Today the New Jersey Assembly passed the COVID-19 Association Immunity bill (formerly A4979 now substituted by S3584).    On June 2, 2021, the New Jersey Senate passed the bill.  We look forward to Governor Murphy quickly signing the bill into law.  Thank you to NJ-CAI’s Legislative Action Committee and all of you who continue to support passage of this important legislation.  The text of S3584 may be found here   https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/S4000/3584_I1.HTM

 

Managers Who Are Notaries Help Their Associations
A Notary Public witnesses the signing of documents and acknowledgement of signatures. Too
often, assessment liens, resolutions and governing document amendments are approved and
signed, but no notary is readily available. This delays the recording of these documents and
sometimes results in increased attorney fees. Managers who become notaries can expedite the
recording process by notarizing the required signatures immediately instead of the signers having
to go to a bank or an attorney’s office.

Becoming a Notary is Easy and Cheap
Becoming a notary is easy and cheap. The Department of Treasury’s Notary Public page:
http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/revenue/dcr/programs/notary.shtml contains an overview of
Notary Public requirements. Most importantly, this page contains an Online Notary Application
link that allows you to apply and pay the fee online. The fee is only $30 and the cost for the
stamp and notary journal is only about $25.

Completing the application only takes about fifteen minutes. Once the application is completed,
it will be submitted to your local representative for approval. Within 90 days from when you
receive the approval package, you must go to the County Clerk’s office in your County and be
sworn in. It’s that simple.

McGovern Legal Services, LLC is currently offering Notary Public seminars to management
company employees to assist them in becoming New Jersey Notaries. Please contact us for
information or to arrange a seminar at your company.

Associations must continue to function.  Board meetings must be held, and decisions must be made.

The CDC has recommended against any gatherings of ten or more people through at least the middle of May.  Therefore, Association’s must postpone community events and avoid in-person meetings. However, the Association must continue to operate, and the Board must continue to conduct the Association’ s business.

To do so, the board must continue to meet on a regular basis but should do so via teleconference, Skype, Zoom, etc.  Some larger communities with closed-circuit television can televise their remote meetings for their members.  Keep in mind that transparency remains paramount, even when “open” board meetings are being held virtually or remotely.  So, in order to maintain transparency during this difficult time, boards should make their meeting agendas available prior to open meetings.

Associations should also provide a means for its members to propose questions or comments during their meetings.  Some associations have set up separate email accounts for member questions and comments to ensure that they do not become lost among other association-related emails.  Others are having the members email management directly.  Zoom and other software applications have “chat” and “raise your hand” features that allow members to participate virtually.

At the virtual or remote board meeting, business must be conducted as usual.  Motions must be made, discussed among the board members, and voted upon.  The board should review and discuss the comments and questions submitted by members during the ‘new business’ or ‘open questions’ portion of the meeting.

Immediately following the board meeting, it is important to communicate with the members.  Instead of waiting for the meeting minutes to be prepared, finalized, and approved at the next board meeting, the board should consider immediately providing an overview of the meeting to the members.  This overview may be more in-depth than typical meeting minutes to compensate for the fact that the members could not attend in-person. Official meeting minutes should also be prepared and approved at the next open meeting.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that the association must continue to function.  Open meetings must be as transparent as possible, and communication with the members is key.

 

Board Member Duties

Fiduciary Duty. Board members have a fiduciary duty to the Association.  The “business judgment rule” is the standard by which board action is measured.  So long as the board members fulfill their duties of “care” and “loyalty” and their decisions are not patently unreasonable, their decisions will typically not be second-guessed by a court.

Care” obligates the board to make their decisions only after “due diligence” – after the board members have become reasonably informed about the issue at hand.  The board members may rely on experts such as engineers, architects, lawyers, accountants, contractors, etc. in fulfilling their duty of care.

Loyalty” obligates the board to make their decisions for the benefit of the Association rather than for their own benefit.

Confidentiality: Board members are necessarily given access to otherwise confidential information.  Examples of confidential information are Members’ financial information, Members’ health status, certain employee information, requests for proposals and bids, attorney-client communications and communications regarding litigation even if the communications are not with the Association’s attorneys.  Confidential information must be kept confidential even if the Board member did not sign a confidentiality agreement.  Board members should be particularly cautious when using e-mail, text messages and computers as no one other than the Board member should have access to confidential information.  Breaching confidentiality exposes the Association to, among other things, business losses and suit.

