Lack of Maintenance by Self-Run Condo Board

D.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The self-run condo board is not taking care of the maintenance of our complex. Shingle, roof, painting and paving have not been addressed in years. We pay on an average of 350.00 a month in HOA fees. What recourse do the owners have to get action and for the board to be held accountable to provide proper upkeep for our complex? Is there a state board that we can contact that can help us?

Mister Condo replies:

D.T., I am sorry that you find yourself at odds with your Board over care and maintenance of your complex. I wish I could say that you were alone in your dissatisfaction but the truth is that many associations simply haven’t saved enough money over the years to appropriately maintain their properties. This leads to the unpopular Special Assessment and the equally unpopular increase to common fees. In your case, $350 per month should likely be adjusted to $450 per month or higher. That way, the current expenses of the association could be paid and a healthy contribution to the Reserve Fund for future repairs could be established. As for the immediate needs of the association, a loan or Special Assessment is very likely needed. From the brief list you have provided, I wouldn’t be surprised if $10,000 or more per unit would be needed. If unit owners can’t afford that kind of one-time payment, then a loan (which will also increase common fees and have the additional expense of interest) is in order. The bottom line is that Boards of Directors turn over in condo associations over time. Each new Board inherits the good or bad practices of the previous Board. In associations that require maintenance on 20 to 30 year-old buildings, that means either having the money to do the projects from the great fiscal planning of previous Boards or picking up the pieces from poorly thought out Reserve Fund planning. Guess which kind of association you live in? The bottom line is that it takes money to perform the needed maintenance and that money only comes from one place – the owners. It sounds to me like it is time for your association to pay the piper. Of course, all of the unit owners have a say in raising common fees and Special Assessments. Neither are popular and both have real consequences to owners, including forcing out the folks who can’t pay up. However Darwinian as this sounds, it is the way of the world. I wish you and your community good luck in solving this difficult problem.

Condo Owner Floods Uninsured Neighbor’s Unit

H.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Recently my washer broke (the tube was incorrectly installed by the previous owner and it popped off). I didn’t realize anything was wrong until the unit below me called in a panic about the water leaking from his ceiling. Water was pooling in my catch tray and the overflow was then leaking under the floor boards, so there was never any pooling to alert me. Unfortunately, neither my unit insurance or the master will cover repairs to his ceiling, and he does not have unit insurance. He asked me to split the repair cost. I’m torn! It was my washer that caused his water damage, but the cost would be WAY less if he had insurance (half the deductible versus half the repair cost!). We are very neighborly, so part of me thinks to maintain the relationship I should eat the cost… but I’ve also put a lot of my blood, sweat, tears, and loans into this association to keep it afloat, and after paying the plumber I’m kind of tapped. What should I do?!

Mister Condo replies:

H.W., your neighbor’s lack of insurance is troubling and may even be against your association’s regulations. Many associations require all unit owners to carry their own homeowner’s insurance for just such occurrences as this. If so, and your neighbor was delinquent in his duty to insure, you may not have any liability whatsoever. If that is not the case, you may be on the hook for half or all of the damage. It really depends on how your neighbor proceeds. If he sues, in Small Claims, or other, then and only then. Might you find yourself held legally responsible for the damage. I appreciate your “good neighbor” attitude and paying some of the expense, which you did, should help keep the relationship between you and your neighbor congenial.

Why in the world are you loaning money to your association? Are you a bank? Why does your association need money to “keep it afloat”. You have signaled a big problem with your association’s finances. Common fees should be sufficient to keep any association afloat. Individual unit owners should not be loaning the association money. It is time for your association to get some real world training on how to run itself and practice sound fiscal policies, which include adequate common fees for the association to fund itself. All the best!

Transitioning Outgoing Condo Manager Fees

R.S. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What can we expect legally that a transitioning property manager must provide to a new incoming property manager upon termination? What is the outgoing manager allowed to charge after termination, and what is considered reasonable or unreasonable?

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., developer transition in a condominium association is a tricky time at best. There are very few rules or laws to guide you here and my best advice is for the association to have its own attorney review all of the transactions that take place during the transition period because there are just too many things that can go wrong. Association that tackle this without professional and legal help often stumble and find themselves on the short end of the stick with missing funds, incomplete work, missing paperwork, etc.. An experienced attorney is worth twice their fees during this period as they can actually save the association thousands of dollars if the transaction is handled incorrectly. If the outgoing manager has a contract in place, the association is bound to pay whatever the contract calls for. If there is no contract in place, the manager may be free to try to charge whatever they wish. This is one area where an attorney can be incredibly useful as the association may not have to pay anything if there is no contract. At the very least, the attorney can negotiate such items for the association making sure it doesn’t pay a penny more than it needs to. All the best!

