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Knolls Condominium Association v. Harms

November 21, 2002

KNOLLS CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, APPELLANT,
v.
MARY E. HARMS, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 92971-Agenda 30-September 2002.

The issue in this case is whether a condominium unit owner can assert the homestead exemption contained in section 12-901 of the Code of Civil Procedure (the Code) (735 ILCS 5/12-901 (West 2000)) as an affirmative defense to a condominium association's action in forcible entry and detainer brought because of the unit owner's nonpayment of maintenance assessments. The circuit court of Du Page County answered this question in the negative and entered judgment for possession in favor of the condominium association. The appellate court reversed, with one justice dissenting. 326 Ill. App. 3d 18. We granted leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Knolls Condominium Association, filed a complaint in forcible entry and detainer against the defendant, Mary E. Harms. The complaint alleged that plaintiff was entitled to possession of a certain condominium unit owned by defendant in Willowbrook, Illinois, because defendant failed to pay plaintiff $2,326.40 in maintenance assessments, plus costs and attorney fees, as required by the condominium declaration. The complaint further alleged that defendant was unlawfully withholding possession of the premises from plaintiff.

Defendant answered the complaint by denying that plaintiff was entitled to possession of the property or that she was unlawfully withholding possession from plaintiff. Additionally, defendant asserted as an affirmative defense that she owned and occupied the property and, therefore, was entitled to an estate of homestead to the extent of $7,500 in the property.

At the hearing on the matter, the parties stipulated that defendant owed plaintiff past-due maintenance assessments of $2,326.40. Defendant then argued that an estate of homestead was a proper defense to plaintiff's action for possession. In response, plaintiff argued that various provisions of the Condominium Property Act (765 ILCS 605/1 et seq. (West 2000)), and of article IX of the Code of Civil Procedure (hereinafter, the Code or the forcible entry and detainer statute) (735 ILCS 5/9-101 et seq. (West 2000)), specifically afford a condominium association the right to maintain an action for possession against a unit owner for nonpayment of assessments. The trial court agreed with plaintiff and found that the specific language of the statutory authority relied upon by plaintiff controlled over the more general language of the homestead exemption relied upon by defendant.

A divided appellate court reversed the judgment of the trial court. In so doing, the appellate court majority relied upon the principle of inclusio unius est exclusio alterius, the enumeration of certain exceptions in a statute is construed as an exclusion of all others. The appellate court majority found that section 12-903 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/12-903 (West 2000)) specified its own exceptions to the homestead exemption of section 12-901 (735 ILCS 5/12-901 (West 2000)). It concluded that because an exception for a forcible entry and detainer action brought by a condominium association was not listed in section 12-903, the legislature did not intend to make an exception to the homestead exemption in such cases.

The dissenting justice argued that the majority's analysis produced a statutory disharmony that was not intended by the legislature. The dissent maintained that section 9-102(a)(7) of the Code (735 ILCS 5/9-102(a)(7) (West 2000)), and section 9.2 of the Condominium Property Act (765 ILCS 605/9.2 (West 2000)), both of which specifically allow an action for possession brought by a condominium association against a unit owner for nonpayment of assessments, should be read harmoniously with the homestead statute so as not to render any of the statutory provisions meaningless.

We allowed plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal. We subsequently granted leave to the Association of Condominium and Townhome Associations to file an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiff's appeal.

ANALYSIS

On appeal to this court, plaintiff argues that the specific statutory provisions allowing a condominium association to obtain possession of a condominium unit for the owner's failure to pay maintenance assessments control over the general language of the homestead exemption. Because the question of the proper interpretation to be afforded statutory provisions is a question of law, our standard of review is de novo. People v. Maggette, 195 Ill. 2d 336, 348 (2001); County of Knox ex rel. Masterson v. The Highlands, L.L.C., 188 Ill. 2d 546, 551 (1999).

We begin our analysis by examining the relevant statutory framework. Section 12-901 of the Code provides, inter alia, as follows:

"Amount. Every individual is entitled to an estate of homestead to the extent in value of $7,500 of his or her interest in a farm or lot of land and buildings thereon, a condominium, or personal property, owned or rightly possessed by lease or otherwise and occupied by him or her as a residence ***. That homestead and all right in and title to that homestead is exempt from attachment, judgment, levy, or judgment sale for the payment of his or her debts or other purposes ...


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