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Sylva, LLC v. Baldwin Court Condominium Association, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

June 4, 2018

SYLVA, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BALDWIN COURT CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 15 M1127817 Honorable Diana Rosario Judge Presiding

          JUSTICE GRIFFIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pierce and Justice Mikva concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GRIFFIN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Sylva, LLC (Sylva), bought a condominium unit at a judicial foreclosure sale. Defendant, Baldwin Court Condominium Association, Inc. (Baldwin Court), demanded that Sylva pay assessments that accrued during the prior owner's ownership of the condominium. The Condominium Property Act (765 ILCS 605/1 et seq. (West 2012)) imposes a duty on a foreclosure buyer to pay up to six months of assessments unpaid by the prior owner. Id. § 9(g)(4). In the trial court, Sylva argued that it was not required to pay the assessments that accrued during its predecessor's ownership because the Condominium Property Act requires the association to sue the predecessor owner for the assessments. The trial court agreed and held that Sylva was not liable for the back assessments. We hold that the Condominium Property Act does not require a condominium association to file suit against the prior owner in order to collect unpaid assessments from the foreclosure buyer. Therefore, we reverse, and we remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff, Sylva, purchased a condominium unit at a foreclosure sale in August 2014. Defendant, Baldwin Court, demanded that Sylva pay six months of the assessments incurred but not paid by the previous owner. Sylva paid the requested assessments under protest so that it could get a letter indicating that there were no liens on the property. Sylva filed this case to recover the amount that it claims it was wrongfully required to pay.

         ¶ 4 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Sylva, finding that the statute at issue required Baldwin Court to have filed suit against the previous owner in order to collect the back assessments from Sylva. The Illinois Condominium Property Act has a provision that allows condominium associations to collect up to six months of a prior owner's unpaid assessments from a foreclosure buyer.

"The purchaser of a condominium unit at a judicial foreclosure sale, other than a mortgagee, who takes possession of a condominium unit pursuant to a court order or a purchaser who acquires title from a mortgagee shall have the duty to pay the proportionate share, if any, of the common expenses for the unit which would have become due in the absence of any assessment acceleration during the 6 months immediately preceding institution of an action to enforce the collection of assessments, and which remain unpaid by the owner during whose possession the assessments accrued." Id.

         The trial court held that the "Association was not allowed to collect under 765 ILCS 605/9(g)(4) because no action to collect was filed against the former owner."

         ¶ 5 On appeal, the only issue is whether Baldwin Court did what was necessary to entitle it to up to six months of unpaid assessments from Sylva. In their briefs, the parties' singular focus is on the inclusion of the phrase, "institution of an action to enforce the collection of assessments." The parties dispute whether the statute requires that a lawsuit to collect the assessments be filed against the prior owner as a prerequisite for recovering them from a foreclosure buyer.

         ¶ 6 Baldwin Court points out that it took the necessary action to recover under the statute. It filed a lien against the property, and the lien was recorded. Sylva had notice of lien and of the unpaid assessments and went forward with the purchase. As the main support for its argument, Baldwin Court cites the dictionary definitions of "institution" and "action" to conclude that instituting an action does not have to mean filing a lawsuit.

         ¶ 7 On the other side, Sylva relies on a number of instances in case law where "instituting an action" has been understood to mean filing a lawsuit. Sylva also relies heavily on the synopses of section 9(g)(4) to support its position that filing a lawsuit against the predecessor owner is a prerequisite to recovering back assessments under the statute.

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 The question on appeal is whether section 9(g)(4) of the Condominium Property Act requires that a foreclosure purchaser pay up to six months of unpaid assessments incurred by the previous owner if the condominium association does not file a lawsuit to collect the unpaid assessments against the prior owner. The primary goal in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Better Government Ass'n v. Illinois High School Ass'n, 2017 IL 121124, ΒΆ 22. We ...


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