The Meter is Running
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Habitual rule-breakers may need photo proof before they can be caught.
AUTHORLewis C. Montana, Principal, Levine & Montana
PAGE #p. 372
When a shareholder swears that they’ve stopped breaking the rules, how do you prove them wrong?
It happened about two years ago. We represent a garden-style, five-building apartment complex that has 130 units on three floors. A couple in their 70s lived in a ground-floor apartment. The wife had a habit of going out through the sliding glass door to the backyard and putting bowls of food there for stray cats, despite rules prohibiting owning pets and feeding wild animals. Some of the other residents were worried about diseases, such as rabies. The board had its managing agent write many “cease and desist” letters. They also had me write letters. At first, the shareholder and his spouse denied that they were even doing it. The board sent five notices to cure, which is the first step towards an enforcement action against them.
I recommended that the board conduct informal meetings with the involved parties to see if we could work things out. The board received oral assurances that feeding the cats would cease – and it did, for a month or two – but then it resumed. To augment the paper trail, I recommended that the board install surveillance cameras on the common elements to see if the cats were being fed. I also suggested that they conduct a meeting to determine whether this objectionable conduct – which was repeated after written notice had been given to the shareholder – would be considered an objectionable and undesirable tenancy. The proprietary lease called for a special meeting of the shareholders, to consider and approve the removal of this couple, which was a drastic step.
The board installed motion-activated surveillance cameras. The board conducted several informal, informational meetings to alert the residents about what was going on and then to solicit proxies. The board convened a special shareholders’ meeting. The managing agent provided a visual display of all the past notices and events. At the shareholders’ meeting, the woman who fed the cats hobbled up to the front chair where everybody was making statements. “Please forgive me because I have a spinal condition that causes me to walk very gingerly,” she said. “Although I may have fed the cats it in the past, I’ve stopped doing it.”
After that, the board played the surveillance camera videotapes for the shareholders. They clearly showed recent footage of the woman’s sliding glass door opening, and the woman carrying out two or three bowls of food for these wild animals. That was followed by footage showing 10 or 12 cats appearing, along with skunks, raccoons, and other animals.
In addition, the video showed this woman, who claimed to have a walking impairment, go back into her unit, come out with a broom, fairly easily walk up the spiral staircase, and then very forcefully try to whack the surveillance camera down. That’s what finally convinced the shareholders, I think, and they voted to terminate the lease. A couple of months later, the couple was gone.
The board should always recommend to shareholders that they comply with the house rules. To safeguard the building, boards should create a paper trail. Courts are reluctant to evict a resident if there’s only an infrequent or occasional violation of house rules. But in this case, having a paper trail of warnings and a video record of the infractions proved critical.