Tag Archives: 515B

Matt Drewes Quoted in Two Recent Articles at HOALeader.com: Handling rogue board members; and Proper treatment of meeting minutes.

20 Dec

Matt Drewes recently contributed quotes for the following articles published at www.hoaleader.com, a national web-based publication focused on homeowners association and condominium board members and association management professionals:

  • What’s Your Duty When Fellow HOA Board Members Violate Governing Documents?; published November 2013 at HOALeader.com
    • Publisher: Plain-English Media, LLC (quoting Matthew A. Drewes); Read it now.
  • More HOA Meeting Minute Madness: When Can Minutes Be Changed?”; published November 2013 at HOALeader.com
    • Publisher: Plain-English Media, LLC (quoting Matthew A. Drewes); Read it now.

Matt is a Shareholder with Thomsen Nybeck.  He is the head of the firm’s eight-member Community Association Representation Group and the firm’s Creditors’ Remedies Group, and practices in the areas of business and real estate litigation and transactions, employment law, construction litigation, community association law, debtor/creditor law, and insurance coverage. He has been included in several years of the annual list of Minnesota’s Rising Stars, and has been quoted in the Minneapolis StarTribune, Minnesota Lawyer, Habitat Magazine, and on various websites including Yahoo!Finance.com, Bankrate.com, MSN.com, HOALeader.com, and elsewhere on issues involving construction litigation, community associations and real property issues. He can be reached at mdrewes@tn-law.com or by phone at 952.835.7000.

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Minnesota Court of Appeals Sides with Homeowners Associations Terminating Contracts

2 Feb

In a decision rendered January 30, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals examined Minn. Stat. § 515.B.3-105(a)(iii) of the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (MCIOA).  This statute allows certain contracts to be terminated by the association without penalty, including contracts to which a declarant (the developer) bound the association.  The intent of the statute is to avoid a situation where a unit owner-controlled association becomes subject to unfavorable contracts that were entered into during the time that the declarant controlled the association, but which the unit owners hadn’t agreed to as they weren’t yet in control of the association.  In the case that the court examined, an association was obligated on a service contract that the declarant (the developer) of the association had entered into prior to homeowner control.  The association asserted its right to cancel the service contract under the statute.  The company providing those services objected arguing that the association could not terminate the contract because the declarant wasn’t still a party at the time the association sought termination.  The Court of Appeals, however, sided with the association finding that it was sufficient that the declarant at one point had been a party to the contract during the period of declarant control and then had the association assume that obligation.  The name of the court case is Energy Center, LLC v. The Falls and Pinnacle Owners’ Association, number 27-CV-09-26427 (Minn.Ct. Ap. Jan. 30, 2012); the decision is an unpublished decision from the court.

This blog entry is written by Chris Renz, a shareholder at Thomsen Nybeck. Chris practices in the litigation area of the firm with primary focus on real estate litigation, employment litigation, townhome and condominium law, and criminal law, particularly as the prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Minnesota Construction Warranty Claims: New Procedures for 2011

18 Jan

You may be familiar with (or at least aware of) the warranties provided to homeowners under Chapter 327A of Minnesota Statues.  These warranties include a one-year warranty on all workmanship and materials, a two-year warranty on plumbing, electrical or other mechanical systems, and a ten-year warranty against major construction defects.  These warranties apply to new or newly remodeled residential property (which can include single-family homes or community associations, such as condominiums or townhouses), and are binding against the builder (of a new home) or contractor (in the case of a remodeling project).  Throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to both as a “contractor”, though homeowners should appreciate there can be a difference.

For years, Chapter 327A has contained certain procedures that owners must follow to preserve a claim for a breach of one or more of these warranties.  Effective January 1, 2011, these procedures now have been revised, and new procedures have been added.  You can read the complete text of the new statute here.  The legislature’s goal in making these changes is to try to reduce the number of lawsuits that are necessary to resolve these warranty disputes, but as with any new process there will always be traps for the unwary and navigating the new procedures is bound to catch more than a few homeowners off guard.

The process still provides that written notice of an alleged defect must be provided to the contractor within six months of the discovery of the defect, with the new exception being where the owner can demonstrate the contractor had actual notice of the claimed defect. Of course, it’s best to provide timely written notice if you wish to rely on this statutory warranty.  Many owners falter by failing to provide this notice within six months of discovering the defect.

