Florida Condo Collapse Is a Lesson For Everyone

The tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers Condominium in Surfside Florida, and the horrific consequences to residents and their families, will, no doubt, continue to be the subject of multiple news reports and long-term investigations.  And it will be some time before we learn the true cause of the disaster, and how it might have been prevented.  But the fundamental issue — deteriorated building conditions — is something about which all condominium unit owners and property managers need to be especially conscientious.  Previously, I have written about the high importance of regular building evaluations by competent consultants.  As a practical matter, these studies are necessary in order for an association to have information needed to develop accurate budgets for maintenance and reserves.  Of equal importance to conducting a building survey, however, is properly allocating funds to address any conditions that the report identifies.  The fact that the Maryland Condominium Act requires that condominiums adopt annual budgets that specifically include reserves and capital items indicates that the association must have a detailed understanding of its buildings if the specified budget items are to present a meaningful picture of building maintenance issues.  The fact that the Condominium Act, and most condominium governing documents, makes the council of unit owners responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement of the common elements creates potential liability where due diligence as to building conditions is not properly undertaken.  Most often, the consequences of failing to adhere to good maintenance practices are financial — resulting in expensive repair projects and burdensome special assessments.  But as Champlain Towers demonstrates, some building conditions can lead to far more dreadful results.

Condominium Resale Disclosure Requirements – Be Sure You Have the Most Recent Version of Section 11-135

As I have previously written, the information contained in condominium resale disclosure certificates must be carefully reviewed for accuracy, so as to avoid exposing the community to liability for misleading information that does not present a clear picture of the financial obligations that may await a prospective purchaser.  Indeed, in MRA Property Management, Inc., et al. v. Armstrong, the Maryland Court of Appeals established that provisions of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act apply to the information contained in a condominium resale certificate, and a council of unit owners and property manager can be liable for unfair and deceptive trade practices if the information has a tendency to mislead the purchaser, even though they are not party to the sales contract, and even if they have otherwise complied with the condominium resale disclosure requirements contained in Section 11-135 of the Maryland Condominium Act.  In light of amendments to Section 11-135 enacted after the Court decision during the 2016 legislative session, it is important that councils of unit owners have the most recent version available.  Be certain that the version you are using refers to the inclusion of the amendments enacted under Chapter 735, Acts 2016 that were effective as of October 1, 2016.

    

 

House of Delegates Passes Registration Requirement for Condos, HOAs and Coops

The Maryland House of Delegates, by a vote of 99- 39, has passed House Bill 41, which would require residential  condominiums, homeowner associations and cooperative housing corporations to register annually with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. The proposed law would require registration information that includes the name and contact information for the property manager, or, if the community does not employ a property manager, a person designated to answer inquiries on behalf of the community.  Original language requiring the names and contact information for each officer and board member was removed in the final version of the bill.  Also deleted from the final version was a provision that would have permitted the Department to require additional information.  The final version of bill gives the Department authority to establish a registration fee not to exceed $10 per year. The bill proposes a$50 fine for failing to register.

Maryland Construction Law Institute

I will be speaking today (March 9) at the Maryland Construction Law Institute seminar at the Ecker Business Training Center, 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, Maryland 21046.  My subject we be “Condominium and New Home Warranties and Rights of Action.”

Maryland General Assembly Again Considers Registration Requirement For Common Ownership Communities

House Bill 41 now pending in the Maryland General Assembly would require condominiums, homeowner associations and cooperative housing corporations to register annually with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. Similar to a bill that was filed during the 2016 session but did not pass, the proposed law would require registration information that includes the name and contact information for each officer, board member, and property manager. along with such other information as the Department might require.  The bill proposes a $3 registration fee, and a $50 fine for failing to register.

Maryland House of Delegates Passes Legislation That Would Drastically Limit The Liability Of Condo Councils In Claims For Fraudulent Or Inaccurate Resale Certificates

By a vote of 140-0, the Maryland House of Delegates passed an amended version of HB1007, which, as discussed in my prior post, was intended to limit the fee charged by condominium councils of unit owners for providing required information in connection with the resale of a unit.   Most significantly, the amended version limits the liability of a council of unit owners for errors and omissions in the content of the resale certificate to the amount of the fees paid for the certificate.  It makes not distinction as to whether such errors or omissions are intentional.  This is contrary to, and is seemingly in response to, a ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals.  In a unanimous opinion filed on April 30, 2012, the  Court of Appeals, in the case of MRA Property Management, Inc., et al. v. Armstrong, established that provisions the Maryland Consumer Protection Act apply to the information contained in a condominium resale certificate, and a council of unit owners and property manager can be liable for unfair and deceptive trade practices if the information has a tendency to mislead the purchaser, even though they are not party to the sales contract, and even if they have otherwise complied with the condominium resale disclosure requirements contained in Section 11-135 of the Maryland Condominium Act.  The bill passed by the House would abrogate this ruling, and limit the council’s liability to “the amount paid for the certificate.”  This would leave defrauded purchasers with recourse only against a management company. (more…)