One of the most significant issues affecting condominium unit owners is the enforceability of the condominium rules and regulations.
The declaration, or "constitution," and the bylaws of the building are more or less sacred instruments, and unit owners are presumed to have been notified of the terms and conditions.
However, a condominium board of directors usually has authority to enact broad rules and regulations that affect day-to-day life in the community, as long as those provisions are not in conflict with the bylaws or the declaration.
Unfortunately, in too many condominium associations, the rules and regulations are not publicly available. Boards of directors, often meeting in secret session, will enact rules, and these may or may not be circulated to the membership.
Because of these concerns, the new Maryland law provides specific procedures for adopting rules and regulations after Jan. 1.
The board of directors of a condominium will have authority to adopt rules and regulations that are supplemental to -- and not a substitute for -- the bylaws.
Any rule or regulation proposed by the board, or a committee appointed by the board, shall be dated as of the date of the meeting at which they are considered. These proposed rules have to be communicated to all unit owners within 14 days after that meeting. The proposed rules or regulations must be put before all the unit owners (called the council) for consideration and review.
A hearing must be held on any proposed rule or regulation. The notice of the hearing must include a number of technical provisions, including the date, time, location and agenda of the hearing.
A quorum of the board of directors must be in attendance at all public hearings. If a quorum is not present, a new hearing must be scheduled within seven days.
A member of the board must preside over any hearing, and has the right to limit discussions to matters on the published agenda. Any unit owner may appear and speak at these hearings, or be present by written statement.
After the hearing, the board must reconvene no later than its next regularly scheduled meeting to consider adopting the proposed rules or regulations. Any modifications, adoptions or annulments must be republished by the board within seven days after the meeting. However, these modifications or adoptions need not be subject to a new hearing and comment process.
The effective date of any rule and regulation adopted through this process is 14 days after the new proposals are published.
Each unit owner has a right to appeal to the board of directors for an individual exception to any rule or regulation adopted by the board. For instance, an owner may want to appeal a rule that forbids pets weighing more than 25 pounds. Or a seamstress or flute instructor may want exceptions to a regulation saying that small businesses can't be operated in the units. The appeal period begins on the effective date of the rules and regulations, and any person considering an appeal must file within 14 days.
Appeals filed after 14 days need not be considered, although the board has the authority to consider the appeal if it wants to. Any new unit owner, however, has the right to appeal regardless of when a rule is adopted, if the appeal is made within a year after the apartment has been purchased.
All appeals have to be written, signed and dated by the owner and delivered to a board member. The board has to consider all appeals and must make a decision by its next regularly scheduled meeting.
A written copy of the decision must be sent to the owner making the appeal. If the board denies an appeal, it doesn't have to notify any other owner of its finding.
But if the board upholds an appeal and grants an individual an exception to an adopted rule, it has to publish or otherwise communicate in a reasonable manner to all unit owners an explanation of the reaasons for granting the exception.
Any unit owner may appeal any rule or regulation adopted by the board, or the denial of an appeal for an individual exception, to the courts.
Rules and regulations properly adopted after next Jan. 1 have the same force as incorporated bylaws and are to be enforced the same way.
To get ready for next January, boards should begin setting up their hearing processes and publicity mechanisms.
Boards will also have to consider what effects the new law will have on existing rules. Some boards may be content to live with their old rules, but others may want to resubmit existing regulations to the new hearing process.
This will be a very difficult -- and no doubt very controversial -- issue for condominium boards. Boards at least should identify their old regulations, so people who buy units after Jan. 1 will know which rules are subject to exceptions.