September 17, 2020

Washington Condos and HOAs Face Difficult Budget Decisions

It's annual budget season for Washington condominium and homeowners associations, and many of them are dealing with the unfortunate reality of smaller revenues this year and next year. Many owners' accounts have become delinquent, and associations are understandably reluctant to begin collection actions against them right away. As a result, many associations must reduce expenses and/or use reserve funds to pay for some expenses in their next budget. Associations should consider deferring scheduled maintenance and repair projects for a year if possible. They should also evaluate whether they can obtain regular services like property management, accounting, and landscaping at a lower price from a different provider. 

Washington community association boards should keep in mind that they are required to comply with the budget procedures contained in state law as amended in 2018 by WUCIOA. The text of the applicable law can be found in my previous post about that subject.

August 31, 2020

Washington Supreme Court Reinstates Verdict in Favor of Injured Guest

After a night of drinking with friends, a woman fell from the second-story balcony of her boyfriend's apartment when its decayed balcony railing gave way. She sued the owner of the apartments, arguing that its failure to maintain and repair that railing caused her fall and violated its duties to tenants and their guests. A jury agreed. The Washington Court of Appeals overturned the jury's verdict. The Washington Supreme Court reversed that ruling and reinstated the jury's verdict in favor of the injured woman. 

The Court decided that the owner of the apartments was negligent because its breach of its common law duty to provide each of its tenants and their guests with a habitable residence was a proximate cause of the woman's injury. As the Court stated in a previous opinion: "When American city dwellers, both rich and poor, seek 'shelter' today, they seek a well known package of goods and services: a package which includes not merely walls and ceilings, but adequate heat, light, and ventilation, serviceable plumbing facilities, secure windows and doors, proper sanitation, and proper maintenance." 

Washington condominium and homeowners associations are legally obligated to ensure that the common areas for which they are responsible are maintained, repaired, and replaced in a timely manner and in accordance with professional guidance. 

July 31, 2020

COVID-19 Proclamation Governing WA Community Associations Is Amended

Governor Inslee amended a COVID-19 emergency proclamation pertaining to Washington community associations today. This proclamation restores associations' power to levy fines against owners who violate the association's governing documents. This power to fine was suspended by a previous proclamation. Owners must be given notice and an opportunity to be heard before fines are levied.   

The Governor's proclamation amendment also extends a previous proclamation permitting owners and directors to vote on association matters by mail, electronic mail, and proxy and to attend association meetings by conference telephone and similar electronic services until 11:59 p.m. on October 1.    

July 21, 2020

Washington Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Defamation Claims

A small group of homeowners expressed very negative views about another homeowner in their neighborhood on social media.  For example, they asserted that she was a "problem board member," "insane," and "a plague." She sued them for defamation.  The Washington Court of Appeals recently affirmed the summary dismissal of her lawsuit.

The Court initially noted that the plaintiff was required to show that the defendants' statements were "provably false" in order to prevail.  It next observed that the medium and context in which the statements were published and the audience to whom they were published must be taken into account.  The Court went on to rule that the defendant's statements were "opinions, substantially true, or not shown to be provably false" and that a social media audience "expects the speaker to use exaggeration, rhetoric, or hyperbole" and is "likely to view such representations with an awareness of the subjective biases of the speaker."

Later in its opinion, the Court concluded that the association's board of directors had the authority to adopt a fine and fee schedule pursuant to state law even though the applicable covenants did not explicitly grant the board that power and only described enforcement as being "by proceedings at law or in equity."  The Court interpreted those covenants in that manner in order to "protect the homeowners' collective interest in having covenants enforced."