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Court of Appeals shoots down harassing debt collection practices

June 23, 2017: Say you’re struggling to make ends meet, and you can’t pay your condo fee until your paycheck arrives. Or maybe the condo association says you’re behind on fees, but you’re sure you paid. In situations like these, should a late payment force you to walk a mile to get home? On June 23, the Court of Appeals unanimously answered that question with a resounding, “No.”  

In Elvaton Towne Condominium v. Rose, the Court held that condo associations cannot restrict a unit owner’s access to common areas, such as parking spaces and a community pool, as a form of punishment for past-due condo fees, unless these types of debt-collection practices are explicitly provided for in the condominium’s declaration. These tactics are designed to intimidate and generally affect low- to moderate-income unit owners disproportionately. The Court’s decision put an end to harassing debt-collection practices employed by condominiums that infringe upon the property rights of condo owners, such as William and Dawn Rose.     

Public Justice Center  Murnaghan Fellow Anthony May, along with Phillip Robinson of the Consumer Law Group, represented the Roses in their appeal to Maryland’s highest court, arguing that their condominium association’s practice of forcing condo owners to park outside of the condominium development and prohibiting families from using a community pool for allegedly past-due condo fees violated the Maryland Condominium Act. In siding with the Roses, Chief Judge Barbera wrote: “Restricting a condominium unit owner’s access to communally-held property is a significant infringement of the owner’s property rights—so significant that the General Assembly found it appropriate to require that such a restricting may be authorized only through a provision in the declaration[.]”  

The Court rejected the condo association’s argument that broad language in its declaration gave it general authority to write such policies whenever it wanted.  The Court held that the condo association acted “beyond [it’s] power” when it implemented a rule restricting access to these areas, regardless of whether that restriction was temporary or permanent, without first obtaining consent from all unit owners.  The Court’s ruling was a victory for the Roses, as well as other condominium owners in the state who, having fallen on hard times or involved in a legitimate dispute over what they owe, have been hassled by their condo associations and, in some instances, forced to walk long distances on dangerous roads just to make it home.

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