Connecticut Supreme Court Untangles Leash Rule and Affirms a Condominium Board of Directors’ Rulemaking Authority
Are you confused about the extent of a condominium board of directors’ authority to adopt a particular rule or regulation? In the recent case of Thomas P. Weldy and Elizabeth C. Weldy v. Northbrook Condominium Association, Inc. and its Board of Directors, 279 Conn. 728 (2006), the Connecticut Supreme Court for the first time analyzed this issue and offered condominium boards of directors a roadmap in determining when they can unilaterally promulgate a rule versus when they must obtain unit owner approval. In this case, the Supreme Court reversed an Appellate Court decision that dangerously limited a condominium board of directors’ authority to adopt rules and regulations and which potentially impacted the propriety of existing rules and regulations of every condominium in the State of Connecticut.
The underlying facts of the Northbrook case are straightforward. After the Northbrook Condominium Association, Inc. (the “Association”) Board of Directors adopted a rule limiting the length of leashes to 20 feet (the “Leash Rule”), unit owners Thomas P. Weldy and Elizabeth C. Weldy (the “Weldys”) sued the Association. The Weldys claimed that the Leash Rule constituted an amendment to the Association’s Declaration, which only provided, in relevant part, that all pets must be restrained by a leash and in no way prescribed leash lengths. In response, the Association asserted that the Board of Directors was authorized to adopt the Leash Rule, and that it did not need to proceed with an amendment process for its passage because the Leash Rule merely clarified and carried out the intent of a broad dictate in the Declaration, and properly regulated the use of common elements.
The Weldys commenced this lawsuit by applying for an injunction to prevent the Association from enforcing the Leash Rule. The trial court ruled against the Weldys, holding that the Leash Rule was not an amendment to the Declaration, but a rule that was properly promulgated by the Association’s Board of Directors since it gave meaning to the Declaration’s policy that all pets must be restrained. The trial court relied upon two well-known community association cases in its decision. In Meadow Bridge Condominium v. Bosca, 187 Mich. App. 280 (1990), the Michigan Appellate Court defined a rule or regulation as a tool to implement existing “law” and an amendment as something that changes existing “law.” In Beachwood Villas Condominium v. Poor, 448 So. 2d 1143 (Fla. App. 1984), the Florida District Court determined that if a rule does not contravene an express provision in a declaration or a right that can be inferred from the declaration, it is valid and is within the board's authority to enact. Applying those standards, the trial court found that Association’s Board of Directors properly adopted the Leash Rule.
The Weldys then appealed the trial court’s decision to the Connecticut Appellate Court. In a surprising decision, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court, finding that the Leash Rule amended the Declaration. The Appellate Court found that the Declaration’s leash provision, which simply required that all pets must be restrained by a leash, was not ambiguous and needed no clarification. Any limitation on leashes would have to be made through an amendment to the Declaration.
The Connecticut Supreme Court then granted the Association’s petition for certification, and in its September 5, 2006 decision it reversed the Appellate Court. In its decision, the Court emphasized that a condominium association’s power should be “interpreted broadly.” It reaffirmed that a board-enacted rule that does not contravene either an express provision of the declaration or a right reasonably inferable therefrom, would be found valid. The Supreme Court found that the Leash Rule properly carried out the intent of the pet policy in the Declaration, by giving meaning to the word “restrained.”
The import of this decision for condominium governance is quite significant. The Appellate Court’s decision, in finding that the Leash Rule was not properly promulgated, dangerously limited a condominium board of directors’ authority to adopt rules and regulations to enforce and give meaning to broad dictates of a condominium declaration, and also unreasonably limited a condominium board of directors’ authority to regulate the use of a condominium’s common elements.
The Appellate Court’s decision potentially impacted the propriety of existing rules and regulations of every condominium in the State of Connecticut. If an association board of directors could not adopt rules to give meaning to a declaration provision, than its rulemaking powers would be substantially curtailed, and it would be forced to undertake laborious and often costly amendment procedures to effect basic rules for governance.
After the Appellate Court decision was rendered, Northbrook Condominium Association, Inc. could have attempted to pass the Leash Rule through an amendment process. In the end, however, it chose to raise this case to the Connecticut Supreme Court, since it knew the issue was not about leashes, but was about fundamental issues of condominium governance.
Ultimately, in validating a condominium board of directors’ authority to adopt a leash rule in this case, the Connecticut Supreme Court clarified and reaffirmed a condominium board of directors’ rulemaking authority. For this reason, this case has profound legal significance in condominium jurisprudence.
Mr. Hoffman, an attorney with Cohen and Wolf, P.C., represented Northbrook Condominium Association, Inc. and its Board of Directors in the case of Thomas P. Weldy and Elizabeth C. Weldy v. Northbrook Condominium Association, Inc. and its Board of Directors in the Connecticut Superior Court, Appellate Court, and Supreme Court.