Maryland's law touches on many facets of condominium life, including conversion issues, state and local confrontations, and day-to-day living conditions.
One of the more imaginative sections of the law is a provision dealing with the resolution of disputes.
This provision goes into effect Jan. 1. It establishes an elaborate procedure that must be followed whenever a complaint or demand is made involving a unit owner. The condominium board of directors may not impose a fine, suspend voting or infringe on any other rights of a member or occupant of a unit until this procedure has been followed.
The provision states that the board must give written notice to the unit owner to "cease and desist" from the alleged violation, and that a written demand must be served on the alleged violator. The written demand must state the alleged violation and the action required to stop the violation. If the violation is a continuing one, a time period of at least 10 days must be given during which the violation may be stopped without further sanctions. If the violation is not a continuing one, the demand must state that any further violation may result in a hearing and subsequent sanctions.
If the violation continues past the demand period, the board must give the alleged violator a written notice within 12 months stating that the board will hold a hearing. The notice must include:
The nature of the alleged violation;
The time and place of the hearing (which must be at least 10 days after the notice has been served);
An invitation to attend the hearing and produce statements, evidence and witnesses; and
The sanctions the board will propose.
The hearing, which must be held in executive session, must provide the unit owner or occupant a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The alleged violator has the right to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
The board cannot carry through with any sanctions until a proof of notice of the hearing is placed in the minutes of the meeting. This is a technical matter that condominium counsel should supervise.
Any decision by the board of directors may be appealed to the Maryland courts.
If a unit owner fails to comply with the board's decision, the board may sue the owner for damages caused by that failure, or may seek a court injunction against the owner. The court has the authority to fashion an appropriate remedy, including requiring the unit owner to stop the violation or selling the apartment.
If the matter is taken to court, the judge can also determine that the prevailing party is entitled to an award for legal fees.
It is important to note that if the board decides not to enforce a provision of the condominium law, declaration or bylaws at one particular time, it does not waive the right to enforce that provision later.
This is a highly imaginative technique, designed to give unit owners due process before the board imposes sanctions. Condominium boards of directors should begin to formulate their procedures now so they can be in full compliance when this part of the law takes effect Jan. 1.