Condo Owners Bark about Restrictions Supreme Court Will Decide Boundaries to Associations' Power

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Byline: Laura Janota Daily Herald Staff Writer

Nancy Lee Carlson moved to a home in Inverness in July 1994 so her family could keep Fred the dog.

Nearly three years later, Fred has since died.

Yet Carlson, 42, headed last week to the Illinois Supreme Court to ask justices to settle once and for all whether her former condominium association had the power to kick out Fred.

After two contradictory rulings from the Illinois Appellate Court, the case - if accepted by the Supreme Court - could be a benchmark for how far powers of condominium associations should extend.

"Should eight people have the right to decide the fate of a thousand? That's the question," Carlson said.

It's a relationship some experts believe condominium browsers should be aware of before they make an offer.

"People who buy into condos buy into associations," said Schaumburg real estate attorney Joseph Greco.

"The state condominium property act gives them authority to be a little government - to write bylaws and to make rules."

In a recent opinion piece in Lerner's Skyline newspaper, former Democratic State Rep. Ellis Levin contended property rights of condominium owners may be in danger if associations can make rules that aren't part of the bylaws.

Levin, who helped write condominium law for the state, believes if associations have too much power outside the bylaws they could even ban leasing of condo units - thereby destroying a condo owner's investment.

In Carlson's case, the Chicago attorney moved her family from a 69th floor condominium at the John Hancock Center after the 175 East Delaware Association sued her to get rid of the dog.

"We dumped our apartment for $260,000 just so we could get out," she said.

Since then, Carlson has argued the association shouldn't have had the power to ban dogs since the rule wasn't part of her condominium's bylaws.

The association has countered that its board of directors has power to make rules - even if they're not in documents condominium buyers review before making a deal.

And since the case began, the association has made its rule on pets part of the bylaws.

The appellate court first ruled with Carlson in 1996, but then reversed itself last March in favor of the 175 East Delaware Association.

It's a case that lawyers on all sides of the spectrum are watching with interest.

"Most people don't understand the nature of a condominium development," said Arlington Heights attorney Marshall Dickler, who represents as many as 200 associations in the suburbs.

"These are people that choose to live together in close proximity to one another," said Dickler. "You have to have some structure that gives someone power to deal with all the situations that come up."

For the thousands of associations caring for properties all over the region, it means making rules on noise, parking, pets, even aesthetics.

"There are some very volatile issues in some of these associations," said Thomas Shannon, a Chicago real estate attorney. …