Q&A: Renovations Made Without Homeowners Approval

Q I live in a 72-unit condo. We have major leaks in our building mostly around windows and air conditioner sleeves. The board hired an engineer that some unit owners heard from other buildings in the area to stay away from. The engineer wants to rebrick the whole building, change windows and sleeves, and reconstruct our terraces. We have a block and brick construction and very private terraces because of the brick wall and railing. He wants to change the terraces by taking down the brick wall and putting up some kind of railings with a panel instead of brick. The board of managers never asked the unit owners opinion on who to hire and what the scope of work we can afford. We do not have a reserve fund and the cost of this restoration will be about $4 million. I was told we have to come up with the money, which will be from $60,000 to $80,000 a unit within two years. Is this legal? Can the board of managers make this decision without homeowners approval?

—Annoyed and Confused

A “The board has the responsibility to repair and replace major portions of the common elements when these areas reach the end of their useful lives or when they have fallen into disrepair,” says partner James Erwin of the Chicago-based law firm of Erwin & Associates LLC. “Unfortunately, from the scenario you describe, it appears that your board has made a bad habit of deferring maintenance expenses and has neglected its responsibilities regarding reserve funds requirements. Your association is thus faced with large expenses for major repairs and no reserve funds to turn to for this work. Nonetheless, so long as the project is affecting common elements, the board must proceed with the repairs, even if it has to borrow the funds to complete this work.

“Section 18.4 of the Illinois Condominium Property Act (the Act) establishes that the power to set the budgets and expenses for the association, including for repair and replacement of common elements is within the purview of the board and does not require prior unit owner approval or input. The board is also empowered, within the limits of its fiduciary duties to the association and unit owners, to choose the contractors to perform those repairs and the nature and scope of the work to be performed.

“However, if the expense is for an alteration or addition to the property which is not included in the budget or if the expense exceeds 5% of the budget or if the expense causes total assessments to rise by more than 15% from the prior year, the owners may petition for a vote to challenge the decision made by the board. Twenty percent of the membership must file such a petition within 14 days after the board adopts the expense as part of the annual budget or as a special assessment.

“There may also be a question of whether or not proper notice was effectuated. The Act specifies that owners must be given notice of a meeting to adopt a special assessment no less than 10 days and no more than 30 days prior to the meeting. The notice should also state the purpose of the meeting.”