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Housing Counsel

Amending Condominium Bylaws Is Difficult, but Sometimes There Is No Alternative

By Benny L. Kass
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page F03

Q I have been a member of the board of directors of my condominium association for about five years. We have some issues that we have been unable to resolve because the governing documents would have to be amended for us to act. For example, we would like to change the provisions regarding leasing units and pets. Everyone says it is nearly impossible to amend the documents, so they don't even try. What do you think?

AIt is not impossible to amend your association documents, but it isn't easy.

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There is a hierarchy of legal authority for all community associations. At the top is the applicable state or local law. If the law spells out certain requirements, the association must adhere to them.

But lawmakers recognize that this is an evolving area of the law, and do not impose too many restrictions or burdens in the statute. Instead, the law defers to the second level of authority, the association's governing documents. In your case, it starts with the condominium declaration. That is the legal document recorded among the land records in the jurisdiction where the property is located. It is the document that creates the condominium.

The declaration describes with specificity the property, and many of the important details: the boundaries of the units, the things that will make up the common elements (including limited common elements), a determination of the unit owner's percentage interest in the common elements, the purposes and restrictions on the use of the property, provisions for easements and provisions concerning assessments and liens against the units and the liability of the unit owner for payment of the common expenses.

The third level of authority is the bylaws. The document, for all practical purposes, is the constitution of the association. The bylaws contain the rules for self-government of your association, including how the board directs the affairs of the association, administers policies outlined in the bylaws and generally oversees upkeep and administration. The bylaws also cover such matters as requirements for meetings, voting, the manner in which the budget should be prepared, the determination and handling of assessments, including special assessments and the filing of assessment liens, the nature of insurance coverage, and restrictions on the use of the units and the common areas.

The lowest level of authority is the rules and regulations adopted from time to time by the board of directors.

Your board wants to make changes regarding leasing and pets. Let's look at each issue separately:

Pets: What do your bylaws say? If there is language permitting pets, the board cannot adopt a rule that would prohibit pets in the future. To make any such change, a bylaw amendment is required. Generally, to amend association bylaws, a supermajority vote of the membership (ranging from two-thirds to three-quarters) is required. As you suggested, it is not easy.

However, if your bylaws permit owners to have pets, the board can adopt rules and regulations governing their ownership and maintenance. For example, the board could require that all pets be registered with the association, that all pets be on a leash anywhere on community property and that owners are liable for fines if pets are unruly.

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