Knowing Your Governing Documents Pillars of the Community

Whenever a co-op or condo resident has a burning question about policy, rules, or procedure in their association community, chances are the answer doesn't lie in some obscure legal document or under lock and key somewhere in the depths of the association's management office. Chances are it's right there in the association's governing documents—but what are those exactly, and who has access to them?

According to Dennis A. Estis of Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis LLP in Woodbridge, New Jersey, there are four basic documents that make up the governing framework of a condominium association. They are, in order of importance, the master deed, the bylaws, the association's certificate of incorporation and/or proprietary lease, and the rules and regulations.

The master deed, which is the document that must be recorded in the NY State Attorney General's office, establishes the condominium and is the equivalent of its constitution. Its primary purpose is to divide the land into units and common elements and set out the most important aspects of the condominium, such as voting rights, liability for common expenses, and so forth.

Next down on the ladder are the bylaws, which form the basic guide for how the co-op or condo will do business. Bylaws lay out everything from the organization's purpose to its form of government and method of elections to a description of the directors and number of officers.

"Bylaws are the next most important set of documents," says Estis. "The bylaws deal with how the association is to be run, contains details regarding the set-up of the association and the board of directors, outlines the powers of the board, and contains provisions for elections, fines, and so on."

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