Condo Documents Call for an Audit

E.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If only an audit is required by a condo declaration does it need to be “certified”?

Mister Condo replies:

E.S., the answer lies in your documents and state law. If neither the documents nor the law require a “certified” audit, then an audit may suffice. The question is, what is the difference between an audit and a certified audit as it pertains to your condo association? For that answer, I am going to refer you to a previous answer from one of my certified public accountant friend, Sam Tomasetti. Here is the link his full response: http://askmistercondo.com/what-is-a-certified-audit/ All the best!

Self-Managed Condo License Requirement

B.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When self-managing condos, do you need a real estate license?

Mister Condo replies:

B.D., I think you are referring to a community association management license versus a real estate license. A real estate license has nothing to do with managing a condominium. Generally speaking, self-managed condominiums can be run by the association without a licensed community association manager. However, there are plenty of exceptions and state laws vary widely on this matter so you need to take a look at your local state laws regarding self-managed community associations. Some of the factors that go into determining whether or not the manager needs licensing include the size of the association and the size of the annual budget. Some states require anyone who manages condo associations with more than 10 units to have a license; others do not. Some states look at the annual budget and set a requirement for licensing if the budget is over $100,000 per year. It truly is state dependent so check out your state laws or speak with an attorney who is experienced with community association laws in your state to make sure you are in compliance with any licensing requirements. Good luck!

No Volunteers for Board to Take Over Condo from Developer!

R.G. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What happens if too few owners run for a board at its initial creation/takeover from the developer? I have tried searching, briefly, online and in the declarations for an answer to this question, without success. If there is governing law can you give me the citation? I understand that in some states the state will appoint board members. Thank you for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

R.G., having active association members govern their own association is a critical function of unit ownership inside a condo or HOA. The transition from developer to Board control is a critical stage in the development of any condominium association. I am discouraged to learn that there doesn’t seem to be any volunteers willing to serve. In theory, the developer turns over control to the Board. If the Board doesn’t take over the control because there is no Board, it is quite possible that folks who are owed money be the association could sue the association. Again, because there is no Board to take counter action and defend against that suit, judgment would be found for the plaintiff and the association would then have collection actions taken against it. If the association were found insolvent, a judge could appoint a receiver to handle the collections process. That is really bad news for the owners of record when that happens. The receiver will then set the common fees, issue special assessments, and more. The receiver also has the ability to take collection actions against unit owners who don’t pay up. This means huge legal expenses for both the association and the individual owners. It is a downward spiral you really do not want any part of, in my opinion.

As long as there are enough volunteer leaders to support a Board, the Board should be formed. I have many recommendations for new Boards. First and foremost, don’t go it alone. Second, don’t cheap out. This is no time to “do it yourself” to save money. The Board should hire a community association attorney with experience in developer transition, a property manager to assist with property management issues, and an accountant to keep track of finances and/or audit the developer’s books as the operating fund and Reserve Fund are transitioned from the developer to the association. Look to your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute for additional resources. Here in Connecticut, that is CAI-CT, found on the web at http://www.caict.org. Good luck!

Private Entry Requirement for Condo

R.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I thought that all condos had their own private entrance, directly from outside. We rented with option to buy what was described as a condo, but in effect, there are 3 flights of stairs that take you to the front door, which is on an open floor with many different doors opening from it to several condos. Any thoughts on this?

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., from what you are describing, there is a common area leading to the individual units. The units are described in the deed as what is included specific to that condo. There is no requirement that a condo have a private entrance directly from the outside and, in fact, that would be impossible in many circumstances. Think of a multi-floored condominium building. Folks on the fifth floor would need to enter on the first floor and then use shared areas to get to their floor, a shared hallway to get to their unit, and so on. This is quite common. All of these common elements are owned and maintained by the condo association. Your monthly common fee contribution goes, in part, for the upkeep and maintenance of these common elements. Additionally, because these areas are under the direct control of the association, the Board is charged with governing their use. That is why you will have rules about what can and can’t be done in the common areas. A good example is storage. Condos typically prohibit storage of any owner items in common areas. This is to stop folks from having to navigate past bikes, toys, furniture, and any other items folks might try to store in the common areas. The open area you have described is a great example of an association-owned common area. I hope that quick explanation helps. All the best!

Condo Owner Wants to Change Address of Unit

R.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are in a 3-condo complex and 1 unit of the 3 wants to change address because he is on the side of the building and the other 2 units are in the front the reason he wants to change address is it is confusing to all. He wants to change it so it says the side street he is on now. He is a good owner but he is selling his unit. Where does it leave the other 2 units legally?

