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Commission on Common Ownership Communities

Minutes of the Monthly Meeting

February 4, 2015


The monthly meeting of the Commission on Common Ownership Communities was called to order at 7:02pm by Chairperson Rand Fishbein.

Present: Fishbein, Mays, Brandes, Coyle, Cromwell, Ethier, Rahmani, Stone, Weinstein, Winegar, Zajic (11)

Absent: Dubin, Fonoroff, Kabakoff, Molloy (4)

Also attending:  Associate County Attorney Walter Wilson; CCOC staff Peter Drymalski; OLO staff Kristen Latham and Stephanie Bryant; Mr. Larry Dorney.

  1. Minutes.  The minutes of the January, 2015, meeting were approved as drafted (Cromwell abstaining).
  1. Introduction of OLO Staff.  Dr. Fishbein presented Kristen Latham and Stephanie Bryant of the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.  Ms. Latham reported that the OLO was in the process of conducting a thorough review of the CCOC’s activities and needs, and expected to be able to file a final report by mid-March.  The CCOC will receive a draft of the report and will be able to comment upon it before the final report is issued.  OLO has conducted several surveys of different groups of the users of CCOC, and has also interviewed individuals who work for or with the CCOC.  She said it was clear that this stage that the CCOC needed more support for its work; her report will go into more detail.
  1. New Cases Presented for Review.  Mr. Drymalski reported that most of the cases presented tonight were “defaults,” which means that the respondents did not answer the complaints within the 30 days required by law.  He reviewed the CCOC’s default judgment procedures, which are contained in a written policy statement that is posted online at the CCOC website.  The essential steps are:
  1. The staff sends the complaint with a cover letter, the cover letter includes a conspicuous notice that the responding party must send a written reply within 30 days;
  2. If the staff does not receive a reply, it notifies the complaining party of this fact and that the complaining party can request that the CCOC proceed to judgment on the complaint.  Staff sends a copy of this notice to the responding party.
  3. The complaining party then files a motion for a default.   The complaining party must send a copy of this motion to the responding party.
  4. After the staff receives the motion, it drafts a Case Summary for the CCOC to consider.  The staff sends a copy of the Case Summary to both parties with a cover letter that invites them to submit written comments on the Case Summary for the CCOC to consider.
  5. If the CCOC votes to take jurisdiction of the dispute and to issue a default order, the staff sends the order of default to both parties with an Order to Show Cause.  This order informs the responding party that it has 30 more days in which to file its answer and to explain why it did not answer earlier.
  6. If the responding party does not obey the Order to Show Cause, the staff presents the full file to the hearing panel.  The hearing panel then reviews the complaint and the supporting documents, and decides whether to issue a final and binding judgment.  No hearing is necessary.  The staff can enforce the judgment by filing a civil citation against the respondent in the District Court, and request a fine of up to $500 per day.

The staff noted that by the time a default case comes to the CCOC, the responding party has already received four notices that a complaint has been filed against the respondent and that legal action can be taken if the respondent does nothing (complaint, notice of default, motion for default, case summary and cover letter).

The Commission considered each case presented to it, and unanimously voted to accept jurisdiction of, and to issue orders of default in, the following disputes:

            #65-13, Greencastle Lakes CA v. Plku and Nimo,

            #78-13. Greencastle Lakes CA v. Waldamariam,

            #74-14, Greencastle Lakes CA v. Maslowe,

            #76-14, Greencastle Lakes CA v. Bailey.

In #78-13, the staff noted that the complaint was not properly signed by the Association president and recommended that the CCOC issue an order of default only upon receipt of a properly signed complaint; the CCOC agreed to make its decision contingent on receipt of a properly-signed complaint.

The staff withdrew #73-14, Greencastle Lakes CA v. Nwadike and Nwagu , pending attempts by the respondents to make the necessary repairs.

The Commission considered and unanimously voted to accept jurisdiction of, #83-14, Boveja v. West Spring Condominium Association and to refer it to a hearing panel for further proceedings.

The Commission appointed Ms. Ethier, Mr. Coyle and Ms. Cromwell to the panel for the default cases.  The Commission appointed Ms. Mays and Mr. Zajic to the hearing panel for #83-14, which is set for a hearing March 12, 2015.

  1. Decisions on Appeal.  Staff reported that three CCOC rulings are pending on appeal:  #51-11, which is now in the Court of Special Appeals; ##52 and 67-12 which are on appeal in the Circuit Court with proceedings delayed due to the fact that the appealing party has not obtained and filed the transcripts; and #55-11, which is also in the Circuit Court with the record due to be filed by the CCOC in March and a hearing on May 25.
  1. County Attorney’s Report.  Mr. Wilson reported that the County Executive declined to intervene in the appeal of ##52 and 67-12; a decision is pending in the appeal of #55-11.