Board Member Protection

Indemnification, Exculpation, Trustees and Officers Liability Insurance.

Board members should confirm that the Association’s governing documents contain provisions indemnifying, defending and holding them harmless in case of a claim against them arising out of their board service.  Board members should also confirm that the Association has appropriate Officers Liability Insurance and that the carrier is immediately notified of any threat against them or the Association.  Insurance carriers deny coverage if they are not timely notified of a threat.

 

Meetings

There are two basic Association meeting types: 1) Board meetings and 2) Membership meetings.

I.)  BOARD MEETINGS are where the Board Members act by voting.

A.)  Workshop Board meetings are where the Board makes no decisions.  They are essentially informational meetings.  The Members do not attend, and no minutes are taken.

B.)  Executive Session Board meetings are where binding decisions are made on the following limited matters, but the Members are not permitted to attend:

(a) Matters the disclosure of which would constitute and unwarranted invasion of individual privacy. Ex: decisions on debtor accounts, handicapped accommodations etc.; (b) Pending or anticipated litigation or contract negotiation; (c) Matters falling within the attorney-client privilege; (d) Matters involving employee promotion, discipline or dismissal.  Members do not attend but minutes are taken.

C.)  Open Board meetings are meetings where the Members are notified of the meeting, Members may attend, watch and, in most cases, can make comments.  Except for decisions on the limited topics noted in subsection B., Board Members are required to make all their binding decisions at open board meetings.  Minutes are taken.  Members do not participate in the decisions.

II.) MEMBERSHIP MEETINGS are where the Members act by voting. Membership meetings are rare.  Examples are:

A)  The Annual Membership Meeting where the membership acts to elect trustees.  Minutes are taken.

B)  Special Membership Meetings where, depending on the Association’s governing documents, the Members may be required to act to remove a board member, amend the Governing Documents, authorize a special assessment etc.  Minutes are taken.

How Member Concerns Get to the Board Table.

Via the Manager or Via Open Board Meeting Member Comment

Member concerns are to be directed to the Association’s Manager via in-person or e-mail communication.  Member concerns may also be directed to the Board during the Member comment portion of the Board’s open board meetings.

Via the Manager

If a concern or question is brought to Management’s attention, the Manager will bring it to the Board’s attention during the Board’s workshop meeting.  Not all questions and concerns require formal Board consideration.  For example, some issues may be immediately addressed by Management.  If the Board determines that formal Board consideration is necessary, the Board will direct management to place the issue on the agenda for one of the Board’s forthcoming Board meetings.

Via Open Board Meeting Member Comment

If a concern or question is brought to the Board’s attention at an open Board meeting, the Board will take note of the concern or question and, if the Board determines that formal Board consideration is necessary, the Board will direct management to place the issue on the agenda for one of the Board’s forthcoming Board meetings.  The Board may however address concerns or questions at the same meeting where they are raised in its discretion.

Board Consideration

Once a concern or question is on the Open Board Meeting agenda, a Board member places it on the table for consideration by moving to, for example, “consider the Member’s request to have a ping pong table placed in the library”.

Motion Dies on the Table

If no one seconds the Board member’s motion, the topic dies there and is generally not subject to further discussion.

Second, Board Discussion and Vote

If another Board member seconds the motion, the Chair will call for discussion between and among the Board members only.  At the Chair’s discretion, the Board may also entertain comments from the Members but only on the motion.  Once the Board Members have concluded their discussion, the Chair will close discussion and call for a Board Member vote.  The motion and vote will be recorded in the minutes and the matter is closed.

The Board may always “table” an issue for future consideration.  The Board may also refuse to formally entertain a concern or question.  The most common reason a Board refuses to formally entertain a concern or question is that the concern or question was previously disposed of by the Board.

Transition:

Evaluate, Communicate & Negotiate but…should we litigate?

“Transition” is the due diligence process required by the board members’ fiduciary duty.  In sum, the homeowner-elected board members must determine if the sponsor did what it was supposed to do and, if not, take action to get the deficiencies corrected. Upon assuming board control homeowner-elected board members must:

1) evaluate the association’s physical and financial condition;

2) communicate the findings to the members and the sponsor;

3) negotiate for repairs, money or a combination of repairs and money.

Evaluate.  Due diligence begins with evaluating the association’s physical and financial conditions.  These evaluations must be undertaken promptly.  Delay may result in losing some or all claims due to expiration of warranties, statutes of limitation and/or the statute of repose.

