Bill A2027 is designed to fix language in the PREDFDA laws which govern common interest associations such as homeowners associations, but also managed trusts and other forms of common interest communities. PREDFDA was written in the spirit of fairness and states that an association’s board must be comprised of its “paying members,” which is how most people experience a homeowners association. The writers of the original PREDFDA used the words “member” and “unit owner” interchangeably, implying that they meant that their use of the word “member” would, by default, include all homeowners paying dues or fees. This is who the PREDFDA law was meant to protect. There are a few associations in NJ that have been able to legally skirt the law by claiming that only they are able to define what and who a “member” is much in the way a country club chooses its members. Radburn is one of them. After 30 years of asking for reform, residents seeking democracy in Radburn finally see a ray of hope in bill A2027. This bill defines the word “member” as, at minimum, everyone who owns a home and pays dues.
In Radburn, about 30 members control the fate of 3,000 non-member residents. The ballot for the annual Board of Trustees election is decided only by sitting trustees, not though open nominations by community members. Because of this, most of the members of this board are recycled year after year, and people who advocate open government are denied access to the governing body. Most recently, a new resident, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq wanted to serve his community in Radburn and submitted his name for a nomination by the board. He was completely ignored and left scratching his head, wondering wh he had risked his life for America, but he he was deemed unfit for leadership in Radburn. Why? Probably because he had publicly voiced his support for a more open election system and more transparency in association affairs. Residents are also not allowed to see detailed bills and receipts. These are substituted by most general information regarding finances in the form of a “budget.” The most glaring and expensive item every year in the budget is simply entitled “professional services,” usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. No detail is given.
In January 2016 , it was discovered by Radburn residents that their board of trustees had covertly hired a lobbyist to kill A469, using money earmarked for the citizens of Radburn. This went into the budget as “professional services”. Sensing the potential conflict within the community regarding their fiduciary and ethical responsibilities, the board members have been pressured to not say a word to anyone and keep this a secret. This action was not voted on openly as per state law and Radburn’s own rules and regulations. The money they are spending is said to be projected in the hundreds of thousands.
In Moore vs Radburn, although Kathy Moore and the residents lost the suit on semantics regarding the word “member” they did have a small victory. New Jersey Court of Appeals affirmed that Radburn had a responsibility for full financial disclosure to its residents, or as the court put it, “ a record of all receipts and expenditures.” The judge correctly concluded that the residents are entitled to more detailed financial disclosures, especially given that they are responsible for paying yearly assessments for the care and upkeep of the common interest property.” Secretly paying lobbyists tens of thousands of dollars, then pressuring the trustees to keep it
from the residents is unethical and in direct opposition to the Appellate Court’s opinion on financial disclosure.
This Bill was originally passed in the Assembly in 2014 as A469, in a landslide 71-4 mandate. These votes came from both Democrats and Republicans across the state who want to see this bill get passed. The semantic loophole in law, which allows only Radburn to define “membership” rather than the State of NJ, allows Radburn to skirt its ethical responsibility to its residents – a situation that fosters unaccountably, secrecy and abuse. This situation is already taking its toll in Radburn, and is likely to ensnare other homeowners looking to live in a planned development that is accountable to its residents.