'2% of the people making the choices.' Why leaders at a Bourne condo complex face recall

BOURNE — An effort to recall four members of the Board of Trustees at the Villages at Brookside is headed to a vote later this month.

Some residents, wanting to have a greater say in financial decisions, have organized a bid to eject a majority of the five-member board. A special meeting asking the question — triggered after a petition garnered signatures from at least 33.33% of owners — is scheduled for Saturday, April 29 at the Bourne United Methodist Church.

One major argument is a three-year capital improvement plan with an assessment 2023 fee of $7,500. Initially, the payment was to be one $15,000 fee in 2023.

In Bourne, Robert Cutts has been trying to oust the Villages at Brookside Board of Trustees.
In Bourne, Robert Cutts has been trying to oust the Villages at Brookside Board of Trustees.

Owners have the option of either paying the $7,500 in one lump sum or in three payments per year.

Even with the three-payment option, owners are feeling the pain of sticker shock, said resident Robert Cutts, 63.

"People are on a budget here," he said. "Everyone thinks everybody on Cape Cod has money."

Other points of contention include the board's purchase of a garage in Brookside's Amberwood neighborhood to convert into a meeting space and whether the board wrongfully transferred costs for repairing parts of the front porch from homeowner association responsibility onto homeowners.

Board of Trustees Chairman Joe Mattingly and Vice Chairman Ed Iwanicki did not respond to requests for comment. But in a message to Brookside owners, Mattingly said he had received the inquiry and did not plan to respond.

"I do not know who brought the recall petition to the attention of the Cape Cod Times, but whoever did so has done a grave disservice to our community which could potentially adversely impact our property values," wrote Mattingly. "I urge all members of our community not to discuss our internal disputes with the public media. Let's settle our differences among ourselves and not give outsiders reason to question our reputation as an attractive and neighborly place to live."

Donna DeStefano, onsite assistant manager, declined comment in an email, saying she works for "all of the owners here at The Villages at Brookside Condominiums, and (remains) neutral."

About Brookside, one of the largest condo communities in Bourne

The idyllic townhome-style condo community of 16 villages is tucked off County Road on an 18-hole public golf course that was built by developer Northland in phases since 2003. Owners pay about $600 in homeowner association dues per month.

According to information provided to the Times by the assessor's office, Brookside is the second largest condo complex in Bourne, with 233 units.

On a list of about 22 condo communities in town, it's second only to Hideway Village on Knollview Road, which has 268 units.

The median assessed value for fiscal '23 for condominiums at Brookside is $521,400.

In June of 2020, Barkan Management Company announced it had executed a new management contract with the condo community. It manages several residential communities in Barnstable County, including Kings Way Condominium, Kings Way Trust, Falmouthport Condominium, Treetops Condominium, and Sea Oaks Condominium, according to its website.

What does Massachusetts condo law say?

Rules found in the Massachusetts Condominium Act do not specifically contain any guidance on what condo board members can be recalled for, said Tom Moriarty, a real estate attorney who specializes in condo law at Moriarty Troyer & Malloy LLC.

"It's the governing documents that control. And, typically, the only distinction drawn in the governing documents is whether or not a removal would have to be for cause or not cause," said Moriarty. "Typically, the vast majority of documents don't require any cause at all. It just requires the requisite vote … of the unit owners themselves."

Recall elections are not uncommon, he said.

"There are complex issues that go on in condominium associations and sometimes the board makes decisions that the majority of the owners disagree with and they have the ability to effect a removal," he said.

Assessment fees

Regarding assessment fees, Moriarty said that board members also pay the cost alongside other unit owners. More recently, the June 2021 collapse of the 12-floor Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, which caused mass casualties, has brought deferred maintenance at condominiums front of mind, he said.

"Board members share the same experience, the same consequence, as all the other owners," he said. "For the most part, unit owners appreciate that board members are in it with them."

Under state law, condo owners are not required to reveal to any potential buyers or brokers that a pricey assessment is expected. But assessments are usually disclosed and often the listing price is discounted as a result.

Moriarty called it "a colossal error on the part of the owner not to pay any assessment that's due." Unpaid assessments constitute a lien on the unit, he said, and the unit could be foreclosed as a consequence.

"The right approach, if they want to contest it, would be to pay it under protest and then they would have the right to challenge whatever the action was and to get a reimbursement of the amount," said Moriarty. "But if they don't pay it timely under protest, even if they're right, they may not be able to get their money back."

When news of the assessment came out, many people living in Brookside panicked over the cost, said Cutts. The community is home to many older people, veterans, and people living on fixed incomes who may not be able to afford the extra fees, he said. He said he was hopeful for more transparency and a greater voice in the process.

"When they vote on stuff, we don't have any say," said Cutts. "It's not fair, you have 2% of the people making the choices."

Zane Razzaq writes about housing and real estate. Reach her at zrazzaq@capecodonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Bourne Villages at Brookside: Fees at center of condo recall election