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SB 118 Passes the Legislature - New Help for HOAs with Difficulty Amending Governing Documents & Watch out "Low Road" Associations!

March 7, 2015

After an unpredictable and wild legislative process that saw the bill transform several times, SB 118 finally passed the Senate and the House. It now awaits the governor's signature. This bill took more turns than a blind mouse in a mile long maze. In its final form, this bill is a compilation of three different concepts. First, community associations now have even better tools to get past mistakes and roadblocks in the governing documents that prevent amendments. Second, this bill ended up with owner protections against associations who fail to comply with the new open meeting laws in HB 99. The Utah Senate committee required these changes but, through simple inadvertence, they didn't make it into HB 99 before it passed both houses. So, they ended up in SB 118. Finally, SB 118 was amended to include significant clarifications to the procedures for an owner requesting association documents and a new penalty provision if condominium associations or other community associations fail to comply with owner document requests. These provisions came instead of another bill the Sponsor intended to run and were also part of a cooperative drafting effort between the CAI LAC and the senator.

This bill reflects a careful balance between owner and association rights. Those associations who take the "high road" of transparency and compliance with the law, will see no problems with these new penalty provisions. On the other hand, those management companies, HOA attorneys, and associations who tend to view HOA relationships with owners as an "us" - the board and its advisors, against "them" - the owners, had better beware. The days of obstructing owners who want to attend meetings or see association records are coming to an end. Owners in townhomes, condominiums, and homeowners associations will no longer have to stand for stonewalling, unexplained delay, exorbitant document copying charges, and other common strategies employed by the "low road" associations and their advisors who try to obstruct owners in their legitimate requests for association documents. Without needing an attorney, owners will be able to file a claim in small claims court and obtain a $500 damage award if the association fails to comply with either the open meeting or the document production laws. If an owner gets an attorney, he or she has a right to recover reasonable attorney fees.

This bill faced opposition from the "low road" attorneys who think that every law granting HOA owner rights is a threat to associations. And for those associations they advise, it probably is. Fortunately, that narrow minded opposition was fleeting, weak, and had no impact on the passage of the bill. The Utah legislature understood the importance of these types of balanced laws that support owners’ rights. How could they not – the same types of disclosure and access laws apply to the government they serve in!

John Morris, an attorney at Morris Sperry, is proud to have helped written the laws in this bill and to have testified in favor of this bill at the capitol. Morris Sperry applauds and supports this type of legislation. This new HOA law respects the balance between HOAs and their owners and helps remind as all who the HOA serves – the owners! The Utah community association institute HOA LAC (legislative action committee) worked hard on this bill with senators who have encountered the "low road" HOAs and were set on punishing them. The result was an excellent balance that good HOAs and their advisors will appreciate and respect. The work on this bill also continued and strengthened a good working relationship between the LAC and the Utah legislature.

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