by Jeffrey Rembaum, Esq., Kaye Bender Rembaum
Living in a community association brings with it many obligations and responsibilities such as the need to pay assessments and maintain your property. Additionally, living in a community association also means that every member has certain basic rights. Do you know a community association member’s Bill of Rights?
YOUR BILL OF RIGHTS
- The right to receive at least 48 hours notice of board and certain committee meetings inclusive of an agenda of the items to be addressed;
- The right to receive at least 14 days notice of annual and special members’ meetings and any meeting at which the board will consider a special assessment, and rules pertaining to a condominium unit or HOA lot use;
- The right to receive as a condominium unit owner the appropriate notice for committee meetings where the committee will take final action on behalf of the board or make recommendations to the board regarding the budget; and the right as a homeowners association lot owner to receive the appropriate notice for committee meetings where a final decision will be made regarding the expenditure of association funds or where the committee will make decisions regarding architectural decisions with respect to specific parcel of residential property owned by a member of the community;
- The right to address the board on each and every agenda item, subject to reasonable rules adopted by the board;
- The right to record board and member meetings subject to reasonable restrictions;
- The right to receive at least 14 days prior notice of any hearing where consideration of a fine may be levied against you for failing to abide by the associations governing documents;
- The right to vote for the board so long as you are not delinquent greater than 90 days in any monetary obligation due to the association;
- The right to use the common areas and common elements of the association so long as you are not delinquent greater than 90 days in any monetary obligation due to the association;
- The right to inspect the association’s official records subject to the reasonable rules adopted by the association;
- The right to vote for recall of any existing board member;
- The right to run for the Board of Directors so long as you are not delinquent greater than 90 days in any monetary obligation to the association and are not a convicted felon whose rights have not been restored for at least five years;
- The right to receive certain financial records as it relates to the association;
- The right to exclusive use of your unit or lot, as the case may be;
- The right to participate in the decision of whether the association should bring certain lawsuits;
- The right to express your opinions free from “SLAPP” lawsuits.
In short, SLAPP lawsuits are used to stifle and otherwise silence critics. The term “SLAPP” is an acronym for “strategic lawsuits against public participation”. The goal of any person in bringing a slap suit against an association member is to invoke fear in the member and increase their legal costs, etc., which lead to the exhaustion or abandonment of the member’s criticism.
Warning, an esoteric thought follows: In many ways SLAPP lawsuits are similar to the Alien and Sedition Act passed into law by President John Adams in 1798 in support of a more powerful and centralized government. In brief and by way of over simplification, when this Act was in effect you could be arrested for speaking out against the president. Supporters of the Act argued that the Act allowed people to say what they wanted against the government, but it did not mean they were free from governmental retaliatory action after the comment was made. Thus, citizens were free to express themselves, but it was not without consequence.
Nevertheless, from a practical perspective, the Alien and Sedition Act stifled free-speech because while you can say what was on your mind, you certainly could be arrested or otherwise penalized for doing so. If an association member had to worry each time they spoke up against the present board that a lawsuit could be brought against them or a fine levied for speaking their mind, then the First Amendment of the United States Constitution would be nothing more than a meaningless mockery of a sham of a travesty shrouded in enigma wrapped inside of a quagmire. With that as our backdrop, while association members are free to express their thoughts, they should do so with respect for their board members in light of the hard work they put in for the betterment of the community.