Response to Cabinet article of Nov. 21 titled ‘Condo owners assail management’

To the Editor:

As the article printed in The Cabinet is not only misleading and misquotes me, but is causing a great deal of harm to the owners and residents of Great Brook and could do so to other associations as well if the issues are misunderstood, it’s appropriate that I respond.

First, I never said the amount of people present didn’t mean there is a problem with Great Brook. There is, but the cause is the determination by Walter Swanbon and his followers that the association should allow people to act contrary to the New Hampshire Condo Act, the Association Declaration and Bylaws and to a lesser extent, to the rules as allowed by statute and published.

RSA 356-B is the NH Condo Act, which is the body of law regarding condominiums in New Hampshire. It includes that all owners are subject to provisions of that RSA and if they fail to do so, costs associated with action to correct the violation can be charged back to the offending owner(s). All condominiums have a declaration that basically describes the property, including who owns what part of it individually and what part is owed equally by all owners, and bylaws that provide information regarding the operation of it. These are legal documents with the same standing as a signed contract.

The Declaration and Bylaws at Great Brook include provisions that reference that simply by taking title or occupancy, the owner or occupant has accepted and ratified the provisions contained therein and will comply with them and if they fail to do so, costs such as referring the matter to counsel would be charged back to the offending owner. Contrary to the position of Mr. Swanbon and his group, none of these documents includes an exception such as “except if an owner hasn’t read them or disagrees with them.”

Mr. Swanbon purchased his unit in late June 2012. He does not now, nor has he ever, lived at Great Brook. In the first conversion we had with him several weeks following his purchase, he stated his opinion that the board and my office should know no one reads the legal documents and, therefore, the board and management were obligated to ignore them. To the contrary, the board and management have the opposite obligation: We must insure compliance with them. He has since continually challenged the enforceability of those documents. Those associations that are managed other than per the legal documents can soon find themselves in legal and financial trouble. Such was the case at Great Brook before we began the management relationship.

There is no “heavy-handed management” at Great Brook. Rather, we try to inform owners why there is this or that obligation and that the obligation of their board and management to address violations of the referenced documents is not unique to Great Brook. As for the claim of “unreasonably aggressive fining system,” this is not the case. Rather, late charges are assessed at the rate specifically referenced in the bylaws when fees that are due on or before the first day of a month have not been received by the 10th day of any month. Charge backs for costs such as legal charges incurred when an owner has failed to meet their obligations despite reminders, are assessed as referenced in the NH Condominium Act and the Association Bylaws (to avoid all other owners paying for costs incurred due to the violations of any single owner).

There is no such legal referral, however, until the offending owner has been advised of the pending legal referral in writing and given still another 10 days to bring their account current or to otherwise comply with the Declaration or Bylaws. Fines for violations of the published rules are assessed only after the offending owner has been reminded in written form of the rule and further, the fine schedule itself is also referenced in the published rules. The fine schedule includes a written reminder before any fines are assessed. In no instance has that not taken place.

Since neither the board or management drafted the Condo Act or the Association Declaration or Bylaws (recorded in 1981), which include the obligation to comply, it’s illogical and unreasonable for any owner or group of owners to blame the board or management for what those documents require of all owners and of the board and management.

It’s particularly upsetting that Mrs. Cleveland inaccurately stated that I said, “Those who want the changes are condo owners who don’t want to obey the rules and management is following rules allowed by state law.” To the contrary, I specifically advised her that the issue was those who refused to accept the standing of the legal documents, those who choose to lie and misrepresent information and those who determine to believe information if it can cause harm to those they want harmed. Not only did I review this with Mrs. Cleveland, but I provided her with copies of the language of those legal documents.

As for the people at the meeting, there were many – the silent majority – many of which tried to speak up that night but were not allowed to do so by those determined to control the meeting. There were others who spoke with us later to firmly state that they are not in the least supportive of Mr. Swanbon, Gilda Stigiliano and Ann Limor and that group. As I was with Mrs. Cleveland when Ms. Stigliano and Ms. Limor asked that their names not be used by The Cabinet, I can identify them accordingly as can others who heard their request.

Yes, some people commented that they had not been able to “make any changes to what they want.” What they failed to say, however, is that there have been no requests from any owner suggesting a change to any rules adopted and published, nor has there been any communications received suggesting any possible amendment to the Declaration or Bylaws (an amendment requires an affirmative vote of 67 percent of the owners). Further, they failed to include that the Association has no control over provisions in the NH Condo Act.

No one recites the RSAs to beat people down or treats anyone like an “idiot” if they don’t know the bylaws as Mr. Swanbon claims. We are well aware that the reality is that many have either never read them or have forgotten what’s in them, or don’t understand the legal standing of them. Hence, when asked or a requirement is disputed, to help them understand why they have certain obligations, it can be appropriate to reference the act, or the Association Declaration or Bylaws. In most instances, the owners are happy that we’ve provided that information for them.

The information reported as claims made by Cheryl Dadah is wrong and misleading. At the meeting, we acknowledged receipt of a certified mailing from her (mailed Jan. 9, received Nov. 12 due to the holiday) in which she merely asked for a candidacy form which was immediately mailed to her. Her second mailing was via priority mail, which the postal service advises is handled like a package. Accordingly, the date referenced as being the date and time “delivered” can be instead the day and time it is ‘shelved” (their words) not necessarily the day it is placed in the box of the addressee. Regardless, however, as it was mailed on Nov. 16, that was three days after the date by which it had to be received back as referenced in the notice of the meeting. Further, a date by which forms have to be received for the name to be on the ballot has been a requirement for 10 years and was, therefore, not unique to 2013 as some tried to claim.

Mr. Swanbon and his group want the current president removed. Yet, they fail to acknowledge that the president has only one vote on the board. Rather, matters properly before the board are determined based on the majority vote of the board. I would also point out that during the nine months when Ms. Dadah was on the board before she resigned, there were eight board meetings. She did not attend two and left early three times but when there, she consistently voted as the same as did the president of the board and other members of it.

My role with the association is to address violations of the Declaration and Bylaws and to advise any requesting or disputing owner of what those documents do or do not allow when I am asked. Additionally, I’m the messenger regarding any decisions made by the board that were properly before the board. An interesting point is that an individual interested in purchasing a unit at Great Brook said that the reason Great Brook was so attractive to him was that it was an association effectively managed.

The Milford police know that only the board could make decisions such as retaining the services of police and that accordingly, contrary to claims by Mr. Swanbon, billing was to be to the Association not Mr. Swanbon.

Neither management or the board has created an atmosphere “that has caused people a lot of pain.” Rather, Mr. Swanbon and his followers have caused a great deal of harm by lying and misleading people regarding what the legal obligations of ownership are, regarding does or does not take place, or what has or has not taken place or been said. All of the accusations made at the meeting can be easily proven as false.

A change in the board or management would not result in what they want happening.