Engineers, architects, accountants and other experts are enlisted by the board and the association’s attorney to ferret out deficiencies and “connect the dots”.  “Connecting the dots” requires experts to:

1) Identify the duty – statutes, architectural drawings and specifications, building codes, industry standards, manufacturer’s specifications, etc.

2) Specify how the duty was breached – for example, required building wrap was not installed;

3) Specify the damage – for example, moisture got behind the siding and was not shed down and out; instead the moisture damaged the substrate and structural members;

4) Specify how the breach caused the damage – for example, if the required building wrap had been properly installed, water that got behind the siding would have been shed down and out of the building envelope without damage to the substrate and structural members.  Instead, the water was absorbed by the substrate and structural members resulting in rot and mold growth.

After “connecting the dots”, the association’s experts should carefully determine how much it will cost the association to fix the various physical and financial defects.  This “cost to cure” report provides the board with a basis for prioritizing the deficiencies and evaluating how much the association should spend on attempting to compel the sponsor and others to remedy deficiencies.

Without reputable experts solidly connecting the dots and determining the cost to cure, the association has little prospect of transition success.

Assuming the experts connect the dots and accurately estimate the cost to cure, the board, its experts and counsel must finally evaluate the probability of recovery.  Is there an individual or entity that has the resources to cure the deficiencies or pay the association so that it may cure the deficiencies.  Is it the sponsor?  Is it the sub-contractors? Is it one or more insurance companies?  Typically transition is resolved with contributions by all of these but, if there is little or no prospect of recovery, the association should carefully consider other options such as self-funding repairs, obtaining a bank loan to fund repairs or phasing repairs over time while using “Band-Aid” fixes in the meantime.

Communicate. Many boards are reluctant to communicate expert findings to the membership.  This is a mistake.  Everyone hopes that the transition process will be smooth and amicable.  However, transition can be long, contentious and expensive.  If the membership does not support the board, management, its attorneys and experts, half of the battle is already lost.  The board must share as much information as possible with the membership during the transition process so that the members know what it going on, know why various items have not yet been fixed and know why it is important for the association to spend the time and money to see the transition process through to resolution.

Negotiate.  Once the board has a comfort level with the experts’ findings and recommendations, the board and counsel will negotiate with the sponsor, developer, sub-contractors and others.  In most cases this negotiation results in an amicable transition agreement whereby the sponsor and other responsible entities make repairs and/or pay the association so that it may make the repairs.  In exchange, the association gives the responsible entities a release and hopefully everyone lives happily ever after.

But…should we litigate?  If there is no amicable resolution, should the association litigate?  This is a big decision and the “cost to cure” and “viability of recovery” evaluations become that much more important.  There are many times where a litigated transition is necessary.  The board should not shrink from turning to the courts on behalf of itself and its members.  But, before doing so, a cost-benefit analysis must be carefully considered.

If the cost to cure and probability of recovery outweigh anticipated expert fees, attorney fees and other expenses, litigation likely makes sense but if the board finds that it is more economical, certain and timely to merely fix the deficiencies itself, it may do so and sign no release.  In any case, transition releases should not be signed in exchange for nominal or no consideration.

On June 3, 2019, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (“DCA’) published proposed regulations concerning association elections among other matters.

The public may comment on the proposed regulations until August 2, 2019.  The full text of the proposed regulations can be seen here: https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/codes/codreg/pdf_rule_proposals/PRED_Election_Regs.pdf

 

Written comments can be submitted by email to geraldine.callahan@dca.nj.gov.

 

Or Mailed to:

Geraldine Callahan

Department of Community Affairs

P.O. Box 800

Trenton, NJ 08625

 

Your LAC has fully analyzed the proposed regulations and has submitted a letter of in response. View the letter submitted by CAI- NJ LAC HERE.