Mister Condo replies:

R.D., I’ve been answering HOA and condo unit owner questions for quite a few years now. I have to say, I thought I’d heard it all but your question threw me for a bit. If I understand correctly, the unit owner who is selling his unit wants to change his address. Legally, the property has an address from the municipality where the condo resides. I do not believe the condo association can legally change the address of any of the units as they are real estate and the deeds are on file at City Hall or your local records division where such records are kept. You could check with a local attorney who specializes in real estate or ask the records keeper if such a change is even possible but I think it unlikely. Since he is selling his unit, this issue is going away as soon as he does. I wish him, and you, a speedy sale. Good luck!

Condo Contractor Demands Payment from Unit Owner for Unauthorized Work

G.G. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

While I was out of the country, the condo security personnel opened the door of my unit and allowed to enter a contractor to perform work in my condo unit that I had not requested. The manager states that it was a misunderstanding. The company that performed the work states that as I had requested an estimate they also understood that they had to do the work. There is no paper signed by me requesting them to do the work. The contractor wants me to pay $1200 for a job that I never requested. The condominium manager and the BOD are not cooperating with me. After a month and a half of the incident, how should I proceed? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

G.G., since I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in Florida law, please consider my advice as friendly and not legal. You will most likely need some legal advice here and I would suggest you speak with a qualified attorney to help you. That being said, you have a few different issues going on here. As far as your duty to pay the contractor, unless they can produce a contract where you authorized the work, I don’t see where they have a leg to stand on. If your association ordered work on your behalf that you are bound to, they should be able to produce the contract with the association. If that is the case, you may need to pay the contractor and then sue your association for the money. I am not sure what the manager means by a “misunderstanding” but either the association ordered the work or they didn’t. There are situations where contractors work for the association but the unit owners are responsible for the work. Smoke detector maintenance and lint removal from dryer ducts come to mind as examples but there are others. In cases such as that, your name need not be on the contract for you to be the responsible party for the cost of the work performed. The long and short of it is that you need to get a copy of the contract for the work done. Once you have that, you can determine your next course of action.

Rescinding A Condo Board Decision to Allow a Unit Owner Use of Common Area for a Patio

P.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Many years ago, our condo broad approved one owner’s request to extend their patio into common property. Years later, several new owners disagree with the approval granted to this owner. The owner being referred to pays the least amount in monthly association fees due to the size of her unit (excludes use of extended patio into common space). Can an approval be reversed/space reclaimed as common or can monthly dues be reallocated so that this owner is paying for use of additional space?

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., like it or not, the approval of the previous Board is really all the unit owner needs to maintain their approved patio. If approval was given and is now going to be taken back, for whatever reason, you can expect a fight on your hands from the unit owner. If there is no written agreement that the unit owner can produce to verify the claim of Board approval for the patio installation, the current Board may be able to take back the common land by simply stating that proper approval was never obtained and that the unit owner is in violation of governing documents by having a patio on common grounds. This will get real ugly quickly as the unit owner who had some sort of approval will likely sue the association to maintain the previous approval. Reversing an approval may be possible depending on your by-laws and your state laws. For an opinion on that, you will need to speak to a locally qualified attorney.

Modifying your common fees is a whole other matter and not easily done. The common fees are generally determined by the percentage of unit ownership formula that are part and parcel of the association’s governance documents. Changes to these documents have their own set of rules and are not simply changed without a full vote of all unit owners and substantial rules on the supermajority or even complete agreement amongst all unit owners via vote. Again, this type of change is subject to not only your condo’s governance document but also state law. Do not attempt this without the advice of a community association attorney. Good luck.

Former Condo Management Company Reluctant to Release Association Records

K.F. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have recently changed our property management company. Our new management is having issues with getting our legal documents from our former Management Company. How long after we end contract with old management company do they have to release all of our documents? If they refuse to give us our documents what steps can we take in getting them?

