Maryland Court of Appeals Recognizes a Cause of Action for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

In a newly issued opinion, the Court of Appeals of Maryland has clarified existing law and expressly recognized an independent cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty.  In William H. Plank, II, et al. v. James P. Cherneski, et al., Misc. No. 3, September Term, 2019. the Court observed that whether Maryland recognizes an independent cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty is a question that “Courts and commentators have been asking … for 23 years since this Court articulated its holding in Kann v. Kann, 344 Md. 689 (1997).”   In Kahn, the Court declared that there was “no universal omnibus tort for the redress of breach of fiduciary duty,” but noted that “[t]his does not mean that there is no claim or cause of action available for breach of fiduciary duty.”  344 Md. at 713.  In its new decision, the “Court recognizes an independent cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty.  To establish a breach of fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) the existence of a fiduciary relationship; (2) breach of the duty owed by the fiduciary to the beneficiary; and (3) harm to the beneficiary.  The recognition of an independent cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty is pertinent to the operations of condominium and homeowner associations, and, in particular, may impact the potential liability of developers during the period of time when they are in control of an association’s board.

Condominium Act Amendment Requires Adopted Annual Budgets To Be Distributed To Unit Owners

An amendment to Section 11-109.2 of the Maryland Condominium Act passed during the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly requires that the budget adopted at an annual meeting be distributed to each unit owner no more than 30 days after the meeting at which the budget was adopted.  The distribution may be made “by electronic transmission, by posting on the condominium association’s home page, or by inclusion in the homeowner association’s newsletter.”  An amendment to the same effect was enacted as to Section 11B-112.2 of the Maryland Homeowners Association Act.  The new law takes effect on October 31, 2020.

Proposed Legislation Clarifies That The Percentage Needed For Approval Of Bylaw Amendments Is Based On Owners “In Good Standing”

A bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly would make clear that all percentages for approval of amendments to bylaws be determined based on the number of owners “in good standing.”  Owners “in good standing” are those not more than 90 days delinquent as to the payments of assessments and other charges.   House Bill 556 would clarify Section 11-104(e)(6)(ii) of the Maryland Condominium Act, which provides that amendments to the bylaws require the approval of  at least 60% of the unit owners “in good standing.”  That provision also recognizes that approval of bylaw amendments may be based on “a lower percentage if required by the bylaws.”  It was unclear, however, in instances where  the bylaws permit a lower percentage, whether the percentage required is also be based on owners “in good standing;” or whether that limitation only applies when the approval of 60% or more is required.  The proposed legislation would make clear that, if there is a lower percentage required under the bylaws, the percentage of approval is also be based on the number of owners “in good standing.”  The bill would also amend Section 11B-116(c) of the Homeowner Association Act to clarify this same issue.

Proposed Legislation Would Require Unit Owner Participation On a Condo’s Board of Directors During the Period of Developer Control

House Bill 1053, now pending in the Maryland General Assembly, would make significant changes affecting the operation of a condominium during the period of developer control.  The proposed law would require the developer, within 30 days after 25% of the units are sold, to appoint at least one board member who is a unit owner and unaffiliated with the developer.  If there is no board at that time, the developer would be required to create one.  Additionally, the developer would be required to keep separate books and records for the condominium apart from the developer’s own business records.

Once the unit owners take control, the bill would require the developer to provide notice of any bond provided by the developer to a government agency, and to provide advance notice of the developer’s intention to request that it be released from a bond.

The bill would also require, in all circumstances, that a condominium governing body meet at least two times per year.

The bill calls for similar requirements to be be applicable to homeowner associations.

PROPOSED BILL WOULD REQUIRE RESERVE STUDIES EVERY 5 YEARS AND ANNUAL FUNDING OF RESERVE AMOUNTS

Proposed legislation introduced in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly would require condominiums with 50 or more units, as well as homeowner associations with 50 or more homes and cooperative housing corporations with 50 or more units, to conduct regular reserve studies, and to fund reserves in an amount equal to at 80% of that established in the reserve studies.    House Bill 58 and Senate Bill 386 would add new Section 11-109.4 to the Maryland Condominium Act requiring reserves studies addressing “major repairs and replacement” of the common elements.  The reserve study must (1) identify the components that the council of unit owners is responsible for maintaining; (2) state the estimated useful life of each; (3) state the estimated cost of repair or replacement of each; and (4) state the estimated annual reserve amount necessary to accomplish the repair or replacement.  For condominiums created prior to October 1, 2020, if a reserve study was conducted on or after October 1, 2016, the condominium would be required to conduct a reserve study within 5 years of the date of the last reserve study, and every 5 years thereafter.  If the condominium has not conducted a reserve study on or after October 1, 2016, they would be required to obtain a reserve study on or before October 1, 2021, and then every 5 years thereafter.  Future condominiums created on or after October 1, 2020 would be required to conduct a reserve study within 90 days of the turnover from the developer and every 5 years thereafter.  The proposed legislation would require that persons providing reserve studies have prepared at least 30 reserve studies in the last three years, and have a bachelor’s degree in construction management, architecture or engineering, or equivalent experience or education, or be licensed by the State in architecture or engineering.  The bills would also amend Section 11-109.2 (b) to provide that the annual budget provide reserve funding at least equal to 80 percent of the recommended amount contained in the most recent reserve study.  Developers in control of a council of unit owners would also be required to comply with the reserve study mandate, and, at turnover of the community, would be required to provide funds at least equal to 100% of the recommended reserve amount.  Section 11-110 would also be amended to give the board of directors authority to increase assessments to fund the required reserves regardless of any restrictions in the governing documents. (more…)

New Maryland Law Affects Developer Voting Rights in an HOA

Governor Hogan has signed into law legislation adopted by the General Assembly during 2019 session that deals with the voting rights of developers in homeowner associations where not all lots have been sold.  Senate Bill 305, which was passed unanimously by both Houses and signed by the Governor on April 30, 2019, amends Section 11B-111.7 of the Maryland Homeowners Association Act, and addresses the votes to which a developer is entitled with respect to whether lots have been subdivided and recorded.  Of course, any lot that has been sold must have first been subdivided and recorded.  The issue has been the developer’s votes on unsold lots that have not been subdivided and recorded.  Under current law, which will be changed when the new law takes effect on October 1, 2019, until all of the lots have been subdivided and recorded, a developer is entitled to the number of votes equal to the number of unsold lots that have been subdivided and recorded but remain unsold.  There is no vote for lots that have not yet been subdivided and recorded.  The new law provides that, once all of the lots have been subdivided and recorded, the developer is entitled to one vote per lot that remains unsold.  But, until all of the lots have been subdivided and recorded, the developer’s votes are to be as provided in the governing documents; i.e., the governing documents  control until every lot has been subdivided and recorded.  So developers will have control of determining the number of votes to which they are entitled by addressing the issue when the governing documents are prepared.  Arguably, however, if the governing documents are silent on the issue, the developer gets no votes on unsold lots until each and every lot is subdivided and recorded.