Not So Fast: A Private Speeder is Stopped in His Tracks

By Merle Hass, Esq.
*This will be the last article authored by Ms. Hass as she has accepted the position of Assistant General Counsel to the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.

While there are no reported cases in Massachusetts on this issue, associations frequently confront the problem of unit owners and occupants speeding through the condominium grounds and otherwise failing to observe the board’s rules concerning driving on the roadways. We have just reviewed an interesting, recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court concerning the right of a Property Owners Association to enforce traffic rules and regulations on its private grounds (captioned Poris v. Lake Holiday Property Owners Association, 2013 Ill. 113907, 2013).

In this case, the association consisted of 2,000 single-family lots spread over 1,500 acres. At issue in the case was the association’s right to set speed limits and to employ security officers to enforce them. Plaintiff was stopped by a security officer in a vehicle with amber and white oscillating lights, allegedly for speeding. After pulling plaintiff over, the security officer instructed him to get back into his car, from which he had emerged, and to produce his association membership card and driver’s license.

Essentially, the court rejected all of plaintiff’s challenges, concluding that the association had the right to establish and enforce rules and regulations concerning traffic. The court relied in part for its analysis on a section of the Illinois Vehicle Code. However, it likely would have reached the same conclusion even without the code. In a common sense holding, the court wrote: “We can discern no logic in allowing a private homeowners association to construct and maintain private roadways, but not allowing the association to implement and enforce traffic laws on those roadways.”

Again looking to the Illinois Vehicle Code, the court rejected the rather technical argument that the security officers could not use amber oscillating lights. Finally, the court dismissed the argument that the security officer had falsely imprisoned the Plaintiff. This claim withered in light of the court’s conclusion that the security officer had acted with reasonable grounds or probable cause in taking his action, a finding fatal to a false imprisonment claim.

While we are aware of no decision similar to Poris in Massachusetts, we believe our courts would reach a similar outcome on these facts. There is decades-old law in the Commonwealth describing a condominium association as providing “quasi-governmental services to its members” (Johnson v. Keith, 368 Mass. 316, 322 (1975)). These quasi-governmental services would appear to include the establishment of traffic rules on private roadways. Perhaps more to the point, a statute in Massachusetts authorizes private land owners to apply for special “regulations,” with the city or town in which the ways are located, concerning the speed and use of vehicles on these private ways. See generally G.L. c. 90, § 18. Even if that statute would not apply directly to the sort of private ways at issue in the Poris case, it would likely apply by analogy.

We think the Poris case was correctly decided. We see it as part of a trend of decisions recognizing and describing the contours of the quasi-governmental functions served by condominium associations. While we cannot be certain that a similar case in Massachusetts would be resolved in exactly the same manner, we would certainly urge our courts to affirm the central reasoning of the Illinois Supreme Court. It is adverse to the smooth functioning of condominium associations for courts to second-guess rules intended to ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community.

Buyer’s regret is not generally a compelling legal argument. We believe firmly in the right of associations to enforce rules and regulations explicitly or implicitly agreed to by the owners, through their elections of their governing boards.

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