A. A group of condominium owners gather monthly to make decisions that are relevant to the upkeep of their property (Vaad HaBayit). At a recent meeting, where large expenditures were approved by majority vote, only a minority of the home owners were actually present. Are all of the owners bound by the decisions made at such a meeting?
B. What kind of binding decisions is such a community group authorized to make?
- A. Yes!! As long as the place and time of the meeting was properly publicized, and no one presented any protest regarding this, all of the owners are bound by any decisions that this group is authorized to make. However, if not all of the owners were aware of the meeting, or if some requested that the meeting be changed to a more convenient venue, and this request was ignored, any decisions made by this group would be void, unless a majority of the owners was represented.
- B. A group of condominium or neighborhood home owners is only authorized to make decisions beneficial to their ownership that are commonly made by such groups in their area.
However, any decisions not commonly made by such groups in their area, or any decision to take away an individual owner’s property rights without his consent, whether entirely or partially, are totally invalid, even if the majority of all residents in the condominium or neighborhood votes for them.
A. The Chassam Sofer in his Teshuvos (Choshen Mishpat Siman 116) writes regarding a meeting of community representatives which was adequately publicized in advance, but only a minority of the representatives were actually present, that any decisions made at such a meeting are binding on all of the representatives. Anyone who does not show up to the meeting is essentially saying that he gives power of attorney (Harsha’ah) to those who are there to decide the issue on his behalf. This is also discussed in the Igros Moshe (Choshen Mishpat Vol. 2, Siman 20).
However, it is only possible to say this if all representatives were aware of the time and place of the meeting, and were agreeable to it. Otherwise, we would not be able to say that by not showing up they are giving power of attorney to those who are present.
If all representatives were aware of the meeting, but a minority requested that the venue be changed because they would not be able to make it to the meeting at that time, if the meeting took place anyway the decisions made would be binding on them also. The reason for this is, since when dealing with a group of people, it is often impossible to set a time for a meeting that will be convenient for all. Therefore, we must go after what is convenient for the majority, as is stated in the Chassam Sofer there, and in the Pischei Teshuva (Choshen Mishpat 163:1).
These Halachos apply to any group meeting, whether the board of a synagogue or school, or choosing representatives for a labor union, etc.
B. The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 161:1) states that members of a city or community can force one another to contribute to improvements that are beneficial to all members of the city or community, if it is customary among communities in that society to involve themselves in these causes. For example, the members of a community could impose a fee on all members to pay for landscaping and gardening of joint communal property, if this is the custom in that area, but not to fund artistic endeavors, or communal social events, unless all members were aware of this obligation before they joined the community.
The reason why a community may involuntarily impose on all members by majority rule is because this is understood to be the case when joining any community or group and agreed to by all joining members. However, this obviously only applies to issues that are accepted practice for such groups to decide on. Any other issues are not binding on all, because it can not be argued that all members agreed to relinquish their rights to the majority in such cases. This is discussed at length in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 176:10).
Therefore, such a group has no authority at all to take away any rights of ownership from any individual members, even if it is clearly beneficial for the majority of the group. In such a case, the community can only purchase these rights from the individual owner, before doing any of the improvements they deem necessary for the good of the entire community.
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This week’s class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda’ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval.
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!