Open Board meetings are generally the most stressful part of any board member’s tenure.  We all know that people who come to open meetings are usually not there to let the board know what a wonderful job they are doing.  Instead, at best, they are there to listen, note problems and offer suggestions and, at worst, they are there to complain, berate and embarrass.  In spite of this, open board meetings should be embraced.

Open meetings are required by law. Both the Condominium Act, N.J.S.A. 46:8B-13, and the Planned Real Estate Full Disclosure Act, N.J.S.A. 45:22A-46, require that, with limited exception, if the Board is going to make a binding decision, that decision must be made at a public meeting open to attendance by all unit owners1.  This means that the membership must be allowed to watch.  This does not mean that the membership participates in the decision.  Further, all unit owners must have been given adequate prior notice of the meeting.  The notice requirements are ordinarily specified in each association’s by-laws although N.J.A.C. 5:20-1.2 actually defines “adequate notice” in the condominium context and this section might be applied by analogy to home owners associations.

Topics specifically excluded from having to be decided upon at an open public meeting and reserved for executive session are:

(1)  Any matter the disclosure of which would constitute and unwarranted invasion of individual privacy.  Often this involves debtor account collection decisions.

(2) Any pending or anticipated litigation or contract negotiations.  Often this involves transition decisions and vendor negotiations.

(3) Any matters falling within the attorney-client privilege, to the extent that confidentiality is required in order for the attorney to exercise his ethical duties as a lawyer.  This generally includes attorney-client communications.  Although there are exceptions, when in doubt, attorney communications and decisions requiring substantive attorney involvement should not be made at open meetings.  Note that involving the attorney in a decision cannot be used as a sham to permit decisions that would otherwise be required to be made at an open public meeting to be made in a closed session.

(4) any matter involving the employment, promotion, discipline or dismissal of a specific officer or employee of the association.

Besides open meetings being required by law, they are the keystone of Association  communications.  Association members can hear, first hand, what the Board is doing.  Further, open meetings provide a forum where Board members can stay in touch with membership concerns via the public comment session.  Although associations are not compelled to have public comment sessions, not having public comment sessions is unwise.  Although it must be explained that the membership does not participate in the decision making and they do not vote, excluding public comment is a recipe for mistrust, unrest and resentment.

Particular open meeting formats vary and are beyond the scope of this article however, each association should work with its manager, attorney, accountant, engineer etc. as the case may require to formulate the format that works best.  If it is anticipated that uncomfortable issues will be raised, they should be discussed with management and professionals prior to the meeting.  Often board members and other residents hear of “hot topics” long before others do.  Anticipation and preparation are essential to smoothly addressing “hot topics”.  In fact, more often than not, “hot topics” are better first raised by the board at open meetings rather than the members.  Membership generally appreciates this preemption.  The Board appears more informed and involved and it often steals the thunder of those who may be lying in wait to spring a hot topic on the Board.  In the end, open board meetings are required, are good and should be viewed as an opportunity to inform the members, listen to the members and showcase the board’s work.

1  Note that the board may meet in workshop sessions but may not make decisions at these workshop sessions.

Bankruptcy is a court case where a person attempts to have their debts wiped out (a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy) or attempts to have the court force their creditors to be paid under a payment plan (a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy).

The Petition date is the date that the person files the bankruptcy papers (the Petition) with the bankruptcy court.

The petition date is also the date that the Automatic Stay takes effect.  The automatic stay is like an automatic court order that orders creditors to stop pursuit of the person who owes the debt as long as the automatic stay is in effect.  Judges will impose sanctions against those who continue to pursue people in bankruptcy when the automatic stay is in effect.

What should a manager do when a bankruptcy notice is received?

First, immediately notify the association’s collection attorney and provide the attorney with copies of any bankruptcy documents received so that the association will temporarily stop collection efforts and will not be sanctioned for violating the automatic stay.

Modify the bookkeeping for the unit.  Set up one account to keep track of Pre-petition accruals (fees etc. that accrued prior to the petition date).  Only payments received from the Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Trustee should be applied to the pre-petition accruals.  Set up a second account to keep track of Post-petition accruals (fees etc. that accrue after the Petition date).  Only payments received from the unit owner after the petition date should be applied to post-petition accruals.

