Homeowners who are unhappy about their community association cannot stop paying their assessments, according to a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling—a decision applauded by CAI and its members.
Lisa Carlson, a homeowner in Spanish Court Two Condominium Association in Highland Park, refused to pay her assessments because she alleged the association did not repair a leaking roof that damaged her unit. The association sued Carlson in 2010. The court ruled in favor of the association, but that decision was overturned by an appellate court.
“The appellate court decision would have burdened other owners, forcing them to shoulder the additional expenses created by one owner’s refusal to pay assessments,” said Allan Goldberg, a partner with Arnstein & Lehr in Chicago and member of CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL). “If a single owner could refuse to pay assessments based on a disagreement with the association, the ability to govern and fund expenses would be threatened.”
Goldberg helped prepare an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief on behalf of CAI’s Illinois chapter when Spanish Court Two appealed the appellate decision to the state’s Supreme Court.
“This is a landmark decision and one that CAI was eager to support,” said CAI Chief Executive Officer Tom Skiba, CAE. “It clarifies that an owner’s responsibility to pay assessments is independent of a board’s obligation to repair and maintain common elements.”
Community association assessments fund many essential obligations, including professional management services, utilities, insurance, common area maintenance, landscaping, capital improvement projects and amenities like pools, tennis courts and club houses.
“Think about the potential ramifications if owners could skirt their financial obligations in cases like this,” Skiba says. “What if owners withheld assessments every time they believe work wasn’t done—or just not completed to their satisfaction? Associations need to do their very best to fulfill their responsibilities, but this scenario could jeopardize the financial stability of many associations and pose an unfair burden on owners who are paying their fair share.”
This central point was made clear in the 24-page amicus curiae brief filed by CAI’s Illinois chapter:
“. . . the only manner by which (most) community associations generate income is through the collection of assessments from association members. The budgets adopted by a community association are the basis for the assessments collected from its members. If one association member does not pay its proportionate share, then that amount must be borne by those members that have paid their assessments, either through higher assessments to cover the arrearage or by reduced services to all. Accordingly, allowing an association member to avail herself of self-help each time she disagrees with an association's actions or inaction will result in that member's proportionate share of the expenses being shifted to all other paying members.”
CAI’s Amicus Curiae Program
CAI submits amicus curiae briefs in response to federal or state cases that address important issues of community association law. They allow CAI to educate a court and shape legal outcomes that can affect how communities operate as well as how they are governed and managed. Each brief is authored and approved by CAI member attorneys, with the expertise, knowledge and professionalism inherent in the CAI name adding weight to the legal arguments. CAI’s Amicus Curiae Review Committee, part of CCAL, evaluates each request for a brief and recommends to the Board of Trustees whether a submission is warranted.
“Our amicus program gives community associations a strong and respected voice in court cases that are deemed critical to the well-being of common-interest communities," says CCAL President-elect Stephen Marcus, chair of CAI’s Amicus Curiae Review Committee, and a partner with Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks in Braintree, Mass. "Courts can have a profound impact on virtually any aspect of association operations, from assessment collection to rules enforcement. Our goal is to provide courts with credible and practical legal perspective so they reach sound decisions.”
Summaries of all CAI amicus curiae briefs and the briefs themselves are available on the CAI website.
With more than 32,500 members dedicated to building better communities, CAI works in partnership with 59 chapters, including a chapter in South Africa. CAI provides information, education and resources to community associations and the professionals who support them. CAI’s mission is to inspire professionalism, effective leadership and responsible citizenship—ideals reflected in communities that are preferred places to call home. Visit www.caionline.org or call (888) 224-4321.