Courtesy The Manchester Times
May 29, 2007
A delegation of about 100 Manchester, Berkeley and Brick
seniors traveled to Trenton on Monday to be heard on the topic of multi-family
association home rule.
The site was the New Jersey Museum and the symposium,
titled "Homeowner Associations: Problems and Solutions," was
sponsored by the law schools of Seton Hall and Rutgers University, Newark and
State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex), who is
sponsoring legislation that would allow the formation of a special office of
ombudsman to oversee all common interest homesteads, and State Senator Robert
Martin (R-Morris) presented opposing viewpoints in brief remarks to a crowd of
about 150 spectators.
"This was an important day for anyone interested in
this bill," said Jim Doran, president of the Manchester Coordinating
Council, which sponsored a bus trip for many who oppose the bill. "We
showed up in numbers and let the people who matter know where we stand."
Doran was referencing a panel of experts on homeowner
association legislation who were stunned by the reply when they asked the
crowd whether they were for or against the ombudsman.
"I think they were surprised at
the response," Doran said. "The deck was stacked against us
but we never back down. This is a fight we're in to win."
Another panel was comprised of a dozen members in favor
of legislation, all of whom spoke of personal problems with their
associations. All eventually required legal intervention to resolve.
Manchester resident Fred Lund, who has fought this
legislation as long as anyone in New Jersey, found vindication when Senator
Martin said, "I'm a lawyer and I don't understand everything in this
Lund has addressed state Senate and Assembly committees
in the past, saying exactly that to deaf ears on both sides of the State
Lund read a short statement that asked the powerbrokers
to take their time writing this legislation in a clear, concise manner. Lund
is opposed to any legislation limited in scope to common interest developments
Members of the Greenbriar senior enclave in Brick asked
legislative panelists to separate condominium associations from homeowners
associations in any legislation, enumerating a number of differences between
Danielle Carroll, the Florida ombudsman, said the
office was funded despite a study by a committee appointed by then-Governor
Jeb Bush that decided the legislation was unnecessary.
"The committee said, 'We should not have a
Common Interest Act because the difference between condos and homeowners
associations was great,'" Carroll said.
She said Floridians pay $4 per year per unit to be
governed by the ombudsman, who can appoint people to teach residents how to
run scheduled elections - which are mandatory in Florida - and appoint
election monitors if wrongdoing is suspected. Carroll insisted that most
associations are honestly and fairly run, but educating board members and
trustees is the key to success.
Senator Rice said he will be trying to merge the best of
legislation offered by Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) and Senator Joseph
Doria (D-Hudson). Interestingly, Rice said he would enact legislation "if
I'm back in June," a reference to a primary election battle he faces.
Rice has repeatedly warned that legislation of some kind will pass this year,
about a dozen years after it was first proposed.
Martin and Doria announced their retirements from the
state legislature earlier this year.
Martin said, "There is time to get this right. Look
to other states and get your input."
One dark note overshadowed the meeting. Edward Hanneman,
an employee of the Department of Community Affairs and an expert in common
interest governance, was not allowed to speak as a member of that state
bureaucracy. When Hanneman registered to speak as a private citizen, he was
told, according to moderator Margaret Bar-Akiva, by his bosses not to do so.
Many in the audience asked Ron Chen, the newly-appointed
public advocate, to take on the responsibility of ombudsman. Chen, whose legal
background is in litigation, said he has "been in Trenton a year now.
I'll look at both bills carefully."
Kenneth Vanderziel, Manchester Town Council president,
said any legislation that has an opt-in/opt out clause would be more
successful than a mandatory membership.
Professor Frank Askin of Rutgers-Newark Law is
litigating the Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners Association case,
expected to set the bar for common interest law when the state Supreme Court
renders its decision next month.
Askin said while most associations "are well run
… unfortunately that's not always the case." And that is the reason for
a state-appointed office to oversee multi-family residences.
Askin recoiled when an audience member cited a study
that indicated 90 percent of homeowners association members nationally said
they were happy with their HOA.
"Which of the 10 percent poorly-run communities
will vote to opt-in?" Askin teased the audience. "And how many
communities are one vote away from being in the same position?"
Judy Noonan of the Holiday City-Silver Ridge Senior
Coalition said the turnout was pleasantly surprising.
"Jim (Doran) deserves all the credit for getting a
busload of people here on short notice," Noonan said. "The people
who came here learned their voices will be heard, their votes do count. A
number of speakers, especially the ombudsman from Florida, were very
informative and interesting."