A bankruptcy notice will typically be provided which will indicate the type of bankruptcy case filed and whether it appears that assets will be available for payment of pre-petition accruals.  If the notice indicates that assets are available, a Bar Date should be indicated on the notice.  The Bar Date is the deadline for the association to submit its Proof of Claim to the court so that the association may receive some of the assets available from the bankruptcy.  In bankruptcy, the bar date deadline is very serious and failure to file a proof of claim on time will typically result in loss of the claim.

The proof of claim is typically prepared by the association’s attorney.  The proof of claim specifies the amount of the pre-petition accruals and the property that secures the amount owed.  Typically the association’s attorney also prepares and files a notice of appearance which advises the court that the association intends to participate in the case.

In a Chapter 13 case the association attorney may also file an objection to confirmation objecting to the plan that the unit owner has proposed for paying off the pre-petition accruals (usually over a five year period).  If an objection is filed the attorney will have to appear at the Confirmation Hearing (A hearing before the Judge and/or Chapter 13 Trustee where the plan and the objections to the plan are reviewed).  If the court and the Trustee find the plan satisfactory, the plan will be confirmed and will bind those included in it.

How can an Association proceed against a non-paying unit owner if a bankruptcy is filed?

Obtain Stay Relief by filing a stay relief motion with the bankruptcy court.  The usual basis for this motion is that the unit owner has continued to fail to pay post-petition accruals or the bankruptcy was filed in bad faith.  If this motion is granted, the association will be able to continue pursuit of the unit owner.  However, if the unit owner dismisses his bankruptcy case and then files another one, a new automatic stay takes effect and the association’s collection efforts are stopped again.  After serial filings, the association may apply for Prospective Stay Relief.  If the association obtains a prospective stay relief order, the association may continue to pursue the unit owner even if a new bankruptcy is filed.  Note that, even if stay relief is granted, if a plan is confirmed, the plan will bind the association.

Often, prospective stay relief is the ultimate goal because serial filings for the purpose of delay are common.  Though hard cases generate attorney fees in obtaining prospective stay relief, associations should discuss this option with collection counsel because, if the association does nothing, non-paying unit owners will be happy to live for free and mortgage companies cannot be counted upon to aggressively obtain stay relief and finalize foreclosure.  If the association obtains prospective stay relief, the association may foreclose and have the unit owner removed from the unit.  This may not generate money for the association but it will help expedite turnover of the property to a new paying owner.  Many associations rent units during the period from the association’s foreclosure sale to the bank’s foreclosure sale.  Lastly, in a chapter 7, the case is typically closed quickly.  Once closed, the stay is gone and, though personal liability is discharged, the lien on the unit survives and may be foreclosed.  This is why pre-petition accruals should not be automatically written off, even in a chapter 7.

Regardless of who is ultimately found liable for damages related to the golf course and golfing, the Association would almost certainly be sued along with the golfer who hit the ball, the course manager and any other person or entity somehow related to the incident.

In light of this, the manager should check the Association’s insurance information to determine whether or not the Association=s liability insurance provides a defense and coverage in the event of either a personal injury and/or property damage claim resulting from a stray golf shot.  If the current policy does not cover such claims, the insurer should provide the Association with a quote for the appropriate insurance protection and such insurance should be obtained.  In addition, the Board might also request guidance from the insurer as to whether certain protective measures should be undertaken by the Association in those areas, if any, that are a potential problem.

Below, I discuss some of the sources of liability claims with respect to administering and maintaining an Association golf course.  This is not and exhaustive list, like any other business, the sources of claims are myriad.  For example, additional sources of claims could be environmental law (use of pesticides and fertilizer, failure to monitor and report on well usage), immigration law (use of illegal aliens as grounds personnel) and workers compensation law (injury to an Association employee).


The Association is required to exercise reasonable care in the administration and maintenance of the golf course.  Whether a defendant exercised reasonable care is determined by the jury.  However, a court could find that the homeowners and others assumed the reasonable risks associated with the operation of a golf course (i.e. stray golf shots). In the case of Sans v. Ramsey Golf and Country Club, Inc., 50 N.J. Super. 127 (App. Div. 1958) affirmed 29 N.J. 438 (1959) the plaintiff sued to stop use of a certain tee, the court noted that generally Apurchasers of home plots bordering the golf course must be held to have taken them subject to the ordinarily incidental discomforts of such proximity, such as the hazards of stray golf shots….

