15 Year HOA Property Maintenance Neglect Creates Today’s Problem

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W.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, having a problem with what amounts to a bit of a grey area on owner vs HOA maintenance responsibility on my front entry door. As you’re probably aware, most entry doors (with side glass, in my case) are all pre-hung doors purchased as a unit and then installed into the opening. In our covenant, the owner is responsible for replacement of both doors and windows…..no problems so far. However, all exterior maintenance on our units (cluster homes/PUDs) is the responsibility of the HOA, and the past Board really let things go… No exterior painting of our masonite siding for over 15 years, etc, with lots of rot and water damage. Well, I ended up with some improperly caulked and painted wood around my door and sidelight window, which I have documented (pics included) maintenance requests to please repaint/caulk/repair the small amount of wood rot around the exterior door/window frame before it grew into a huge problem, etc. The former HOA board put some ‘band-aid’ fixes on it dating back to 2008, which slowed it down for a time, but our new board hasn’t responded well to requests to fix expanding exterior water damage and rot. The VP finally verbally told me in April it was too extensive for our handyman, but that we’d get a window company out to assess the damage.

Well, eventually, our new outside management firm contacted me via an outside contractor they use, and told me “doors are the homeowner’s responsibility”, and that they weren’t liable for any repairs or damage remediation. My position is the lack of proper and timely exterior maintenance (with documented repeated requests, as well as a precedent of them at least doing partial repair in the past) point to the damage being caused by a lack of mandated exterior maintenance on the HOA’s part.

We’re at a standoff here, and Home Depot has priced a new door and installation at over $2200. So, question is: in your opinion, is the HOA’s responsibility to maintain the exterior (which wasn’t done property, causing damage to the door and side glass frame) the issue here, or is my responsibility to replace doors and windows at my expense the ultimate issue/responsibility here? I don’t feel I should be held up for over two grand to replace something that the HOA allowed to be damaged by falling down on their job in exterior maintenance.

Mister Condo replies:

W.H., while I agree with you that the cause of the problem was the HOA’s lack of timely maintenance, I don’t understand why you and fellow homeowners have waited until now to take action. The grey area here dates back more than a decade and is not going to have a very happy ending in my opinion. The reality is that the HOA likely didn’t charge owners nearly enough to cover the work that should have been done years ago. Monthly dues should have been much higher than they were so there was no need to apply “band aid” fixes. What’s worse is that my guess is the folks who set those common fees all that time ago are very likely no longer on the Board or even living in your association. They created the problem and are now long gone, leaving you and your fellow homeowners with the sourness of poorly maintained homes that now need lots of work.

I would probably suck it up and pay for the door and any other blatantly obvious defects that are going to further deteriorate your home. Repair first, remediate second. You may wish to consult with an attorney to see exactly what your rights are in this situation but hear me out before you rush to a lawsuit.

HOAs were intended to make life simple for residents. You get the lifestyle; they do the work. It is a great concept and when properly implemented can be quite nice. However, monthly maintenance fees need to be inclusive of all sorts of things not seen to the naked eye. Yes, the grass needs to be cut and the pool needs to be clean but each and every day, common elements are deteriorating. Money is the only counterweight to that deterioration and HOA members are the only source. A long-term budget should have been in place in the early days that took into account all of the maintenance that has been needed over the years. The very first time that this maintenance was neglected, HOA members should have been asking “why?”. At that time, common fees should have been raised so that the association had the money to perform this upkeep. Instead, my guess is that the fees were kept too low and the situation has escalated to this. Special assessments or a loan that will certainly increase common fees are about all that is left for your HOA to get the money it needs to perform the work it is required to perform. And if folks like you sue the association, they will need to raise money for attorney’s fees to defend. This is an ugly spiral that is very likely going to get worse before it gets better.

Your Board needs to work with an attorney and a Reserve Specialist to get a handle on how much money is needed now and how much money will be needed in the future. Common fees likely need to be raised significantly and special assessments may be needed to perform the “deferred” maintenance that has been overlooked for years. You and your fellow HOA members need to hold the association responsible for their actions and elect leaders that are willing to fix the problem. Otherwise, the deterioration is likely to continue. With a steadfast resolve to correct the situation, my guess is that your HOA can turn this situation around, W.R.. It might not be pretty along the way but if is not a hopeless situation. Good luck!

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