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1230-1250 Twenty Third Street Condominium Unit Owners Association, Inc. v. Bolandz

August 27, 2009

1230-1250 TWENTY-THIRD STREET CONDOMINIUM UNIT OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
RICHARD A. BOLANDZ, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CA-1058-99) (Hon. Rhonda Reid-Winston, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Argued September 11, 2007

Before RUIZ and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Appellant, 1230-1250 Twenty Third Street Condominium Unit Owners Association, Inc. ("condominium association" or "association"), appeals the trial court's award of attorney's fees to appellee, Richard A. Bolandz. We disagree with the association's argument that the trial court erroneously interpreted a provision in the condominium bylaws allowing for attorney's fees, and that the amount awarded was unreasonable. We therefore affirm the grant of attorney's fees to Mr. Bolandz.

I.

We briefly summarize the relevant facts and procedural history here, as they have already been discussed in detail in the court's opinion deciding the first appeal in this case. See Bolandz v. 1230-1250 Twenty-Third Street Condo. Unit Owners Ass'n, Inc., 849 A.2d 1010 (D.C. 2004) ("Bolandz I"). In August 1997, Mr. Bolandz built an enclosure around his balcony due to what he claimed was a structural defect in the building that resulted in water pooling in the balcony. In December 1997, the condominium association demanded that Mr. Bolandz remove the enclosure, claiming that it had been built in violation of various condominium rules that prohibit unit owners from making alterations to the building without prior approval from the association's Board of Directors. In August 1998, the association notified Mr. Bolandz that he was in violation of the condominium rules and imposed sanctions*fn1 until he removed the enclosure.

In February 1999, Mr. Bolandz filed a civil action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia requesting, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that the balcony enclosure was reasonable and that the imposition of sanctions was unreasonable under the circumstances.

The association, in response, filed a counterclaim, requesting that the court order Mr. Bolandz to remove the enclosure.*fn2

After trial, the court determined that "it was reasonable . . . [for Mr. Bolandz,] given the inaction of this Board, to take effective measures to remedy the ponding problem but not without the prior approval of [the association]," and that it was also reasonable for the association to have imposed sanctions. The court ruled in favor of the association in finding that Mr. Bolandz violated the condominium rules by enclosing the balcony without the association's permission. The court found, however, that the association was "estopped" from seeking the removal of the enclosure in this proceeding. The court concluded that no further sanctions could be imposed, and that the enclosure could remain, until the association held a "fair" meeting to decide whether to approve the enclosure, and answered specific questions posed by the court concerning the impact of the balcony enclosure on the aesthetics, structure and insurance of the building.

The association reported to the court after the meeting that it maintained its original position that the enclosure should be removed. The court was reluctant to endorse the association's decision, but found that the hearing had been fair to Mr. Bolandz. Because the court was of the opinion that it "may not substitute its judgment for that of the Board," it ruled that the association "could" remove the enclosure at its own expense. Bolandz I, 849 A.2d at 1013-14. Mr. Bolandz appealed, and this court in Bolandz I remanded the case, holding that the trial court must independently assess the reasonableness of the association's decision. Id. at 1014-15. On remand, the court vacated its earlier ruling and prohibited the association from removing the enclosure and imposing sanctions.

After having prevailed in his quest to keep the balcony enclosure, Mr. Bolandz filed a motion for attorney's fees pursuant to condominium bylaw § 9.1(b), which provides that "[i]n any proceeding arising out of any alleged default by a unit owner, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover the costs of such proceedings and such reasonable attorney's fees as may be determined by the court." Mr. Bolandz's motion requested $161,573.50 in attorney's fees and attached the invoices submitted by his lawyers. The association opposed the request, arguing that the bylaw was inapplicable to fees related to the lawsuit that had been initiated by Mr. Bolandz, and that the amount requested was unreasonable given that the lawsuit was over a balcony enclosure that cost approximately $20,000.

On August 24, 2005, the court issued an order interpreting the bylaw provision as entitling Mr. Bolandz to recover attorney's fees. The court explained that the request for declaratory judgment in Mr. Bolandz's complaint "did arise out of an alleged default by a unit owner." Supporting this conclusion was the court's finding that the same evidence that supported Mr. Bolandz's request for declaratory judgment had also been used by the association in its counterclaim that Mr. Bolandz had breached the condominium rules.

On December 8, 2005, after having reviewed the parties' supplemental pleadings on the amount of the fee request, the court made a slight downward adjustment to the fee request, and awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $157,119 to ...


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