However, as described in the nuisance section below, if a member shows that an inordinate amount of golf balls were striking their house or falling into their yard, a court could conclude that this invasion of property is greater than an Aoccasional stray shot@, the situation constitutes a nuisance such that the Association must abate the nuisance at its own expense and, if the plaintiff shows that the Association was aware of the nuisance but did nothing, damages might be awarded.

With respect to an Association employee or agent (possibly even a caddy) who is struck or injured, the Worker=s Compensation Act may bar recovery on a personal injury claim.  In the case of Harrison v. Montammy Golf Club 227 N.J. Super. 409 (1988), a caddy was struck in the face by a ball and sued the club and others, the golf club was granted summary judgment in its favor based on the Workers Compensation Act.

Stray shots are just one example of a basis for a claim arising out of administering and maintaining a golf course.  Lightening strikes have resulted in suits against golf clubs.  In Maussner v. Atlantic City Country Club, Inc.  299 N.J. Super 535 (App.Div.1997), a golfer who was struck by lightening on the course overcame an attempt to have the case dismissed on summary judgment.  The Appellate division stated AAll golf courses have a duty to post a sign that details what, if any, safety procedures are being utilized by the golf course to protect its patrons from lightning.  If a particular golf course uses no safety precautions, its sign must inform golfers that they play at their own risk and that no safety procedures are being utilized to protect golfers from lightning strikes.  If, however, a golf course chooses to utilize a particular safety feature, it owes a duty of reasonable care to its patrons to utilize it correctly.  This latter standard means, for example, that if a golf course builds shelters, it must build lightning proof shelters; if a golf course has an evacuation plan, the evacuation plan must be reasonable and must be posted; if a golf course uses a siren or horn system, the golfers must be able to hear it and must know what the signals mean; and if the golf course uses a weather forecasting system, it must use one that is reasonable under the circumstances. The Association, the developer and the course manager must determine what safety procedures with respect to lightening, if any, will be implemented.

Additionally, golf clubs have been subjected to suit for other hazards, in O’Connell v. Forest Hill Field Club, 119 N.J. Super. 317 (1972), the golf club was sued when a child trespassed on to the course and fell into a hole.  Similar suits have been brought for sledding, ice skating and drowning accidents.

In the end, liability cannot be predicted.  The cases turn on the particular facts and the Association will invariably be sued.  The Association must act reasonably in administering and maintaining the course and must be certain that it is covered by insurance.  If a claim is asserted against the Association for broken windows, dented cars, personal injury etc. the Association should immediately contact its attorney’s office and insurance representative to evaluate the claim.


In the case of Sans v. Ramsey Golf and Country Club, Inc., cited above, the plaintiff sued to stop use of a certain tee, the court noted that generally Apurchasers of home plots bordering the golf course must be held to have taken them subject to the ordinarily incidental discomforts of such proximity, such as the hazards of stray golf shots…. The court qualified its opinion by stating that both the developer and owner of the residential community was Areasonably bound to lay out the golf course with fair regard to the minima of residential comfort and convenience for the occupants of the plots laid out along the borders of the course and sold for dwelling purposes as part of a common project.

Under Sans, a homeowner assumes the incidental risks when purchasing a home along the golf course.  However, if the homeowner can demonstrate that the developer did not reasonably lay out the golf course so as to minimize the discomforts then, the developer and the Association (the corporation to whom the developer conveyed the golf course) may be subject to injunction (and possibly damages) (golf course design in this regard is necessarily an issue to be raised in transition).  In Sans, the plaintiffs demonstrated that the developer failed to meet its obligation with respect to location of the third tee.  The court in Sans held that the owner of the golf course was required to Arearrange its golf layout in respect of the third tee, (This would be a significant expense if the Association had to move a tee itself).

Each and every affected Association homeowner who purchases his or her home with the knowledge that it borders the golf course assumes certain risks associated with the location (i.e. stray golf balls).  However, if there has been a historic problem with certain homes along certain portions of a golf course, then, as in Sans, the affected homeowners might make a case against the developer and the eventual owner (the Association).  If there are certain known areas along the golf course that could prove or have proven to be dangerous, they must be addressed.  However, responsibility/liability issues must be balanced by the intended reasonable use of the golf course. If there is a historical or obvious potential problem, it should be addressed.


Trespass claims have also been asserted against golf clubs for errant balls and/or golfers going onto lots to retrieve balls.  To prevent trespass claims, the Association should consider amending its governing documents.

