Crumbling Homes in a Crumbling HOA

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D.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Thank you for your article. I have a townhome that was built substandard, now have both foundation and structural damages. Old HOA Board was kicked out by new Board. Old HOA had committed fraud and embezzlement. New HOA has moved on. They hired an engineer but will not fix or file charges. I have now put close to $140,000 into home and been declined modifications due to damages. Now disabled, I am about to be homeless. I have reported all this to state and federal authorities since years ago. Answer has been it would take $25,000 up to hire attorney with no guarantee of satisfaction. I have prayed for help and have none. What can be done here for justice? I’m now with other owners with no answers and nowhere to turn. What can be done?

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., I am truly sorry for your problems. While I do not know all of the circumstances surrounding your HOA’s plight, your story is not unique. Purchasing into an HOA is an agreement to enter into a business. In addition to purchasing your living space, you are essentially becoming a stockholder in a corporation. In this case, it would appear to have been a poorly run corporation with many, many issues. I am not sure how many of these issues were apparent when you decided to purchase but now that they have surfaced, you are wise to seek legal help. I would not seek modifications for such a property if it were me because it would appear that between foundation and structural damages you have described you may very likely be putting money into a bad investment. You have mentioned a changing of the guard with regards to the HOA Board. However, you have also indicated that the new HOA Board isn’t doing enough to remedy the situation. You must find competent volunteers from within the ranks of the HOA members to guide the association through the turmoil. It may take lawyers, court cases and a lot of legal expense (passed down to homeowners like yourself) to get through this quagmire but it is necessary of the association is to get back on track. Support interested volunteers for the Board and do not reelect ineffective leaders. If the association does not get back on track, it is very likely to fold under its own weight. Unit owners can only bear so much expense before they become upside down in their homes and bank foreclosures loom. I can’t promise you a rosy future at this HOA but, form what you have told me, it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Good luck!

Condo Owner Makes Deposit on Unapproved Replacement Windows

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C.I. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am in the process of replacing my condo windows using a large chain store. I chose an Anderson window that fit the specs exactly and all information was submitted to the management company. The board voted no on the windows and stated only one brand of window, Alside Ultramaxx, can be used. At this time my windows were made and I had put down a deposit. The previous rule was as long as the window fit the specs it would be approved never anything about a specific brand. They also recommend the vendor. Can a condo board do this? How can I obtain bylaws that reflect this?

Mister Condo replies:

C.I., the short answer is “yes”. The condo board is the governing body that approves architectural compliance guidelines which are outlined in your governance documents. It typically states than any improvements must be association approved. I am sorry you had already put down the deposit on the windows when you were told “no” by the Board but you should have gotten the approval first by simply submitting the window proposal to the Board. They still would have said “no” but at least you wouldn’t have made your deposit. Have you tried working with the store to get back your deposit? If windows were ordered to your specifications, that isn’t too likely but it may be worth asking. There is always a temptation to replace windows on your own and, like most unit owners, you don’t want to spend more than you have to. However, the Board is the final say on such items and you would be well advised to seek their approval BEFORE you order any item that falls under the association’s Architectural Compliance guidelines. Had you purchased and installed these windows, the Board would be well within its right to make you remove them and replace them with approved windows. This would have been far more expensive than the loss of your deposit. I would chalk this one up to a lesson learned. Good luck with your new Board-approved windows. I hope they give you years of enjoyment.

Condo Noise is Unbearable!

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B.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have been living in hell for the past 6 years now. I live in a quadraplex style condo, that is the style for the over 200 plus units here. You share a common wall with virtually all of your neighbors and the quadraplexes are stacked side by side so if you are not hearing the 10 plus people slamming doors and everything else under your roof, you can hear the neighboring quadraplexes neighbors going in and out all day to slamming their front door, you hear car doors slam every 2 seconds as the garages and driveways are right by your front door and you share garages with a common wall so you hear banging around in there as well. How can I get some peace and quiet around here?

