Q&A: Security Bars Barred?

Q I live in a neighborhood where there’s an association. When we first moved to the area it was still under construction. There was only one security company for 250 homes, and there were a lot of robberies. We live on a house with a main street behind it. There's a wall behind the yard, and people were jumping over to rob houses. My husband is a retired sick person, who is home all day alone. I had gone to a meeting and requested a permit [for security bars] from the new association—since they can find any documentation from the previous association. The previous association misplaced a lot of documents, according to this new management group. They had mentioned that they were going to approve the bars under the grandfather law. Now—after six months—they are giving me 30 days to remove the bars from the rear sliding door, but the back of my house faces the street. In addition, there are no other houses facing the back that belong to this management group. My husband refuses to remove the bars from the sliding door. What can I do?

—Insecure about Security

A “Assuming that your house is part of a homeowners association subject to bylaws and/or other governing documents, the governing documents for the association should be reviewed to determine whether they grant the board of the association the authority to approve the installation of the bars,” says attorney Peter G. Goodman, a partner with the a Manhattan-based law firm of Hartman & Craven LLP. “If there is some authority in the governing documents granting the board the right to approve or disapprove the security bars, under the business judgment rule, a court may defer to the board’s decision as to whether you are permitted to retain the bars. According to this rule, courts generally will not second guess the actions of the governing board of a homeowners association so long as the board acts for the purposes of the housing association, within the scope of its authority and in good faith. However, if the board’s action deliberately singles out individuals for harmful treatment, or if the board’s action is taken without notice or consideration of the relevant facts, a court may review the board’s decision. Based upon the information presented it cannot be determined whether you have a claim of being singled out by the board in bad faith or whether the board failed to consider all of the facts, including all of your security concerns.

“The possibility that you may have received previous approval for the bars could be helpful but would not necessarily determine the outcome. You will need to obtain proof that prior approval had been granted. If the request that you remove the bars is based upon a policy or rule change applicable to all residents, and the board’s decision to make the change is supported by the governing documents and is otherwise protected by the business judgment rule, you would not be entitled to relief simply because you had been granted permission under the prior rule. If, however, the decision to change the policy falls into an exception to the business judgment rule, you would have a claim.

“You may want to consider installing the bars inside your home. If the board’s position is based on its right to regulate exterior alterations, this may be a viable alternative. Finally, you should consider putting the board on notice in writing of your security concerns and that you will seek to hold it liable for any injury, damage or loss resulting from a security breach. The viability of such a claim is beyond the scope of your inquiry.”

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