For example:

Grant of Easement:

Every Lot in the Association is hereby burdened with an easement allowing golf balls to come over and/or onto every Lot.  All persons related to the golf course, including but not limited to, golfers, caddies and Association agents and employees shall have an easement to come on each Lot in the Association for the purpose of seeking and retrieving golf balls.  The forgoing easement shall not relieve individual golfers using the golf course of any liability they may have for property damage.

Thousands of Americans die needlessly each year because they had no access to relatively inexpensive and user-friendly life-saving equipment.  In March of 1999, the New Jersey Legislature determined that more than 350,000 Americans die annually from out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest.  The American Heart Association estimated that almost 100,000 such deaths could be prevented each year if automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) were more widely available.  AED refers to a medical device heart monitor and defibrillator that, upon determining that cardiac arrest has occurred, automatically charges and delivers an electrical impulse to the victim’s heart (hopefully restarting it).  Because the AED monitors the heart and determines if defibrillation is needed, people who are not medical professionals can be easily trained to use them.

The Legislature also determined that many New Jersey communities have invested in 911 emergency telephone equipment, ambulances and the training of emergency personnel.  However, not all emergency personnel have been trained in or have immediate access to AEDs.  Legislation was passed to encourage greater acquisition, deployment and use of AEDs by emergency personnel and other trained personnel throughout the state.  The AED law has been of particular interest at “55 and over” communities, some of which have purchased AED equipment and implemented life-saving programs.  AED’s have also been appearing at golf course club houses and shopping malls.

While AEDs do much of the “thinking” for an operator, the AED law has important acquisition, maintenance and training requirements.  Before an AED can be purchased, the person or entity acquiring the AED must show a “prescribing licensed physician” that it has a protocol in place to comply with the AED law.  The AED equipment must be maintained and tested according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.  Certain emergency medical services providers in the region must be notified of the existence, type, and location of the equipment and all operators must meet certain training requirements.  An AED operator must successfully complete and hold a current certification from the American Red Cross, American Heart Association or other training program in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and use of a defibrillator which is recognized by the Department of Health and Senior Services.  Professional medical assistance must always be obtained after use of an AED, however it is wise, if possible, to put out a call for help immediately so that help will be on the way while the AED is being used.  Other requirements are set forth in the AED law.

In order to encourage the use of AED equipment in an emergency and remove operators’ fears about being sued after a bad outcome resulting from a life-saving attempt, the Legislature instituted certain immunities and limited civil liability.  As long as the AED was acquired or provided, or the emergency care was rendered or supervised in good faith, and compliance with the AED law can be demonstrated, there should be immunity from civil liability for any resulting personal injury.  However, there is no immunity for acts of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct; failure to use the AED is not considered gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct absent an otherwise pre-existing duty to do so.

In light of the AED law, purchase, installation and use of an AED is not tremendously cumbersome however, specific requirements must be met – especially to qualify for the immunity provided by the law.  Associations (and others) which may want to implement an AED life-saving program should contact their attorneys to ensure that all aspects of the law are met.  An association must also contact its insurance carrier and advise of its intentions with respect to use of an AED.  An additional policy endorsement with an additional premium may be required.  Further, if Association management is to be trained to use the AED, the management company should consult its own legal counsel, as it may affect some of its business and insurance decisions.

In the end, AEDs or “do it yourself” defibrillators are a life saving tool that can provide immediate assistance when minutes can be the difference between life and death.  AED equipment and policies must be implemented carefully however to avoid liability exposure that could be very large.

Woodlake at King’s Grant Condominium Association, Inc. v. Coudriet and Mesy.  What it Means and What Associations Should Do Going Forward

It’s common knowledge that Burlington County Chancery Judge Karen L. Suter has not been receptive to Associations’ applications for appointment of rent receivers.  This has been true even when a unit is abandoned, vacant and worth less than the balance of the mortgage.  Nevertheless, we believe that Judge Suter and New Jersey’s other Chancery Judges will, in the proper circumstances, continue to grant Associations’ applications for appointment of rent receivers.

In Woodlake at King’s Grant v. Coudriet and Mesy (decided April 1, 2014), New Jersey’s Appellate Division reviewed two of Judge Suter’s decisions denying Woodlake’s motions for appointment of rent receivers where the units were abandoned, vacant and apparently worth less than the balance of the mortgage.  The Appellate Division upheld Judge Suter’s denials.