Ms. Ethier asked what was the “intervention” process.  Mr. Wilson explained that he tries to determine if an appeal involves any issue of substantial importance to the County Government.  The County will usually not intervene if the only issues involve the private rights of the two parties.  However, if an appeal challenges the CCOC’s right to issue orders or injunctions, then that would raise an issue of substantial importance to the County.  The County Attorney’s Office will report to the County Executive on every appeal.  If the Executive wishes to intervene in the case, the County Attorney files a motion to intervene in the Circuit Court.  One of the conditions the County must meet for its motion to be accepted is that there is a public interest involved that neither party can fully defend.  If the court allows the intervention, the County’s brief is limited to making legal arguments that will not duplicate the defending party’s own arguments. 

  1. Staff Report.  Mr. Drymalski circulated the statistical report for January.  He noted that the CCOC will have a table (provided free of charge by the CAI) at the CAI’s DC Chapter’s annual conference March 7.  CCOC can have 4 representatives at no charge, and he asked for 3 volunteers.
  1. Committee Reports.  There was no report from the Legislative Committee.

Ms. Ethier reported for the Budget and Planning Committee.  She thanked Dr. Fishbein for his efforts to meet with Councilmembers and their staffs to discuss the CCOC and its staffing and funding needs.  The Committee is now preparing specific funding and staffing requests using the County’s personnel job descriptions and salary scales.  She added that one major need is for the CCOC to be able to collect and analyze hard data on the CCOC’s operations and on the composition and needs of all the common ownership communities in the County; currently, neither DHCA nor OCP has the means to do this.  Dr. Fishbein explained that he used the passage of Bill 45-14, which was supported by 6 out of 9 Councilmembers, as a means to explain why the CCOC needs more financial assistance.  He noted further that even though Councilmember Floreen voted against Bill 45-14, she went out of her way to state publicly at the hearing that she supported the CCOC and that she favored increasing its funding.

Dr. Fishbein reported that he believed the CCOC should frankly tell the Executive and the Council what is the CCOC’s ideal of how it should be supported and funded, but be prepared with a “fallback” proposal.  By way of comparison, DHCA has a $40 million budget, and spends over $2 million on the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs.  The CCOC should be comparably funded.  He strongly believes that the CCOC must be more involved in the budget proposals made on its behalf and that it has never been allowed to be involved in the past.

Mr. Coyle and Ms. Ethier both commented on Bill 45-14 to the effect that although the CCOC has effectively reached professionals such as lawyers and managers, it does not reach individual homeowners.  Ms. Ethier suggested that the CCOC begin to create specialized training classes on narrowly-defined topics in order to reach different kinds of audiences.

Mr. Coyle and Ms. Ethier both stated that although the governments (local, State and Federal) encourage or even require the creation of common ownership communities in new developments, they provide little or no support to these communities, even though the communities relieve the government of additional tax burdens.  Mr. Coyle said that community associations pay a double tax—they pay the same real estate taxes everyone else pays and then they pay assessments for parks, swimming pools, parking lots, roads, and other amenities which raise property values and which the government might otherwise have to supply and pay for out of real property taxes.  Ms. Ethier added that the government is creating a long-term problem by allowing developers to create small associations, especially condominiums, that do not have the resources to run themselves properly—for example, they cannot afford managers and lawyers.

Ms. Ethier reported for the Dispute Resolution Process Committee.  It has discussed several proposals to improve the process, but it appears that unless the CCOC receives more staff, there is little it can do to significantly shorten the dispute resolution process.

The Education Committee then reported.  Ms. Winegar circulated a draft of an outline for the mandatory training and a draft of a major part of the substantive text of the training.  The CCOC expressed its appreciation for this work. 

The CCOC then discussed the issue of the enforcement of Bill 45-14.  As passed, there is no sunset provision and all directors elected (or reelected) after January 1, 2016, must take the training.  A hearing panel can take the failure to comply with the training requirement into account when making a decisions or determining what remedy to order.  Dr. Fishbein said the Council was quite clear that enforcement should begin with a light touch, with compulsion only as a very last resort.  Since the law as passed is not specific on enforcement, the CCOC will draft a policy statement on how it will enforce the law.

Mr. Zajic asked how it can be determined if the training is successful.  Staff commented that the associations must now answer surveys for the CCOC, and part of the survey will include reports on vacant directorships.  If the percentage of vacancies starts to soar, the CCOC will have early notice of it and can consider an appropriate response.

In response to another question, Mr. Wilson stated that Bill 45-14 applies to developer-controlled associations as well as to owner-controlled associations.

Ms. Mays reported on Bill 44-14.  The Council’s PHED Committee will take up the bill on February 9.  As currently drafted, the bill will require landlords, when they apply for a license, to certify they are current in their payments to their associations.  An association can also complain at any time to the County that a landlord is in default and ask that the landlord license be revoked.

  1.  Committee Assignments.  Dr. Fishbein circulated an enrollment chart for all the CCOC committees.  He said the Annual Forum committee should be merged into the Education Committee because of changing ideas concerning the need for the annual forum and how the CCOC’s educational goals can be served by other types of seminars.
  1. Adjournment.  The CCOC voted to adjourn at 9:15pm.
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