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Renaissance Condo Association v. Milner

A-1172-99T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2001) (Unpublished)

CONDOMINIUMS; MEETINGS—A condominium association cannot promulgate or enforce rules by actions taken at board meetings held in violation of the open meetings requirement of the Condominium Act.

The major structure within a residential condominium was a single building, constructed on pilings driven into the sand for support. A major renovation was undertaken and it was discovered that the structural integrity of some of the pilings and woodwork supporting the building had been compromised and repairs were necessary. Before the renovations were completed, the owner of a second floor unit replaced its existing carpeting with a tile floor. Prior to the installation, the owner requested permission from the association to install the tile, but installed the tile before permission was granted. An association board meeting was held where three of the five members attended in person, one attended by telephone, and one did not participate because he perceived himself as having a conflict of interest in the matter. The board met without giving notice to any unit owners, including the owner that had tiled his unit. No minutes were kept of the meeting. The decision was to allow tile in the kitchen and dining room areas of various units, but not in the larger, living room area “both because of the added weight and the potential for noise with respect those second floor living rooms which were over the master bedrooms of the units on the ground level.” The board sent a letter to the unit owner in question and asked that the tile be removed from the living room. After being contacted by the unit owner’s attorney, the board agreed to reconsider the matter. When the board met, according to the meeting’s minutes, the earlier decision was affirmed by a vote of three to one. However, no notice was given to the unit owner with respect to the second meeting and the unit owner was never specifically requested or invited to attend the meeting. In the litigation instituted by the association, the lower court found that the association had no authority in its Master Deed or bylaws to require removal of the tile. Further, the lower court found that the original meeting, at which the board purported to take action claimed to amount to the amendment of the bylaws, was invalid for that purpose. The Appellate Division agreed.

Under the New Jersey Condominium Act, association board meetings at which “binding votes are to be taken” must be open to all unit owners and the unit owners must receive “adequate notice” of the meeting and the topics to be addressed at the meeting. Also, it is required that minutes of the proceedings be taken and made available to all unit owners before the next meeting. Further, bylaw amendments may only be passed at a meeting of the association “duly constituted for such purpose” with prior written notice concerning the exact language of the proposed amendments. According to the Court, these provisions “were clearly intended to reflect fundamental due process requirements.” As a consequence, the votes taken at both meetings were invalid and could not bind the unit owner. There was, however, a provision of the bylaws providing authority for the board to “set minimum standards for floor coverings installed by all unit owners in buildings,” but the board’s actions at the meetings did not amount to the promulgation of the set of standards for floor coverings. Rather, they amounted to an ad hoc decision concerning ceramic tiles arising out of a particular unit owner’s actions. While it is true that both the Master Deed and the Condominium Act prohibited unit owners doing anything that would impair the structure and integrity of any building, this was not a situation where it was obvious that structural integrity would be affected. If the board wished to take the position that the tiling would affect structural integrity, “it was incumbent upon the Board to present [the unit owner] with such evidence.” This is an extension of the board’s obligation to act reasonably and in good faith. Not having done so, the board could not enforce its order that the tile be removed.

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