We did not participate in the Woodlake case.  However, we do not believe that Judge Suter has anything against associations nor do we believe that the Woodlake decision should inhibit Chancery Judges from granting Association’s future rent receiver applications.

In Woodlake the Appellate Court noted that “The Association has not demonstrated that defendants have an affirmative obligation to rent their respective units…”; “[the Association has not demonstrated]…any authority…to rent those units to new tenants”; “Nor have we been presented with any indication that defendants misappropriated rents”; “[The Association has not provided] any other agreement between the parties [that] provide[s] for the appointment of a rent receiver” and “…the Condominium Act does not expressly authorize such relief…”.  However, nothing in that laundry list is determinative of whether or not a rent receiver should be appointed on an Association’s application when a unit is vacant and abandoned.  At issue is the Court’s power, not the association’s power.  Chancery courts have the inherent power to prevent waste, mitigate fire risk, mitigate vandalism risk and prevent squatting.

The decision is left to the broad discretion of the Chancery Judge.  Arguably, the County Chancery Judge has the broadest powers of any judge in the judicial system (the late Judge Alexander Lehrer once said “Mr. McGovern, in this courtroom, I am king.”  He then offered to trace the history of the Chancery Court’s equitable powers back to the kings of England).  Chancery Judges have the power to grant equitable relief – a power broader and more flexible than Law Division Judges.

Chancery Judges ask themselves: “Does this seem right?”, “If I deny the requested relief, will the applicant be irreparably harmed?”, “If I grant the requested relief will another party or, worse yet, someone who has not had the opportunity to be heard, suffer greater harm than the applicant?”

Beyond the laundry list noted above, the Woodlake Appellate Court discussed rent receivers in the context of cases involving banks attempting to have rent receivers appointed against mortgagors.  Early in my legal career I represented banks and was involved in a number of hotly contested cases involving a bank’s right to rents.

The Woodlake Appellate Court did not plumb the distinctions between rent receiver applications in the bank-mortgagor context and rent receiver applications in the association-abandoned unit context.  In the bank-mortgagor context, typically the bank has lent money to the mortgagor to purchase the property (perhaps an apartment building, office building etc.).  If the mortgagor defaults, the bank attempts to collect the rents via a rent receiver so that its loan may be repaid.

Courts look at such relief as extraordinary for a number of reasons, for example: the right to collect rents and proceeds generally follows ownership and possession rather than lienholder status, appointing a rent receiver may put the mortgagor out of business if the mortgagor’s business is real estate investment and appointing a rent receiver may put the mortgagor out of an operating business if the mortgagor’s business is a (or the only) tenant in the financed real estate.  Courts also consider whether the lender is “adequately protected” by the value of the property.  Judges ask: Is there an “equity cushion” such that the value of the property exceeds the mortgage sufficiently to protect the bank’s loan amount plus amounts, such as taxes, insurance, security etc., that the bank may have to continue to advance.

The reasons judges are cautious in appointing rent receivers in the bank-mortgagor context do not however apply in the association-debtor context where the unit has been abandoned and is vacant.  In the association-debtor context, where the unit has been abandoned and is vacant, waste/fire/vandalism/squatters and possible impacts on third parties are the primary concerns – the debtor has already walked away from the unit.

Waste/fire/vandalism/squatter issues weigh heavily in favor of granting an association’s request for appointment of a rent receiver.  However the “possible impact on third parties” prong could still be problematic.  In Woodlake the mortgage company was apparently not a party to the suit or on notice of the rent receiver motion.  Further, it also seemed that the mortgage company may have been proceeding expeditiously with its foreclosure and was close to completing the foreclosure process.  Although speculation, these two facts alone appear sufficient to support Judge Suter’s denial of the rent receiver application and the Appellate Division’s affirmation of Judge Suter’s decision.

Judge Suter, having been New Jersey’s Chief of Banking and Insurance Operations from 1998 to 2000 and Commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Banking and Insurance from 2000 to 2001 is aware of the fact that banks, via their security instruments, often take an interest in rents and proceeds.  Therefore, she may feel that, even though the association is a junior lien holder and cannot foreclose the bank’s interest, in the context of a rent receiver motion, the bank is entitled to be a party to the action or, at a minimum, is entitled to have notice of the rent receiver application. Further, Judge Suter may also feel that, in cases where bank foreclosure is imminent, the administrative detriment to the bank of putting a tenant in the unit outweighs the brief benefit to the association.

