some of his neighbors.

Mr. Buzbee has indicated that intends to relocate the tank to his East Texas ranch in the near future.  However, he has also stated that the tank will remain where it is for the time being. "The association can ticket it or try to tow it, but the truth is that unless I decide to move it, it ain’t going anywhere."

July 21, 2017

Can Landlords Reject Prospective Tenants With Criminal Histories?

Seattle politicians are considering legislation to limit the ability of landlords to reject potential tenants due to their criminal records.  Under the proposed new law, landlords would be prohibited from posting ads barring people with criminal convictions from applying for housing and from asking prospective tenants about convictions more than two years old, arrests that did not result in convictions, pending charges, juvenile records, or convictions that have been expunged.  However, it is important to note that prospective tenants already have some protections from such conduct under state and federal law even if that proposed Seattle law is not approved.   

The Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination prohibit discrimination in rental or real estate transactions on the basis of race.  If a rental policy has a disparate impact on a group of people because of their race, it is unlawful.  Since certain groups of people, such as African-Americans, have higher statistical rates of arrests and convictions, blanket bans on tenants with criminal histories make it more difficult for those groups of people to find housing.  This disparate impact renders blanket policies excluding people with criminal histories from rental eligibility illegal. 

Criminal history may still be a valid ground to refuse to rent to a person, but landlords must consider the type and severity of the offense and how long ago the offense occurred.  They must be able to show that policies restricting applicants with criminal convictions serve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.  In order to do so, landlords must be able to demonstrate that such policies accurately distinguish between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not indicate such a risk.

Community associations may thus not impose a total ban on tenants with criminal histories when they rent property to others.  Associations may also not adopt rules or policies that forbid owners from renting their units to persons with any kind of criminal history. Failure to follow these guidelines could result in substantial monetary penalties and costly litigation. 

UPDATE: Seattle adopted an even more restrictive law regarding disclosure of potential tenants' criminal histories than the proposed law described above.  Under the approved law, landlords who are not leasing a part of their own primary residence may only seek information from potential tenants about adult sex offense convictions.  Such landlords are otherwise prohibited from seeking information about potential tenants' criminal histories. Only landlords who are leasing a part of their own primary residence may still require potential tenants to provide criminal histories.