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(Above) Riverview Condominiums and River Esplanade from Lower Lake Shore Drive Bridge on October 23, 2016.

25-Jan-18 – Only members of a condominium association’s board of directors would have access to contact information for unit owners under a proposed city ordinance that partially reverses a new state law.

Opponents say the state law is needed to help owners communicate with each other about issues in their condo association but 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins says the law “went too far” and he is concerned about privacy.

Public Act 100-0292, which went into effect on January 1, made numerous clarifications and updates to the Illinois Condominium Property Act, including making records of an association available for examination by a unit owner within ten business days of a written request.

Included as records of the association is a list of names, addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, and weighted vote of each owner. The records may not be used for any commercial purpose, such as “solicitation or advertisement for sales or services,” and the condo board may impose a fine if the information is used for such purpose.

Introduced on January 17, the city ordinance would remove personal information from records owners have a right to see. A condo board could still release the personal information on request but at its discretion.

The ordinance would not affect unit owner access to other documents such as declaration, rules and regulations, articles of incorporation, meeting minutes, insurance policies, contracts, and financial records.

Hopkins, who is sponsoring the ordinance along with 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, says the legislation “strengthens condo owner’s individual rights to privacy.”

He asked city attorneys to consider the new state law and determine if “home rule” could be implemented, which allows any city government in Illinois to uphold its laws without interference by state government.

Brian Hopkins “Chicago can enact legislation that upholds the city’s Condominium Ordinance that contains provisions in conflict with the Illinois Condominium Property Act,” wrote Hopkins (left) in a January 22 letter to constituents.

Ordinance allows boards to circumvent law, says opponent

Deborah Goonan, who writes about condominium associations and other common interest developments, says the proposed ordinance is “just a way for board members and association attorneys to get around the new state law.”

In a letter to 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith, Goonan called the new state law “a small but important positive step for housing consumers.”

She says it will help unit owners communicate with each other about the association, but board members will object because “having access to emails and phone numbers allows [an] owner who wishes to blow the whistle on the board or management, or to run for a seat on the board, to reach out to more unit owners.”

Law firms on retainer by a condo board will not like the state law, either, Goonan asserts, as it could help new board leadership get elected, “which almost always leads to an abrupt end to their services.”

“Community association owners need full access to pertinent information about their association,” says Goonan (right). “That includes contact information for co-owners, who share a common financial obligation to maintain the quality of their housing and the safety and solvency of their community.” Deborah Goonan

New law less concerned with ‘proper purpose’

Many of the documents described in the state law and city ordinance were already available to unit owners on written request but often owners were required to have “proper purpose” for seeing them. The new law requires only a “purpose that relates to the association.”

Chicago lawyer Jacob Meister, whose clients include 35 condo associations, said last March the “proper purpose” requirement was a source of conflict and litigation.

Jacob Meister “The ‘proper purpose’ standard is often used to just quash dissent, to decrease participation, make for insular decision-making, and really used, I’ve seen, in a very abusive manner,” said Meister (left).

Meister recalled, last year, unit owners who needed contact information to raise support for overturning a board decision. They had 14 days to petition the board to hold a special meeting but since the condo association was allowed 30 days to decide if the request was proper, the petition arrived too late.

The proposed city ordinance has been referred to the City Council’s committee on Housing and Real Estate.

First read on January 11, 2017, the new state law had 28 sponsors in the Illinois House of Representatives, including State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), and three in the Illinois Senate. It was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner on August 24, 2017.