Mister Condo replies:

B.J., I am very sorry for your living conditions. I also apologize for editing your original question as I feel your point was made early on. The single most important question I have for you is whether or not you noticed this noise when you made the decision to purchase? It would seem to me that almost all of the conditions you describe were pre-existing, meaning there was really no reason for you to purchase this unit with the expectations that things would be different once you moved in. From what you have told me, you have done all you can do to help yourself and there is still no relief from noise that you consider unacceptable. Have you reviewed the condo’s governance document? In particular, have you read what they say about noise. Excessive noise and noise at off hours (later than 10:00 p.m. or before 7:00 a.m., for instance) are usually prohibited. You can complain to the association about the noise and they can either investigate and take action or they can decide to do nothing if they don’t feel any by-laws have been violated. Unless you think you have legal recourse, there is little else you can do, B.J.. You mentioned that selling your unit really isn’t an option for you but if your building can’t provide you with the level of quietness you need to be content, my advice is to look elsewhere. Again, I am sorry for your situation and if you do decide to live elsewhere, be sure you thoroughly investigate the noise level BEFORE you move in. The quadraplex style unit you have described here sounds like a noise nightmare for someone as sensitive to sound as you. I wish you a peaceful and quiet abode. Good luck!

Condo Owners with Offsite Addresses May Be Undocumented Landlords

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J.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in an older condo complex, and it appears that we have a pretty high percentage of units (40%) where owners have “offsite addresses.” In some cases, they are clearly renting the units out, but in other cases it appears that owners are living elsewhere and allowing family members to live there (whether the family members help with the mortgage, essentially paying rent, I don’t know). It seems that whoever is living in these units, to a large degree, are not following the CCRs, and I have to wonder if the owners are even having those living in the units review and agree to abide by them.

My question is this…if an owner is allowing a family member to live in a condo, is that a form of a tenancy? Can we compel the owner to have the family member acknowledge and sign a copy of the CCRs promising that the family member will be abide by them?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., you have identified a few items of concern for you, your Board, and everyone living in or owning a unit in your condo association. Let’s start with the governance documents. Most define ownership and residency as ownership of the unit and leasing as the ability of the owner to have others live there. Some go as far as to identify family members and some states, Florida, for instance, even goes so far as to identify family members that are considered Immediate family (Second Cousin Elroy isn’t immediate family, Sorry, Elroy!) for purposes of who can live in the unit and be considered family. Those issues a side all residents need to be abide by the rules and regulations, regardless of whether they have signed anything form the landlord (real or imagined). When rules are violated, the unit owner of those violating the rules is cited by the Board and asked to appear before the Board to defend against the accusation. The Board then takes the next step which is usually a fine against the unit owner. These fines are fully collectable by the association and, if left unpaid, can lead to further collection action and even foreclosure as outlined in the association’s documents and in accordance with state law. You had better believe unit owners, regardless of where they actually live will pay attention to the fines and instruct whoever is living in their unit to follow the association’s rules. As for legal action against unit owners who are, in fact, acting as landlords and not playing by the rules, speak with the association attorney about how to deal with them. Many associations have strict guidelines and rental caps that prohibit such activity without accurate reporting to the Board. Just because they don’t physically reside within the walls of your association does not give them a free ride to do as they wish. They are bound by the governance documents just like everybody else. Of course, those documents are only as good as they are enforced. Time to take action, my friend. Good luck!

Condo Parking Rules Are Useless Without Enforcement!

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A.S. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Each owner in my condo association has an assigned parking space, deeded and specified in the Declaration. The stipulated rules are each car (after being approved) must display a DECAL and all guests/visitors must display a parking pass to be displayed in their windshield. These rules are not being carried out or enforced by required and appropriate identification but strange UNIDENTIFIED cars are being parked all over our private lot. The world is not a safe place today and more reason to enforce the governing rules. Please give your advice.

