A group of Chicago condominium owners has launched another class-action lawsuit over what they call “unconscionable fees” charged to condo owners to access documents they need to complete the sale of their units.
On Jan. 20, named plaintiffs Katherine M. Atkins and Zane Fulton, each a DuPage County resident who formerly owned condominiums in suburban Cook County, filed their putative class action complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against vendors RealManage and HomeWiseDocs.
The plaintiffs are represented in the action by a collection of attorneys, including Thomas A. Zimmerman Jr., and others with the Zimmerman Law Offices, of Chicago; Rusty Payton, of Payton Legal Group, of Chicago; Arthur C. Czaja, of Niles; and Joseph S. Davidson, of the Law Offices of Joseph P. Doyle, of Schaumburg.
The complaint takes aims at hundreds of dollars in fees the vendors allegedly charged to Atkins, Fulton, and other owners in the Chicago area, for documents they said Illinois law requires them to provide to buyers when they close the sale of their units.
For instance, according to the complaint, Atkins sold a condo unit she owned in Roselle in 2021.
Similarly, Fulton was seeking to sell a condo unit he owned in Westmont.
During the sale process, both sellers were required to obtain a so-called documentation bundle, which included a Paid Assessment Letter, through RealManage, which does business under the name American Community Management, and HomeWiseDocs.
RealManage provides services to assist condo management associations with a range of administrative duties. HomeWiseDocs helps condo associations manage required owner documents.
However, to obtain the documents, Atkins and Fulton said they were both forced to pay $491 in fees to HomeWiseDocs.
The complaint asserts the amount of those fees violates Illinois’ condo law, which authorizes condo associations only to charge “reasonable” fees to retrieve and provide such documents.
Instead, the complaint asserts document storage and retrieval vendors have allegedly turned such required document processes into “a cash cow at the expense of the condominium owners (the vendors and associations) are supposed to serve.”
“Simply put, (the Illinois Condo Act) prohibits Defendants from turning the Condo Act’s disclosure requirements into a revenue source for Defendants or for others,” the complaint states.
The new lawsuit comes about a month after an Illinois appellate court specifically ruled Illinois’ Condominium Act allows for class-action lawsuits over the collection of allegedly unreasonable document fees.
In that December 2021 ruling, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court noted they believed the language of the Condo Act indicated lawmakers who included the documentation requirements also wished to protect sellers in the process, as well as buyers.
And the justices ruled vendors hired by condo associations to manage the document retrieval process cannot get away with conduct that the law prohibits to condo associations, as well.
The plaintiffs seek to expand the action to include everyone in Illinois who paid such fees to HomeWiseDocs to retrieve documents required by law to disclose to buyers at the time of sale.
The complaint does not estimate how many condo sellers this class action may ultimately include.
However, the complaint notes RealManage helps manage condo associations in seven Illinois counties and 11 cities and villages, including Chicago, Naperville, Joliet, Aurora, and Elgin.
And the complaint notes “RealManage is just one of approximately 1,300 condominium association management companies that use HomeWiseDocs.”
The complaint seeks unspecified damages, including treble damages and punitive damages, plus attorney fees.