 

While there are numerous areas of serious concern, the NJ LAC draws your attention to these particularly troubling provisions:

  • Fines – Section 5:26-8.14 provides that DCA may fine any person who violates the regulations, even if only a technical violation.  This includes violations by board members and managers!  Fines can range from $50 to $50,000!
  • Public Ballot Tallying – Section 5:26-8.9(h)(2) states that all ballots shall be publicly tallied and open to inspection by any member for a period of 90 days.
  • All Votes Must be Anonymous Including Absentee and Proxy Ballots – While some association bylaws require anonymous balloting, Section 5:26-8.9(h)(3) mandates that all forms of votes be anonymous, which can create serious, practical election issues.
  • Removal of Board Members by Petition – Section 5:26-8.11(d) allows automatic removal of one or more board members upon presentation of a petition signed by 51% of the members.
  • No Binding Board Votes in Executive Session – Section 5:26-8.12(e)(2) mandates that matters that could have previously been voted on in executive session (pending litigation, matters of personal privacy, personnel matters, etc.) must now be voted on in a meeting open to the members.
  • 7-Day Notice of Board Meeting with Agenda of All Items for Discussion and Action – Section 5:26-8.12(c)(3) requires posting of a notice of board meetings seven days in advance (current regulations provide for 48 hour advance posting) and fails to include current regulation’s provision that agendas must be posted only “to the extent known.”
  • Associations with Affordable Housing Units Must Reserve a Board Seat for Affordable Owners – Section 5:26-8.10(a)(2) provides that when the bylaws do not set aside a board seat for affordable owners, the Association must amend its bylaws to provide for an affordable-owner reserved seat.

 

While these are not all of the troubling proposed regulations, they are some of the more important ones.  Write to the DCA to voice your objections.

PLEASE TAKE A FEW MINUTES AND SEND AN EMAIL TO THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS EXPRESSING YOUR CONCERN WITH THE PROPOSED REGULATIONS. 

On July 18, 2019 the New Jersey CAI Legislative Action Committee (“LAC”) submitted its comments to the Department of Community Affairs with respect to the proposed regulations.

The full submission is in the following link:

https://www.cainj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Ltr-from-CAI-LAC-NJ-to-DCA-re-proposed-regulations-7.16.19.pdf

Please submit your objections to the proposed regulations by August 2, 2019 to:

Geraldine Callahan

Department of Community Affairs

P.O. Box 800

Trenton, NJ 08625

e-mail: Geraldine.callahan@dca.nj.gov

(fax) (609)984-6696   

 

Thank you to the CAI-NJ’s Legislative Action Committee for its hard work. The LAC Committee members are:

George Greatrex

A. Christopher Florio

Joseph Chorba

Michael Pesce

Lisa Rayca

Elizabeth Comando

Barbara Drummond

Matthew Earle

Vincent Hager

Sue Howe

Steve Kroll

Christine Li

James Magrid

Thomas Martin

Glen Masullo

Jack McGrath

Paul Raetsh

J. David Ramsey

Caroline Record

 

Please contact me with any questions. Fran

DCA Proposes New Association Regulations Including Fines & Penalties

On June 3, 2019 the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs published proposed new association regulations. A copy of the DCA’s summary and the full text of the proposed amendments and new rules can be found here:

https://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/codes/codreg/pdf_rule_proposals/PRED_Election_Regs.pdf

The proposed requirements are granular, and the proposed enforcement and penalty provisions should be carefully considered by board members, managers, management companies and professionals.

If you desire to submit an opinion, your opinions on the proposed amendments and new rules must be submitted in writing by August 2, 2019 to:

Geraldine Callahan

Department of Community Affairs

P.O. Box 800, Trenton, NJ 08625

e-mail: Geraldine.callahan@dca.nj.gov

(fax) (609)984-6696

Some proposed sections of note include:

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.9(h)3 which proposes that: “All ballots shall be cast in an anonymous manner.”

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.9(h)4 which proposes that: “If the bylaws permit, and the association member consents, a ballot may be cast electronically if it is administered by a neutral third party and anonymity is maintained.”

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.10(a)2 which proposes that: “When affordable units represent a minority of units in the development, the bylaws shall reserve a seat or seats on the executive board for election by owners of affordable units.”

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.12(a)2 which proposes that: “The board shall provide a brief explanation of the basis for and cost entailed in the matter that is the subject of any binding vote and include the explanation in the minutes for the meeting.”

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.12(e)2. which proposes that: “A vote taken at a closed meeting shall not be binding. If the matter requires a binding vote, it shall be taken at a subsequent open meeting in a manner that does not disclose any confidences.”

N.J.A.C. 5:26-8.14(e) which proposes that: “The Department may levy and collect fines and may issue penalties as set forth in N.J.A.C. 5:26-11. 1. For associations that are controlled by unit owners, the Department may issue cease and desist orders, may issue a monetary penalty, may transmit the case to the Office of Administrative Law, or may file and action in the Superior Court.”

Please contact me with any questions.

Francis J. McGovern, Jr., Esquire

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