After this notice has been provided, the contractor has always been required to inspect the alleged defect within 30 days and propose a repair.  The new amendment now requires the owner to allow the contractor to conduct “invasive” testing to determine the extent of any damage or the proper type of repair, however.  Invasive testing may involve making test cuts in stucco or interior drywall and/or using a probe to test the moisture content of the wood framing members of the home, though the statute does not specify.  It is of course fair to permit the contractor a reasonable opportunity to understand fully the defect (if any) involved, and the contractor is required to place the property back into “pre-inspection condition” following any invasive procedures, but it is unclear how this restoration process will be measured or enforced in practice.

In the event the contractor inspects the property and the owner and contractor cannot agree on the proposed repair (and owners should carefully evaluate proposed repairs, preferably with the assistance of a trusted contractor, engineer or attorney), the homeowner must (yes, must) follow through with the new “home warranty dispute resolution process”.  The new dispute resolution process requires the selection of a “qualified neutral” from a list maintained by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, which will charge aspiring neutrals a $200 fee to be listed.  There are rather short timeframes applicable to the steps for selecting a neutral, so homeowners should consult with an experienced member of the construction industry and/or their own construction attorney before submitting their claim to the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.  Otherwise they will find themselves with little time to make a decision about the neutrals from which they must choose to evaluate their case.

After a neutral has been selected, the parties must meet together with the neutral and each will submit its own reasons why its proposed repair is proper.  There is a fee of $25 per party for participation in the process, in addition to the hourly fees of the neutral third-party the parties select.  It also is possible the parties will use attorneys to represent them through this process, and contractors with insurance coverage almost certainly will have attorneys present to represent them, though homeowners presumably will not be required to do so.  According to the amendment, at the end of this process the neutral third party does not issue a binding decision (it simply is an evaluation). Moreover, this evaluation may not be used as evidence in any later litigation if the “unreasonable” party does not care to acknowledge that it is being unreasonable. The process does, however, provide the parties with perhaps some further understanding of the potential damages at stake and chances of a favorable (or unfavorable) result.

Barring certain exceptions, the parties must complete this process before litigation can be commenced.  However, there are four situations which owners may commence litigation earlier if the contractor is not engaging in the process in good faith:

1) The homeowner may sue the contractor immediately if:

a) the contractor fails to conduct an inspection within 30 days after the owner has provided written notice of the defect;

b) the contractor performs the inspection but fails to provide a written proposal to make a repair of the alleged defective condition within 15 days after the inspection is complete;

c) the contractor provides a proposed repair, to which the owner agrees, but the contractor does not perform the repair.

2) The homeowner may also sue the contractor following the expiration of 60 days from the owner’s receipt of the contractor’s repair proposal, whether or not the dispute resolution process is complete.

In the event the evaluation process is not successful in bringing the owner and contractor to a resolution, the new amendment also alters certain timing considerations applicable to a construction defect lawsuit. This is because there are numerous claims (or theories of recovery) applicable to construction defect cases. These can include not just a claim that the contractor breached one or more of the statutory warranties under Chapter 327A, but also that the contractor breached an applicable contract, or that the contractor was negligent. There are also other warranties that may apply, including warranties applicable to common interest communities (condominiums and townhouses) as well as warranties covering the sale of goods (such as windows, doors, shingles, etc.). Each of these claims has not only its own standards, but each also has an applicable limitations period (the period within which you must sue or your claim is barred) which may be different from the next. The amendments to 327A now provide that, for as long as an owner is following this statutory procedure, or for 180 days, whichever is longer, all of those claims will be “tolled” (meaning their expiration will be delayed). This is a useful provision for ensuring a homeowner does not lose the right to commence litigation as a result of participating in this mandatory dispute resolution process.

The new provisions of Chapter 327A certainly have created more opportunities for construction defect cases to reach resolution outside of court, in theory.  However, there is little likelihood that a contractor who was being unreasonable under the prior procedures failed to realize it was being unreasonable, and there is little consequence to a contractor that fails to reach a reasonable resolution even under this new scheme.  Therefore, until we have seen this process utilized a few times, we do not know whether it will provide aggrieved homeowners with a legitimate alternative to litigation, or just another hurdle to clear to obtain a recovery under Chapter 327A.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about whether this process applies to you and how to comply with its provisions, contact Matt Drewes or one of the other construction litigation attorneys at Thomsen Nybeck.

Matt Drewes contributed this post.  Matt is a Shareholder with Thomsen Nybeck.  He is the head of the firm’s 10-member Community Association Representation Group and co-leads the firm’s construction litigation group.  Matt practices in the areas of business and real estate litigation, construction litigation, community association law, debtor/creditor law, insurance and employment, has been included in Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine’s list of Rising Stars for several years, and has been quoted on issues involving construction litigation, community associations and real property issues in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Lawyer, Yahoo!finance.com and Bankrate.com, and elsewhere.  He can be reached at mdrewes@tn-law.com or by phone at 952.835.7000.

