What you need to know about being a condo owner: from the condominium association to voting on assessments, what’s expected of the owners?

Q: As a new condo owner for last two years, I have enjoyed your recent column in our newspaper on condominium issues.

I own a small condominium in a mid-sized building in Chicago. I pay around $500 per month in assessments and the building has over $600,000 in reserves. The association hired a consultant to deliver a reserve study to the board but it has not been posted to the condo building website.

The owners vote for directors yearly but not on assessment increases. We also don’t approve the budget but the directors do vote and approve the association’s budget. Few owners go to board meetings and when they do, those owners mention their issues or problems and then leave.

As a owner in the building, am I supposed to review and vote for the yearly increases in condominium assessments? Where and how can I learn more about the rule rules and regulations information rather than getting the information trickled down or from other owners or the meeting minutes? The board minutes are usually posted two months or more after the minutes.

Do you have blog or website or radio show/podcast where I can read or catch up on previous Issues you have covered?

A: Condominium associations, and for that matter most homeowner associations, tend to work the same way: unit owners get to vote on who will run the association. This means that you are giving the board of directors and the officers of the association the right and duty to run the day to day operations of the association.

Once you have a board and officers in a condominium association, that group of owners will handle the affairs of the association. Other than some out of the ordinary expenses or other issues that might require a vote of the unit owners, most condominium and other homeowners associations like having the board take care of the maintenance, budgeting and management of the association.

As you can imagine, it’s extremely important to have good people running the homeowners association, as once you have handed the reins to the board of directors, all of the other owners have to relying on the board’s good judgment to get things done.

Now, the board does have a duty to keep its owners informed and a month or two delay in getting minutes is probably the norm. Board meetings are usually open to all owners and you can go and sit in and see how things are going but as you have come to realize, most people come for their issue and go when they are done. Again, this leaves the board to take care of issues without much input from homeowners. The board is not required to take input from homeowners in making its decisions, but certainly the board must hear homeowners out and those issues can and frequently do influence how boards work.

As a first step, we’d encourage you to obtain and read a copy of your condominium declaration and bylaws. We’re not saying you need to study the document, but you should take a look at the key provisions. Your governing documents will tell you how many board members you must have, how often they must meet, when the annual meeting must take place, and what votes require input from the homeowners.

In addition to your governing documents, each state has a statute that regulates community associations like condominiums and homeowner associations. You can get a copy of that document as well. Again, you don’t have to read the whole thing but you can skim it to see what limitations board of directors might have in their role of running the association.

Both the governing documents and the state statutes will be full of legalese but once you go through them you’ll have some additional information that will explain the framework under which your homeowners association board operates. From there you can do an internet search and find additional information on specific issues you might have.

There have been books written (not by us, however) on some the issues you ask and some law firms publish bulletins and essays for their condominium and homeowners associations that you can read online. Many of these can be quite informative, if a little dense. Sam frequently says that if you need a sleeping aid, nothing helps more than trying to read some association governing documents.

But we applaud your interest in getting involved. You should start attending all of the meetings, get to know your neighbors and their issues, and possible even run for the board. Your vote for the homeowners who run your association is very important (as all votes are) and homeowners who decide not to participate may wind up with representation that doesn’t manage the building and the budget as carefully as they would like.