In any case, we feel that Woodlake did not contribute meaningfully to the body of case law addressing rent receiver applications.  Rather, it reaffirmed the power that Judge Suter and the other Chancery Judges already had and have exercised regularly throughout the recent economic slump.  Whether or not a rent receiver is appointed with respect to an abandoned and vacant association unit depends on the facts.

It appears that, going forward, the bank should be put on notice of any association rent receiver application and that an Association should think twice before applying for a rent receiver where a bank is diligently pursuing its foreclosure action and completion of the foreclosure is imminent.  Associations should still however look to rent receiver applications as a valuable collection tool and not forget that banks may also be liable as mortgagees in possession.


Alternative Dispute Resolution – commonly referred to as “ADR” – has been an especially hot topic for community associations since the New Jersey Appellate Division’s 2012 decision in Bell Tower Condominium Association, Inc. v. Haffert. In that case, the Court held that “housing-related disputes” under the Condominium Act include disputes over the validity of special assessments for repairs and improvements to the common elements. Many commentators subsequently suggested that this holding meant that all disputes between an association and a homeowner must be submitted to ADR. Not so. The Appellate Division recently provided additional guidance on ADR in a March 25, 2014 unpublished opinion, Townsquare Village Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Walton. In that case, this firm successfully argued that the right to ADR has been waived once a person has participated in a trial on the underlying issues.

In Townsquare Village, the association obtained a judgment for unpaid monthly assessments after participating in a one-day trial with the homeowners. After winning at trial, the association filed an application for an award of attorneys’ fees with the trial court. In opposition to the application for attorneys’ fees, the homeowners filed a motion demanding that the judgment for monthly assessments be vacated, and that the matter be submitted to ADR as required under the Condominium Act (and the Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act Regulations). When the homeowners’ motion was denied, they appealed the matter to the Appellate Division.

On behalf of the association, this firm argued that the homeowners waived whatever right they had to participate in ADR when they elected to participate in a trial. The Appellate Division agreed – even though a judgment for attorneys’ fees had not yet been awarded in the case – and held that the underlying merits of the case had already been decided by the trial court, which was also in the best position to make a ruling on attorneys’ fees. Therefore, the association was no longer required to participate in ADR regarding the matter.

The Townsquare Village case clearly demonstrates that the expansiveness of the ADR mandate for associations may be more limited than many commentators previously thought.

“Interest” and “late fees” are different things.  Governing documents may provide for interest and/or late fees.  Judges are sensitive to the difference.  Judges will not allow interest if only late fees are authorized in the governing documents and judges will not allow late fees if only interest is authorized by the governing documents.

Judges essentially conclude that “late fees” only accrue on late payments while “interest” is charged on a continuing balance.  Many management companies are not set up to accrue interest; nevertheless, posting late fees (if not authorized by the governing documents) is improper.

Late fee postings are particularly troubling when late fees are compounded because of a single missed or late payment.  These “late fees” should really be interest on the continuing balance.

What can you do when your neighbor has mental problems that may be a danger to himself or the community?

Many mental disorders witnessed by community members are those associated with old age. However, cases involving people with other types of mental disorders do arise. Many mental disorders do not become severe immediately and may be severe one day and not the next. If you observe odd behavior, you should document the behavior with its date and time. Any such documentation should be kept confidential. As a preemptive measure, unless the behavior is so odd as to dictate other action, you may ask your neighbor if there is any thing wrong and whether there is any one who may be contacted for assistance now or in the future (i.e. a family member, friend or doctor). If a contact person is determined while his disorder is only mild, this contact person may be of great assistance if the disorder progresses or an emergency arises.

With luck, in many cases, a family member or friend will be available to care for the your neighbor. Unless the circumstances are emergent, the family member or friend should be contacted, advised of the his condition and requested to address the problem. Intervention by a family member or friend will hopefully end your involvement.

If the problem is emergent however, (he leaves gas on without flame being lit, leaves iron

on unattended, starts fires by careless smoking, leaves running water such that it floods areas, inappropriately approaches, threatens or attacks other neighbors) emergency services personnel should be immediately summoned. Summoning the police, fire department or rescue squad will serve two functions, first these people should be able to remove the immediate danger. Second, the call generates a report that will be an important part of the record of your neighbor’s behavior should injunction, guardianship or commitment proceedings become necessary. You should speak to the responding officer and request that the report carefully detail the person’s behavior. You may also attempt to obtain a copy of the report.

