The Colonies Condominium, a large complex in McLean that has grappled for years with a legacy of problems left by its developer, has successfully rewritten all its documents and had them approved by more than 70 percent of the unit owners.
Such widespread show of purpose for a condominium, particularly concerning an association's governing documents, is "difficult and rare," said Carol Chance, executive director of the Washington chapter of the Community Associations Institute. Although Chance said she did not have any statistics on how many associations have accomplished a complete revision, she said the Colonies was the first case she knew of in the Washington area.
"Anyone who is a member of an association can tell you how difficult it can be just to get a quorum [of the membership] out for a meeting, much less something like this," Chance said. "To change the documents, most condominiums require approval by at least two-thirds of the membership and, in some condominiums, it is as high as 80 percent. It is a very difficult thing to do, and the leaders have to work hard to contact and educate everyone."
At the Colonies, a 459-unit complex on Provincial Drive near Tysons Corner, members have known they had problems with their documents after the condominium opened in 1975.
Robert S. Folsom, one of the Colonies board members, said, "The problem was that the condominium's documents were drafted in 1972, before there was a condominium law in Virginia. They were drafted under the old Virginia Horizontal Property Act and contained numerous obsolete provisions relating to the rights and duties of the developers which had to be eliminated because they were unclear about who should perform those duties after the developer had left. In general, the documents were cumbersome and difficult to work with, and in some cases, just crazy."
Folsom said one of the most onerous problems was that, under the old documents, the committee that was to nominate board members for elections could nominate only as many candidates as there were positions on the board.
"What that meant was that the nominating committee got to pick the new board," Folsom said. "The elections were a farce."
Another problem was that the board was not allowed to spend more than $500 for an improvement to the condominium without going to the entire group of unit owners for a vote of approval.
The documents also failed to detail the rights and responsibilities of nonresident owners and tenants in condominium units.
The documents also failed to set out any provision allowing the board to levy fines for transgressions by unit owners.
"There were no teeth in the by-laws," board President April Ramey said. "We could rule that someone should be fined, but we couldn't actually fine them. People just thumbed their noses at us."
The effort to rewrite the documents started in 1975, but didn't pick up steam until two years ago when the board of directors instructed an ad hoc committee to redraft the declaration, the document that establishes the condominium as a legal entity, and the by-laws. The committee then held two hearings, mailed packets of information to unit owners and drew up a draft, taking in several suggestions from unit owners.
The condominium needed 66 percent of the unit owners to approve the changes and, after a lengthy election process, 71 percent of all the owners voted in favor. Ramey said that every owner was contacted, given a chance to ask questions and reminded several times to return his ballot. Only four persons voted against the proposal, while 130 owners did not vote.
"We're very pleased," Ramey said. "We deliberately left out a number of controversial issues because we wanted it to pass, but we still felt we would get a lot more opposition."