Previous Condo Owner Installed Hardwood Floors Improperly

S.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are having problems with our hardwood floors cupping. We just found out that our Management told the previous owner that the floors were not being properly installed and this could happen. Isn’t it the responsibility of Management to let us know of this improper installation before we purchased the unit? Shouldn’t they help pay for some of the very expensive repairs we now have? Thanks for your help.

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., I am sorry that you find yourself in this position. In my opinion, this is your problem and not anyone else’s. I assume you had the home inspected before you made the purchase. I could argue that the previous owner had a responsibility to let you know about the potential problem as a disclosure to the sale of the property but other than being an “oversight” on their part, I doubt any real estate disclosure laws were broken. Typically, units are sold “as is”, meaning the unit is now your responsibility, defects and all. My understanding is that is it very difficult to cure cupping hardwood floors as moisture is typically the culprit. Unless you can remove the moisture, it is likely you will need to replace the floors. My recommendation would be to heed the advice of proper installation so you don’t have a repeated failure. Sorry I don’t have better news. All the best!

Aggressive Dog Worries Condo Board

K.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the procedure if an owner has an aggressive dog on property. Do we have to wait for an incident before having the animal removed?

Mister Condo replies:

K.D., I am sorry that you have an aggressive dog housed within your condo. “Aggressive” is a subjective term so it is quite difficult for me to give you an answer you can put into action. Start with your current by-laws and see what they say about pet restrictions. There are usually rules about noise (barking), which is typical with an aggressive canine, and limitation of size. Smaller dogs are not typically considered a threat or classified as “aggressive”. You can also check with your local animal control officer to discuss any local ordinances that are designed to protect residents. Other than that, unless there is an attack made by this dog on a unit owner, guest, or other animal on property, there may be no rules or laws that are being broken. Good luck!

Condo Association Recordkeeping Requirements on Previous Owners and Renters

P.S. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How long must a condo association keep files/paperwork of owners and renters who have moved out of the building? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

P.S., all association records in your state must be kept a minimum of 7 years. However, unless it is unreasonable to do so, many attorneys would recommend holding onto them forever as the condo association is a business corporation and prefer to keep their records in perpetuity, even if it means warehousing them after seven years. It really depends on your documentation requirements for owners and renters. Most associations do require records of who is currently living in their association, making these records association records subject to the seven-year recordkeeping requirement. For a proper legal answer to your question, ask the association’s attorney. They will give you a proper legal answer to your question. All the best!

Condo Leak Leads to Mold for Downstairs Neighbor

G.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My unit had a leak which was reported by downstairs neighbors who had a water bubble in the ceiling of the bathroom. Repairs were made in my unit but the leak continued. Long story short we went back and forth for a few weeks where we thought we resolved the leak but then a week or two later the unit below reported water. Part of the problem was the below unit is never home. So, they only report their floor being wet days after a possible leakage. During this time, the unit below had the ceiling opened up to allow it to dry before patching it. Finally, one night the unit below called that they see water dripping and we finally figured out it was my AC unit leaking water. My insurance came out and made repairs to my unit. My water damage was cleared within days. My insurance said the below unit should file a claim with their unit. 3 weeks later they are barely getting the insurance company to come see their damage. But now the unit below is saying they have mold growing and want my unit to pay for it. The owner also told me they have still been using their shower during these last few months. I feel responsible for water damage but not mold. The owner took no precautions to reduce damage, to dry the area, and steam from their showers was not helping the situation. Help, am I liable? Neither of our insurances will cover, and the HOA says it’s an issue between owners.

Mister Condo replies:

G.H., I am sorry that this unfortunate issue has escalated to this point. At the end of the day, it is likely to end up in court unless you and the unit owner below you can come to a practical solution. Homeowners insurance should have covered the initial damage for both of you. The HOA is not likely liable as this issue was not caused by a defect between the two units. Water from your air conditioner caused the damage to the unit below yours. Mold that results from water damage is typically covered by homeowner’s insurance but, in this case, your downstairs neighbor’s insurance carrier is not being responsive to the claim. The issue of your liability will only come into play if a lawsuit is filed. If that happens, you should hire an attorney to protect yourself. Do you have a price for the mold remediation? It is quite possible that your downstairs neighbor may have some out of pocket expense to remediate the mold (which they should do as mold can be toxic and even deadly). To be a good neighbor, you might offer to split the cost of the mold remediation but I do not believe you have a liability to do so. The real culprit here is the insurance company. Ideally, they would simply pay the claim and this matter would be resolved. However, many insurers would deny this claim based on the repeated nature of the damage and the lack of a timely repair after the initial claim which lead to the mold problem. I hope you and your neighbor work out a reasonable solution. All the best! 