Unless the emergency services personnel take your neighbor into custody, they are limited in what they can do to prevent future problems. Regardless, once the emergency is resolved, the resident’s family or friends should be contacted to address the problem. Unfortunately, in many cases, there are no known friends or family or they are spread across the country and unable or unwilling to address the problem. You are then left addressing your neighbor’s disorder and his future danger to himself and the community. This danger is greatly increased if you live in any type of high density housing (i.e. apartment building, condominium, town home etc.). If you live in high density housing and the community has a manager, superintendent or board of trustees, they should be notified, in writing, of the situation. They should assist you in addressing the problem if not completely address the problem themselves.

If there are no known friends or family or they are unable or unwilling to address the problem, the County Department of Social Services, Adult Protective Services should be contacted, informed of the incidents and provided with copies of any reports regarding your neighbor’s behavior. The Adult Protective Service works to prevent neglect, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults. Adult Protective Services will likely respond by sending a case worker out to visit your neighbor and evaluate his condition. Again, you may request that Adult Protective Services provide you with a copy of their written report. However, confidentially concerns will likely prevent them from providing you with one.

After the case worker evaluates you neighbor, recommendations will be made. To the extent they are able, the case worker will likely attempt to help him live safely on his own. However, in severe cases, guardianship and/or commitment proceedings may be brought. For a guardian to be appointed to manage your neighbor’s affairs, it must be shown that he is wholly incapable of managing his own affairs. For him to be committed to a psychiatric facility, it must be shown that he is mentally ill (current, substantial disturbance of thought, mood, perception or orientation which significantly impairs judgment, capacity to control behavior or capacity to recognize reality) and that he is dangerous to himself or others or property and is unwilling to be admitted voluntarily.

Adult Protective Services would likely participate in a guardianship or commitment proceeding. However, your documentation of events will be valuable in meeting the high burden for showing that a guardian must be appointed or that he must be committed. Beyond the high burden in guardianship and commitment proceedings, there may not be any one willing to serve as guardian (you might be recruited). Additionally, guardianship and commitment proceedings may be expensive and time consuming. Criminal complaints may also be an option if your neighbor’s activities involve criminal activity. Complaints for injunctive relief (issuance of a court order requiring that your neighbor do or not do something may also be filed. If an injunction is violated, an application may be made to the court to have your neighbor arrested for violation of the court’s order. Again, however, an action for injunctive relief could be expensive and time consuming.

To summarize, in addressing a mentally disturbed neighbor, you should:

  1. Attempt to obtain contact information prior to his becoming fully incapacitated.
  2. If an emergency arises, contact emergency services to remove the source of the emergency.
  3. Prepare a written record of the events associated with the particular resident.
  4. Follow up by contacting the County Adult Protective Service. 5.) Assist the Adult Protective Service case worker in remedying the problem on a long term basis.

Below are numbers for the Adult Protective Services in each county.

Atlantic County: 888-426-9243

Bergen County: 201-368-4300

Burlington County: 609-261-1000 x249 or x356

Camden County: 609-225-8146

Cape May County: 609-886-6200

Cumberland County: 609-825-6810 x219

Essex County: 201-678-9700

Gloucester County: 609-256-2250

Hudson County: 201-915-7280

Hunterdon County: 908-788-1300

Mercer County: 609-989-6488

Middlesex County: 732-745-3635

Monmouth County: 908-531-9191

Morris County: 201-326-7282

Ocean County: 908-929-2091

Passaic County: 201-881-3216

Salem County: 609-229-3200

Somerset County: 732-418-3400

Sussex County: 973-383-3600

Union County: 908-355-4949

Warren County: 908-475-4744

The most common arrangements for retaining attorneys are hourly, retainer, task based, contingent fee or mixed-contingent. An attorney’s ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses must be paid in addition to the attorney’s fee. These expenses can be minimal or very large. Examples of large expenses include expert fees, transcript fees and/or copying fees. The client must determine whether the attorney will advance these expenses or require the client to pay as they go. Most attorneys will require the client to pay as they go. This method not only avoids having the attorney advance the funds, it makes the client keenly aware of the expenses.

