By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
UPDATE: Unfortunately, HB 2627 failed to gain traction in the state Legislature this year. The bill is likely to be reintroduced next session.
A few months ago, Michael Novak, a resident of State Parkway Condominium in Chicago, was being threatened with fines by his condo association for having the audacity to communicate with his neighbors by door-dropping letters about an upcoming association meeting and election.
(In case you missed it, you can read about it here.)
Following a request for a hearing with his condo association Novak says it appears the board has backed off, and will not impose the fine after all. The update was recently reported in Loop North News.
Gold Coast condo backs away from threat to fine owner over door-dropped letter
• Threat followed citation by city against State Parkway Condominium Association for not granting records request.
• Unit owner told to pay $600 fee to see tax worksheets.
By Steven Dahlman
25-Mar-17 – A fine for sending a letter urging fellow unit owners to attend an annual condo association meeting has not materialized as threatened more than three months ago.
Michael Novak said last December he had been threatened with a fine of $50 to $500 by State Parkway Condominium Association for dropping the letter in person to each door in violation of one of the association’s rules. The one-page letter, dated September 26, 2016, also urged unit owners to vote against the incumbent board of directors. He says they are responsible for a $10 million shortfall that owners must make up through increased assessments. Depending on ownership percentage, the amount each owner could owe, says Novak, is between $32,500 and $258,400.
Novak says he hand-delivered the letter only because the condo association refused his request for a list of unit owners and their addresses. He suspects the policy was added so he could not distribute written materials at board meetings – necessary, he says, because he is deaf and some people cannot understand him when he speaks.
Novak’s situation has become commonplace in association-governed communities. Homeowners often complain that they have no easy way to communicate with their neighbors on important issues facing the association.
Some associations maintain a website or publish newsletters, but content is usually controlled by the board of directors. Likewise, the board of an association controls access to contact information for its members.
And although a record of unit owners is supposed to be accessible upon request, in Illinois, an owner must state a “proper purpose” before names and addresses will be released. But, as Novak’s story illustrates, if a condo board wants to prevent an owner from blowing the whistle on mismanagement or potential misconduct, they are very likely to deny a request for contact information of Association members.
That’ s why Jacob Meister, an attorney that represents condo owners, is working with Illinois Legislator Rep. Laura Fine to increase transparency and access to records.
Bill would delete ‘proper purpose’ requirement to see condo records
By Steven Dahlman, Loop North News
27-Mar-17 – Requiring unit owners to have “proper purpose” for seeing records of their condominium association may have been needed to protect privacy but, says a supporter of a bill in the Illinois House of Representatives, it has evolved and now “individuals who own the information cannot obtain it.”
Introduced on February 8 by 17th District Representative Laura Fine, HB2627 was among ten condo-related bills discussed last Thursday at a hearing in Springfield.
The bill would delete language from the Illinois Condominium Property Act that puts the burden of proof on the unit owner to establish that his or her records request is based on a proper purpose. Of nine categories of documents kept by a condo association, five are freely available to unit owners but four categories, including such documents as contracts, leases, and the names and addresses of unit owners, require a proper purpose for seeing.
Chicago lawyer Jacob Meister, whose clients include 35 condo associations, says the requirement is a source of conflict and litigation.
Specifically, the record requests which now require a “proper purpose” are:
(6) all contracts, leases, and other agreements then in effect to which the association is a party or under which the association or the unit owners have obligations or liabilities;
(7) a current listing of the names, addresses, and weighted vote of all members entitled to vote;
(8) ballots and proxies related to ballots for allmatters voted on by the members of the association during the immediately preceding 12 months, including but not limited to the election of members of the board of managers; and
(9) the books and records of account for the association’s current and 10 immediately preceding fiscal years, including but not limited to itemized and detailed records of all receipts and expenditures.
In the Loop North News article, you will notice that, once again, an attorney representing trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI member Kristofer Kasten), is opposed to a consumer-friendly proposal to increase transparency and communication among condo owners. His objection to the bill is that removal of “proper purpose” from statutory language would open up the possibility of misuse of personal contact information for “commercial purposes.”
However, that concern could easily be addressed by requiring the unit owner to sign a statement that she will not use contact information for solicitation or any commercial purpose.
There is no need to delay or deny access to a contact list because a unit owner might try to sell an unwanted product or service to her neighbors.
Far greater harm is done when unit owners cannot freely communicate about the association’s fiscal policies and qualifications of board candidates up for election.
Read and track HB 2627