Question of Financial Liability for Condo Decks Leads to Foreclosure!

D.U. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a condo in a building without deck units, whereas other buildings in the condo have decks attached to their units. Since a deck or balcony is not a common element, I feel that it is not fair to be asked to pay $2,000.00 for the repairs of other units’ decks. Plus, I was appalled to learn at one of the meetings that some decks were repaired not long ago but the shabby job done made them fall apart in the following year. The Board of Directors members, who, by the way, have decks to their units, were quiet about it at the meeting. The association should be held accountable for not preventing such a failure. Instead they are imposing a lot of money to cover their mismanagement on many other units without a deck. Many of owners are elderly, as myself, living on a limited income. To involve a lawyer to fight such an abusive manner in the court, cost a lot of money which we cannot afford. As a matter of fact, I have already got a letter from the association, to be informed that a lawsuit including a foreclosure is intended on me. I have to add the association couldn’t provide, at my lawyer request, a copy of the relevant portions of the By-Laws, Rules, or Regulations which authorize the imposition of such assessment on me. Where should I address this issue other than here? I think that an investigation is overdue on Property Management at my association.

Mister Condo replies:

D.U., I am sorry you find yourself at such odds with your association. To hear that you are being threatened with foreclosure now tells me things have progressed even further than your letter lets on. Let’s start with what comes next so that you don’t lose your home. You have hired an attorney to represent you and that is critical to protect your rights. He has asked for the supporting documentation giving them the right to assess and then foreclose for failure to pay the assessment in timely fashion. I can assure you that they do have the right to collect assessments from you and they can foreclose against you if you don’t pay the assessments. You also have rights and you may be able to sue them if the assessment was passed incorrectly or if the decks are not common elements, as you claim. Unfortunately, my guess is that the decks are considered common or limited common elements and that you may, in fact, be liable even though your unit does not have a deck. I realize that this seems unfair but unless you or your lawyer can show where they have done something wrong, the assessment will stand and you will be held liable. There is no central authority in our state to investigate the management of your association and I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice here. You have already hired an attorney which is your best option to see this through. I wish I had better news for you here but I think the only real problem here is an understanding of how a condominium association operates and governs itself. Hopefully, your attorney will help you navigate this legal turmoil. All the best!

Condo Owner Paying for Common Area Heat!

D.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In my condo my heat vents are in a dropped ceiling that runs down my hallway. There is also a heat vent that is in my ceiling that goes to a common area that’s not part of my heating system. Every time I turn on my heater I’m heating the common area because of this vent that’s never used my heat system heats up this vent and leaks into a large common area. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

D.F., if you are paying for your own heat and own the vents in your unit, you may be able to have an HVAC technician take a look at your vents and see if they can be vented only into your unit. If the ductwork is owned by the association, there may be little you can do other than to alert the Board to the situation and see if they are willing to allow modification of the ductwork so you are not paying to heat a common area. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, that a single unit owner would be responsible for heating a common area. What if you turned off your heat? How would the common area be heated. This sounds to me like a bit of an HVAC engineering problem that will likely take some coordination between you and the Board to resolve. Good luck!

Condo Owner Questions the Right to a Clear View

G.G. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do I have any rights to say what is put in my back patio view? A board member has put a picnic table where unwanted people gather at the table and that is my view. Also, the maintenance man parks his golf cart in front of my patio view nearly every day.

Mister Condo replies:

G.G., generally speaking, you are only guaranteed peaceable use of your unit. That does not include what you can see while looking out of your unit, just what happens inside of it. That being said, if there are rules about picnic tables and the visitors allowed to use them, you can make sure the rules are being followed. If they are, there is nothing you can do about that. As for the maintenance man, he works for the association, managed by the Board. You can write to the Board and ask why he needs to park his golf cart if view of your unit every day but my guess is he is free to park wherever he wants on association grounds as long as he is doing his work. All the best!