In an hourly fee arrangement the attorney is paid at an hourly rate for the time spent working on the case. The client should be provided with detailed bills showing how the attorney spent the time. Advantages of an hourly fee arrangement include: the client determines the level of effort invested and, if a case is resolved quickly, the client may pay a much lower attorney fee than the client would have been paid if the Attorney had to be paid thirty percent or more of the recovery (as would happen with a contingent fee arrangement). The disadvantage of an hourly fee arrangement is that budgeting may be more difficult and the client bears the entire risk of losing the case. If the case is lost, the client gets no recovery and must still pay the attorney fees and disbursements.

Retainer agreements provide an annual fee for a group of specified services. Retainer agreements provide ease in budgeting. With a retainer agreement, the attorney assumes the risk that the effort demanded by the Association will be greater than the retainer quoted. Because of this almost open ended risk; retainer agreements may include a ‘risk premium’. This would be a cushion between what the attorney thinks it will actually cost in terms of time to complete the tasks versus a somewhat higher retainer bid figure. Association’s that throw off other legal work (i.e. litigation, collections etc.) may be able to negotiate a lower retainer without a risk premium if the other legal work is given to the retainer attorney. Association’s seeking to avoid paying a ‘risk premium’ and mature associations who wish to closely direct attorney effort generally choose an hourly fee agreement.

With a task based arrangement, the attorney has a fixed fee schedule for set tasks or a case. For example, a certain charge for preparation of the complaint, another charge for preparation of the summons etc. This arrangement is similar to an hourly arrangement but allows the client to monitor and budget expenditures on a per task basis. Where the hourly rate structure places the risk of attorney inefficiency on the client, the fixed fee structure places inefficiency risk on the attorney.

In a contingent arrangement, the attorney is not paid unless the attorney obtains a recovery. The advantage of this is that the client does not have to pay fees up front, other than expenses. The client avoids ‘throwing good money after bad’ and the risk of losing the case is shared with the attorney. Disadvantages of this type of arrangement are that the attorney may receive a wind fall – if a case settles and is paid just after being turned over to the attorney, the attorney is still entitled to the agreed upon percentage of the recovery. Further, if the attorney does not see a prospect of significant recovery, the attorney may not pursue the matter as aggressively as the client may like.

With a hybrid or mixed-contingency fee structure (used in litigation), the attorney may work at a significantly reduced hourly rate in exchange for the chance of recovering a percentage of any award. This arrangement distributes the risk of loss between the client and the attorney and provides incentive for efficiency and for a positive result between the client and the attorney.

Regardless of the fee relationship, in the end, the client-attorney relationship should be viewed as a continuing one that may have to be modified over the course of the representation. This will depend on various variables such as the amount in controversy, how complicated or routine the work is and how much money the client has to spend on attorney fees.

In the past, many Associations have retained counsel on an annual ‘retainer’ basis because of ease in budgeting. However, because of the substantial demands of today’s community associations, many law firms and associations are moving from retainer agreements to hourly or task based agreements.

Chances are your Association doesn’t have spare money lying around.  Chances are your Association has five or more “regular debtors” – the ones who are on the arrearage list year-in and year-out.  Chances are that, since the recent recession, 10% of your budget and/or 10% of your homes are in arrears. Chances also are that some debtors have abandoned their units and the Board has had to deal with frozen pipes, mold, vandalism or all three.

Our job is to get non-payers out, get vacant units occupied and get cash flowing.  We do this in one or more of the following ways.  Unless you want to increase the bad debt expense line item in your budget year after year, you should be pursuing one or more of these methods:

  • Payment Plans/Settlement Agreements.
  • Amnesty Programs.
  • Membership Privilege Suspension (Pools and Parking Too!)
  • Money Judgment Lawsuits.
  • Bank Account Levies.
  • Wage Executions.
  • Rent Levies.
  • Lien Filing.
  • Foreclosure Lawsuits.
  • Receivers in Aid of Execution.
  • Rent Receivership.
  • Rent Sharing Agreements.
  • Mortgagee In Possession Lawsuits.
  • Quit Claim Deeds.
  • Sheriff’s Sales Based on Foreclosure or Money Judgment Suits.

We give presentations, throughout New Jersey, on various collection techniques, including those listed above.  Please contact us if you would like to schedule a free collection presentation for your New Jersey Home Owners Association, Condominium Association or Co-Op.