Mister Condo replies:

A.S., I agree with you. Parking lot rules are among the most important for an association to enforce. However, enforcement is every community member’s responsibility as the only way the rules violations can be known is if an inspection is conducted or a complaint is registered. Some communities choose to cut expenses by reducing or eliminating inspections. That’s when the system falls apart and pits neighbor against neighbor. It may be time to suggest to the Board that a more rigid inspection and enforcement program be installed or reinstated. This may cause costs to escalate and, in turn, raise common fees but it may be the only way to enforce the parking rules and help keep the community safe. Good luck!

Informing Unit Owners of Air Conditioner Rule Violations

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R.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I need a suggestion for the wording of a letter to residents of my condominium to remove illegal installation of air conditioners.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., thanks for writing. I am assuming that your association has rules that either prohibit or restrict air conditioners and some unit owners have disobeyed the rules and you would like to send out a notice of some sort reminding them that they need to obey the rules and remove any air conditioners that are in violation of the association’s rules. Here goes:

Dear Unit Owner or Resident,

It has come to the attention of the Board at XYZ Condominium Association that several units are exhibiting air conditioners installations that are not allowed as per our association rules. In particular, Rule 16, Paragraph a, which reads, “no unit owner shall install any type of portable air conditioning unit in a window of any unit”. Quite simply window mounted air conditioners are not allowed here and the Board is requesting their immediate removal. Failure to remove these unapproved air conditioners will result in a summons to appear before the Board and a daily fine of $XX as outlined in our association rules.

If you are one of the majority of unit owners who do not have a window-mounted air conditioner is place, thank you for obeying the rules. If you do have one, kindly remove it immediately to avoid further action. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely Yours,

The Board of XYZ Condominium Association

Hope that helps, R.M.. Good luck!

Unfortunate Encounter Between Condo Neighbors Has Board on Edge

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J.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

This is another neighbor-neighbor noise issue. We have one tenant who is complaining that his upstairs neighbors are noisy and disruptive and are harassing him. Upstairs neighbor say that they have not even heard from their neighbor after an initial, and unfortunate encounter. None of the other neighbors surrounding the upstairs owner are complaining. Does the tenant even have standing to bring a complaint to the board or should it be the unit owner? We do have a noise nuisance clause in our bylaws.

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., neighbor versus neighbor complaints are usually quite the headache for the Board. The renter’s complaint is to his landlord, the unit owner. The landlord should then either issue the complaint to the Board or empower the tenant to work with the Board through a power of attorney letter. Absent that, the renter really has no business interacting with the Board. Let’s assume the complaint comes in through the proper channel. What is the Board going to do?

If there has been an assault between neighbors, this is a matter for the police, not the Board. Ongoing noise complaints can be investigated and the offending unit owners can be brought before the Board to defend against the complaint. The complaint needs to come from the unit owner and be against the offending unit owner. This is an official record of the association once the complaint is made and the Board does need to review the complaint before deciding whether or not to act on the complaint. Action can include a warning letter, a summons to appear before the Board, and a fine if the Board appearance does not satisfy the Board and the by-laws allow such action. If the unit owner is not satisfied that the Board has done enough to protect the unit owner’s rights, he has the right to bring suit against the Board. The tenant also has the right to sue the landlord for not fulfilling the rental agreement which should have a peaceable enjoyment clause as does the condo docs. This has the potential to be a legal nightmare so keep an eye on what goes on between the players. However, from a more practical standpoint, it is more likely that the initial confrontation has died down and the residents are behaving better towards each other. If not, consult with the association’s attorney and look at the risk to the association and see what steps can be taken to enforce the association’s rules. If appropriate, encourage the landlord to have the tenant call the police if the neighbors threaten or intimidate him. Condo Boards are not law enforcement. When laws get broken, get the police involved. Good luck!

Validity of the Vote on Condo Annual Budget and Loan

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R.G. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

 

Is voting on a budget, the borrowing of money require on ballot only the percentage of ownership, and if otherwise an illegal method and would be invalid in a court of law?