Matt Drewes Quoted in Articles About Construction Defects Appearing at HOAleader.com

13 Mar

Matt Drewes recently contributed quotes for the following articles published at www.hoaleader.com, a national web-based publication focused on homeowners association and condominium board members and association management professionals: 

 

Matt Drewes is a Shareholder with Thomsen Nybeck.  He is the head of the firm’s 10-member Community Association Representation Group and co-leads the firm’s construction litigation group.  Matt practices in the areas of business and real estate litigation, construction litigation, community association law, debtor/creditor law, insurance and employment, and has been included in Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine’s list of Rising Stars for several years.  He can be reached at mdrewes@tn-law.com.

Understanding Community Association Budgets

24 Mar

Budget decisions for new community associations can be a minefield. Developers, owners, and board members often don’t realize all the financial considerations they’re supposed to take into account when making early budget decisions. An association should never start out “in the hole,” and there are measures that are required that can protect against an inability to perform necessary projects down the road. This article is to give those dealing with budget issues a brief overview of how to approach the budgeting process.

An association obtains funds through its assessments. The developer of the association (also known as the declarant) has control of the board of directors of a new association (or condominium conversion) until it turns over control to the unit owners. This gives the developer the power to set the amount of the monthly assessments during the period of declarant control. Assessments are comprised of two primary components: (1) The common expense assessments are for funds necessary to maintain and manage of the community; and (2) The reserve funds are those funds required for the replacement of anything the association is obligated to replace (this is found in the association’s governing documents, specifically the declaration – roofing and siding are frequent examples).

The Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act, or “MCIOA,” found in Minnesota Statutes Chapter 515B, permits a developer to reserve the right to pay a 25% alternative assessment for each unit it owns that is not “substantially complete.” “Substantial completion” means the date on which a “certificate of occupancy” is issued, which is issued by the city in which the home is located following an inspection. A developer may therefore pass the first assessment early so homeowners start to pay a portion of the operating expenses, but delay “substantial completion” on unsold units to take advantage of the alternative assessment. Developers also may take advantage of potentially ambiguous language in MCIOA stating that assessment obligations do not begin until a unit is “created.”

It may sound unfair that a developer would pay only 25% of monthly assessments, but it’s not entirely that simple. Prior to the passage of the initial assessment the developer is required to pay all of the association’s operating expenses. Also, if there are any unpaid costs at the time control is transferred to the members, the developer must pay them within 60 days. The developer’s alternative assessment right is also limited to the common expense portion of the assessments. The developer has to pay 100% of the reserve assessment on the units it owns. Again, however, these assessments are not due until the unit itself or any building within the unit is “substantially complete,” which may lead a developer to delay the “substantial completion” of unsold units to avoid triggering this assessment.

All of this may tempt a developer to set assessments too low in order to minimize its own assessment contribution or to generate buyer interest. Nevertheless, the association’s budget is required by law to include an adequate reserve assessment to allow for the replacement of the required components of the development. The members of a board of directors who are appointed by a developer also owe a fiduciary duty to get this right. The developer and the board it appoints would therefore face liability if they leave the association with insufficient operating or reserve funds on hand. A developer would be wise to set a realistic budget or it and the board members it appointed will risk liability to the Association.

Similarly, it would be wise for individual owners elected as board members to review that budget right away, and each year thereafter. Consider whether a reserve study is necessary to ensure the reserves are adequate. A new association board should also make sure it has all the proper documentation for the construction, finances and operation of the association from the developer. These documents are often not turned over to the detriment of the unit owners going forward.

Assessment issues should be addressed proactively by all parties involved. Failing to discover a problem early can lead to significant financial consequences for all involved that will only worsen if not discovered. Accordingly, resolution of these problems is more likely if they are caught sooner, rather than later. Hopefully this article helps you to reach that goal.

Author:

This blog entry is written by Matt Drewes. Matt is a shareholder at Thomsen & Nybeck, P.A. and head of the firm’s Association Representation Group. He practices primarily in the areas of real estate litigation, townhome and condominium law, construction litigation, debtor/creditor law, insurance litigation and employment law.  For more information on townhome and condominium law, please visit: http://www.tn-law.com/CM/Real-Estate/Townhome-Condominium-Law.asp.

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