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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Make Sure You Have the Votes Before Trying to Amend Your Bylaws

Justin Buchel

Partner, Schneider Buchel

Burning issue. At a condo we represent, a unit-owner had a fire pit on the balcony terrace, and people were up in arms — and scared, because there had been a recent fire at the condo. The board started legal action but ran into a problem when the unit-owner pushed back, saying fire pits aren’t banned in the governing documents. So we sent a cease-and-desist notice to the unit-owner explaining that the fire pit was a nuisance due to the odors and the noise coming from all the parties there. But the unit-owner dug his heels in.


The bylaw solution. Bylaws cannot ban everything under the sun, and I don’t know any set of governing documents that particularly bans fire pits. So instead of litigating the nuisance issue, the board decided to try to amend its bylaws. When you do that, you need to poll the community first so you know whether it is going to pass. You can do an informal poll where board members go door-to-door and sound people out. Or you can hold an informational meeting where you explain your proposal and ask if people will support it.


A big margin is a must. Either way, you have to be running at a much higher percentage of yes votes than what the governing documents require. If you need two-thirds of the vote, you really need 80% because there are always people who don’t show up at meetings, and everyone who does not vote is basically a no vote. In this case, the board found there was more than 80% in favor after the informal poll. And it turned out to be a landslide victory. So there are two takeaways here: Check your bylaws to see if they need updating, and if you need to amend them, make sure you have the votes going in.  

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