 

Mister Condo replies:

R.G., I am not sure I follow your question but let me address a few of the points to see if I can add some clarity. Also, since I am not an attorney, please consider my answers as friendly advice. If you have “court of law” questions, I must advice you to seek the advice of a qualified attorney.

The Annual Budget is presented and voted upon at the Annual Meeting, where all unit owners are invited and a quorum must be achieved before any votes can be taken. Your by-laws and state law spell out the rules for quorum so as long as quorum is achieved, the outcome of the vote would hold up in a court of law, in my opinion. Some associations have the ability to borrow money as part of their governance documents; many do not and require a vote of the membership in order to be able to do so. Again, the rules for modifying documents are spelled out in your governance documents and state law. As long as quorum is achieved and the rules are followed, I see no reason the vote wouldn’t hold up in court. The percentage of ownership formula does not generally come up in voting, meaning all unit owners votes are equal – one vote per unit. If you feel your Board has wrongly passed an Annual Budget or taken out a loan on behalf of the community association, you have the ability to question it. Unless you are knowledgeable in the law in these matters, I would highly recommend consulting with an attorney to see if you have a case. Unless either is contested in court, the budget and the loan would be considered valid. For what it’s worth, I don’t know of any community association banks that will issue a loan to an association that didn’t get the proper approvals from the association before issuing the loan. Chances are, all was done in proper method. All the best!

Getting a Handle on Condo Visitor Parking Abuse

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M.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do you have suggestions on ways to keep residents out of visitor parking?

Mister Condo replies:

M.B., with the holiday season upon us, I find your question most timely. The short answer is “yes”, but it takes a lot of due diligence on the part of the Board and association members if the effort is going to be successful. As you know, parking is at a premium in most condo associations. Too many vehicles per unit leads to residents helping themselves to extra parking spaces. Add adult children and college students with their own vehicles coming home for the holidays and you have a recipe for vehicle saturation. You need to start with your existing parking policies to see if they are adequate for the needs of the community. If you need more rules, the Board needs to review and approve the rules and distribute that information to unit owners and residents. Chances are the existing parking rules are pretty basic with rules about not blocking fire lanes and the use of assigned and visitor spaces. Next up, look at your signage. Are your visitor spaces clearly marked “Visitors Only”? Signage can help alleviate confusion amongst residents. The idea is to have unit owners voluntarily comply. However, if they don’t, you need to have a fine system in place so that you can enforce your rules. When a unit owner violates a parking rule, a complaint is made to the Board or Property Manager. The unit owner is summonsed to appear before the Board at its next meeting and explain why they did or did not violate the rule. The Board can then fine the unit owner off appropriate or let them off with a warning if the message was received. This is at the Board’s discretion but I recommend following the letter of the rule unless the Board wants to explain why Unit Owner A was fined but Unit Owner B was not. If you are going to fine any one, be consistent. This usually clears up the problem but, as you can see, it is neither simple or easy. However, with diligence and perseverance, you can regain control of your visitor parking problem. Good luck!

Condo Association’s Right to Inspect Chimneys and Furnaces

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G.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo association require inspection of chimney and furnace?

Mister Condo replies:

G.G., they sure can. Protection of the entire community association and the assets of the association is one of the responsibilities of the association. In fact, if you review your condo governance documents I’m guessing you’ll find a whole lot of language on the association’s right to review anything potentially hazardous to the well-being of the buildings and resident’s health. Depending on your state, there may also be state law that comes into play with how those inspections are done. In some states, the association has the right to enter the unit at any time for routine maintenance and inspections. Others require proper notice or even allow for the unit owner to refuse the inspection or offer an alternative like an inspection from a qualified HVAC technician provided to the association upon request. The bottom line is that neither the association or the unit owners want the potential fire hazards associated with clogged chimneys or improperly maintained furnaces. I’d like to add dryer vent inspection to that list, too. Lint build-up is a top fire hazard at condos! Inspection of such items is a best policy for condo associations to follow. All the best!