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A history of condos, Part II: Killing the board

 
 
Published: 7/23/2010 12:01 AM

We begin our history with engravings found in caves of an ancient civilization founded on the concept of communal living, sharing and division of labor and social gathering. From drawings and etchings it was theorized that OG was the first condominium board president (although the term came into use much later). Then, when OG began to make decisions that the cave didn't like, he was hit with a rock and a new president was chosen. An early form of the democratic process.

Much later, in ancient Rome, the first condominiums came into fashion. A builder by the name of Condominimus sold two-story apartments named after himself. They were very popular among the Romans until they began to sell to Vandals, Barbarians, and other undesirable aliens. Feeling mistreated and discriminated against, they began to rebel, and while they were at it, they decided to sack the entire city.

During the dark ages, there were no condominiums - that is why it is called the Dark Ages, of course!

The Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest developed the first American condominiums. Carved high up in the cliffs of Arizona and New Mexico, they were very successful because the first time a chief raised the assessments from one bowl of corn to two, he was thrown off the cliff and it never happened again.

Now of course, we are much more civilized. When owners are unhappy with the board, they do not throw them off cliffs or bash their heads in; they just rant and rave at meetings.

Sometimes people will actually walk it, like they talk it, and they will start a movement to remove the board. Having seen hundreds of these insurrections over the years, and participated in a few, I can only say that 90 percent of them are not successful for a number of reasons;

• The rebels fail to follow the governing documents and/or statutory requirements, and the procedures followed are not proper (only an experienced association attorney has a chance of getting it right).

• They do not get enough votes.

• They are outworked by the incumbents who fight to keep their jobs.

In this time of economic turmoil and high anxiety, it is not surprising that we are seeing an inordinate number of movements to remove the board. Couple the unrest with the hot weather of the last month and it is no wonder that the barbarians are at the gates. However, I must offer a few tidbits to those who are attempting to remove a board, as well as those who wish to keep their jobs.

• Stick to the issues. By engaging in personal attacks, character assassination and even slander/libel, it will only hurt your cause, and make you look guilty to the neutral owner.

• If you are going to circulate petitions, open letters or memorandums, sign them. If you are going to exercise your constitutional right, then "man up" and let people know who you are instead of sending anonymous writings or under the guise of "concerned residents."

• Keep it as positive as possible. Always remember, these are people's homes you are talking about and for many the largest single investment of their life. Trash talking is a major turn-off.

• Less is more. People's attention spans are about one paragraph, if that, when it comes to association-related propaganda. I chuckle when I see three-plus pages of single-spaced rambling diatribe ranting about everything under the sun. Does the author think that anyone is really going to read this? You just lost your audience for good.

• For owners attacking the board and for board's responding, stick to the issues. Point out the positive accomplishments, and if you are criticizing the board's conduct, why did it go wrong and when. Pocketbook issues and overstepping legal boundaries are the more significant issues. Unhappy with rules? Run for the board with a coalition in the next election.

• If you don't want the job, but are unhappy, offer to have a sit-down or hold a "town meeting" to clear the air. Sometimes board members are nervous and even paranoid about being criticized and will lash back. Sometimes owners just want to be heard. An open dialogue in a room set up with chairs in a circle will do a lot more for property values and association operations than a lawsuit draining off precious resources, and killing what is left of the properties' already tattered reputation.

• Consider the timing. If an annual election is looming, rather than engaging in a personally destructive faction fight, wait for the election and win the day the democratic way (sounds like a jingle).

• Lastly, again, consult with legal counsel before you attempt to either lead or beat back a revolt, especially an attorney with association experience. A technical defect in procedure is enough to crush any effort, no matter how hard either side has worked to prevail in their cause.

There are recall procedures, that, if followed properly, will allow a disgruntled community to change a board in midstream, and the days of beheadings, firing squads and whirling dervishes brandishing curved swords are over - we hope!

• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at jshifrin@ksnlaw.com. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel. Past columns can be read at www.ksnlaw.com.