Mister Condo replies:

K.F., I am sorry that you are having difficulty in getting your old management company to release the association records and legal documents they previously held. I am not aware of a set time frame for them to do so and I certainly hope that this situation has remedied itself by now. If your association employs a community association attorney, now is the time to consult with him or her and ask what legal action may help smooth the process of record return. Without knowing all of the specifics of the transition from Management Company A to Management Company B, it is difficult for me to offer much more than that. Ideally, when the contract ended with Management Company A, they would have simply boxed up hard copies of records and worked with the Board and Management Company B to transfer electronic records. You would think that 30 to 60 days, maybe 90 days would be more than enough time for this transfer of records to occur. The association attorney could better advise you if Management Company A was taking too long for this transfer and/or of they had violated any terms of their management agreement and/or state law. The bottom line is that it sounds like Management Company A wasn’t too eager to help with a smooth transition to Management Company B. That could be a reflection of how the association ended its relationship with the management company, sour grapes, or just general inefficiency of Management Company A. Whatever the reason, the records are owned by the association; not the management company. A quick discussion with the association attorney should clear up the matter. Good luck!

Quiet Condo May Not Be the Ideal Home for a Musician

A.M. from British Columbia, Canada writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have been renting condos for five years and just moved into a new one about two months ago. We have suddenly received two notes on our door as well as a formal complaint regarding “bass-heavy music” within the last two weeks. The neighbour complaining lives below our unit. My partner makes music for a living, so his job involves playing projects out loud on studio monitors (which are designed to play music accurately) in order to mix and master. One day we played music for only 5 minutes and the next morning, I found a note on the door. He already limits when he plays music to typical working hours so as not to disturb neighbours. The volume is set to an ordinary listening level, we do not own a subwoofer (although the neighbour below thinks we do), and my partner makes an effort to complete as much work as he can on headphones. They have also complained about our footsteps, but our building has laminate wood floors and we can hear creaking from footsteps and other noises from the unit above us all the time. Is the noise we make considered “reasonable?” If so, how can we get the neighbour to stop standing outside our door listening, leaving notes, and complaining to Strata? Since we are renting, I would really like to avoid being fined and having our landlord think we are bad tenants! Thanks in advance.

Mister Condo replies:

A.M., loud noises and condos (strata for my Canadian readers) don’t mix. I assume your landlord gave you a copy of the rules and regulations for your new rental. While I doubt there is a specific provision about “bass-heavy music”, there are very likely rules about noise levels and time of days specifically set aside as quiet hours. The issue is that you and your neighbor have different ideas about what noises are and aren’t acceptable. You both have the right to peaceable enjoyment of your unit so the real question is where do your rights end and theirs begin? Regardless of what type of music monitoring system your partner is using it is quite possible that the decibel level is simply too high for doing that type of work in the condo. You mentioned headphones and that is a perfect solution, in my opinion, because there is no possibility of the sound disturbing anyone. The noise from walking across floors is another story and I can’t imagine any Board issuing a fine for that type of noise violation unless the condo rules state that hardwood or laminate floors must be covered by carpets to avoid excess noise from neighbors walking around their units. My advice is to use the headphones exclusively when performing the music work. Considerate neighbors are priceless in such tight living quarters. Thank you for your letter.

Blowback from Adding an External Vent to a Condo Unit

K.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am on the second floor of a two-story condominium. I am in the process of planning a kitchen renovation, and as part of the project I would like to have an externally-vented exhaust fan. The range hood that I currently have simply blows the air back into the room, but I had assumed that I could connect it externally if I wanted to. I have been informed that to vent it to the roof I will need the Board’s permission and I may also need to file an “obligation to maintain” with the County so that I would be responsible for any future issues (eg. leaks).  Also, I currently have an externally-vented bathroom exhaust fan, so I don’t see why this would be treated any differently. My questions: Aren’t externally-vented kitchen exhaust fans required by code? Wouldn’t a non-externally vented fan create health & safety concerns? Are there any legal considerations if they deny my request?

Mister Condo replies:

K.R., generally speaking, all modifications to your unit are subject to Board approval. Anything that you are doing that modifies any common element is strictly under the Board’s control and installing an externally-vented exhaust fam for your kitchen will most certainly require their approval. Be sure to get all the approvals needed BEFORE starting your project because the Board can force you to remove the installation if they do not approve which can cost you dearly. I am not an expert on HVAC or ventilation issues but I do know that exhaust fans that vent internally and clean the air via filter are fairly common in many condos. That doesn’t help with your odor issue if you are cooking but the filtration system does help. My guess is that the condo unit was built to the code at the time for exhaust fans. If that code did not call for external ventilation, there was no foul on the part of the developer. If current code does call for that kind of ventilation, that could be used in your argument to persuade the Board to allow it now. That being said, ask politely and hope for a good outcome. Don’t be surprised if the request is denied. If they approve your installation, they are opening themselves up to others and then there becomes a whole new issue of external vent conformity and maintenance. Good luck!