In July 2017, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed into law P.L. 2017, Ch. 106 (S-2492/A-4091), known colloquially as ‘the Radburn Bill’ or simply ‘Radburn,’ the law made significant changes to the Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act’s procedures for board elections and voting participation rights. The legislation originated in direct response to complaints over a specific association - the Radburn Association in Fair Lawn - but it affects nearly all of the Garden State’s approximately 7,000 community associations.
The real-life Radburn Association was established in Fair Lawn in 1929. It contains 18 acres of internal parks, a shopping plaza, an elementary school, and other community components. For many years, pressure had been increasing from residents seeking to change what they felt was the association’s outdated and secretive process for electing its board of trustees. In contrast to the way elections are usually run in HOAs across the country, not every owner in the Radburn community was granted the right to either run for or vote for the board. This led to litigation, which in turn led to legislation to make the election/voting process more inclusive and transparent.
In short, the Radburn law mandates full transparency in community elections and decision-making. To that end, it spells out stringent requirements for elections to be held in a public, in-person forum. While that’s good policy in general, it poses some obvious - and serious - obstacles to multifamily communities trying to govern themselves in the age of COVID.
Scott Piekarsky is a partner with Hackensack-based law firm Phillips Nizer. “Radburn,” he says, “was decided some years ago, relative to democratic governance of community associations. It prompted legislation that required regulations from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Those regulations became effective May 18, 2020”...which of course just happened to fall in the middle of a once-in-a-century public health crisis. “These amendments are additions to the rules,” he says. “There’s a lot of regulations about board elections. The rules require secret ballots with a ballot box and public counting, and inspection by members for up to 90 days afterward.”
All well and good - but how do associations comply with these rules while facing a contagion that prohibits - or at best severely limits - public gatherings? In a word: virtually. Governor Murphy provided a change to the regulations to accommodate COVID realities, and HOAs across the state pivoted to online versions of many of the administrative functions they’d previously done face-to-face.