Monthly Archives: June 2012

No Annual Meeting

N.M. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small condo community in Northwestern Connecticut. It is a newer property and it is quite lovely. I stumbled across your website while I was looking up information on how common fees are determined and read about Annual Meetings of homeowners. As far as I know, there has never been an Annual Meeting here. If there is, no one has told me about it. Is an Annual Meeting required?

Mister Condo replies:

N.M., Annual Meetings are required by most condominiums as the requirement to hold them is usually outlined in the condo documents. Annual Meetings are where the budget is passed and the Directors of the condo are voted into office. Other important association business usually takes place at the Annual Meeting but, at the very least, the budget and election of directors needs to occur. State law requires that all unit owners be notified of the meeting so if no one is telling you, you need to make sure the person responsible for calling the meeting, usually the Secretary, is doing their job and sending out notices well in advance of the meeting.

It is easy to be complacent in a newer condo, especially if everything is running smoothly and there doesn’t seem to be any pressing issues for the community to consider. But, trust me; it is very important that the community is governed in accordance with its documents and state law. If correct governance procedures aren’t followed and the laws aren’t observed, things can go from peaceful to quite ugly in no time. Better to get a handle on doing it right from the start. Best wishes!

No Longer Wants to Be President

J.B. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have been serving as Board President for the past seven years at my condo. We have 70 units here and some of the residents have become quite belligerent towards me and my wife for decisions the Board has had to make regarding levying a special assessment for much needed property repairs. While I originally enjoyed serving my community, the lack of decency from fellow residents has taken all of the enjoyment out of volunteering. My problem is that while I would like to resign as President, I am not sure I trust that the community will produce a new President that is up for the job. What is my responsibility here and can I resign?

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., thank you for your years of service to your community. Appreciated or not, your contribution has made an impact on the lives of all residents who live there. It is unfortunate that your fellow unit owners are not more appreciative of your volunteerism. It probably won’t help you to hear this, but many condo Board members feel the same way about their own communities.

Without getting into all the reasons that lead you to this decision, let me address what is likely to happen if you resign the presidency of the Board. The Vice-President would immediately assume your duties for the balance of the year. A vacancy created on the Board of Directors will allow the Board to make an appointment to the Board if necessary. For better or for worse, the community’s business will continue without you.

As a matter of courtesy, it would be proper to give reasonable notice. If you have a good working relationship with your Vice President, I would suggest a fireside style chat about your resignation and assure the Vice President that you will assist during the transition. Depending on how much your Vice President has already been involved with what you do as President, the transition could be a bit bumpy but, rest assured, the transition will happen. If you have a Property Manager, I would recommend a similar chat with him or her to keep those closest fully informed.

Don’t be surprised if your fellow Board members and/or Property Manager ask you to reconsider. After all, you’ve been this community’s leader for seven years and you have a wealth of community knowledge that leaves with you when you leave the Board. They may even suggest you stay on the Board until the next election cycle, which I would also encourage you to consider. However, there is no mandate for you to serve and you are certainly free to stop volunteering at any time. I hope you find renewed enjoyment in your condo living experience.

Developer Waives Condo Fees as an Incentive to Purchase

I.T. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hello! I just moved into a new condo. I pay $500 in monthly common fees. Originally, the common fees were supposed to be 25cents per square meter. Before I signed the purchase agreement, the developer raised it to 35 cents per square meter. Today, I met with a neighbor who told me that he was told by the developer / contractor that he will be exempted to pay condo fees for one year if he purchases the condo. The developer offered him this deal. I want to ask is this legal? Can the developer do that? And, if so, why can’t I profit from the same deal? I will really appreciate your answer. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

I.T., congratulations on your new condo purchase. I hope you have many years of enjoyment from your investment. I am not a lawyer, so please consider my answer as friendly and not legal. If you feel you have a true legal matter on your hands, I strongly encourage you to hire an attorney who can better advise you of your legal rights.

Common fees are the way in which a community association collects the monies it needs to function. No one unit is exempt and no one may have their common fees waived. However, it sounds like your new condominium is not yet a community association, in that the finances of the organization are being handled by the developer. I assume that the developer has plans of turning over the association to the newly created Board of Directors at some point in the future when the developer has sold enough units to relinquish control. To that extent, a developer could waive monthly fees (which are not truly common fees as there is not yet an association) as a sales enticement to persuade a buyer to purchase a condominium. As you have already purchased your condominium and agreed to pay the monthly fees, it is unlikely that you could negotiate a similar deal.

This is a classic case of “Caveat Emptor” or “Buyer Beware”. Nothing sours the sweetness of a new purchase like finding out someone bought the same thing for less. You didn’t mention if there were any differences between your condo and the one your neighbor may be purchasing but since you already own yours, it may be fair to say that you have a more desirable unit. There may not have been a need to incentivize the sale of your unit. A good deal, they say, is in the mind of the buyer. If you felt you got a good deal when you purchased your condo, my advice is to enjoy the peace of mind that came with making the purchase. 12 months from now, you will still have the more desirable unit and your neighbor will be paying the same common fees as you. Depending on when the developer to Board transition occurs, the developer may even find himself having to make the payments for your neighbor for the difference between the year of “free” common fees he offered and when the unit actually owes true common fees to the association. The “free common fees for a year” really amounts to a discount on the selling price of 12 times the monthly fees. If the unit fees are $500 per month like yours, that amounts to $6,000. Depending on the actual selling price of the condo, that may or may not reflect a true savings. I hope that makes sense. Good luck with your upcoming developer transition.

Structural Damage in the Windy City

B.G. from Chicago writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo association sue the developer for structural damage found 14 years after conversion?

Mister Condo replies:

Greetings from Connecticut, B.G.! It’s nice to hear from friends in the Windy City. I wish it were under better circumstances.

In the litigious world in which we live, it would appear that any entity can sue another entity at any time for just about anything. So the short answer is most likely, yes. However, I suspect what you are really asking is how likely is it that the association will win a judgment against the developer for structural defects such a long time after the building was converted to condominiums.

As you know, I am not an attorney, so think of this advice as friendly and not legal. You definitely should seek legal counsel to make a decision if a lawsuit is worth pursuing. As you know, they can be quite expensive. However, if you have a case, they can be quite lucrative and solve your structural defects as well as cover your legal expenses.

Your best resource for finding a qualified attorney to speak with is as close as your mouse. Check out the website for the Community Associations Institute Illinois Chapter at http://www.cai-illinois.org/. There is an amazing amount of information there for Illinois community association residents. In particular, check out their Member directory by rolling your mouse over the “Chapter News” tab and selecting “Directory” from the drop down menu. Once there, search for “attorney”. I found 34 lawyers who specialize in community association law in your area. I am sure you will find at least one who wants to help you with your case. Best wishes!

Can We Dissolve Our Association?

D.A. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small homeowners association (HOA) where nobody wants to follow the rules, pay common fees, or even serve on the Board. It is a small cluster of homes where everyone just keeps to themselves and really couldn’t care that there is an HOA. There is a small parcel of land that is owned in common. It used to be a landscaped play area for kids but now is just an open lot. Since there is no interest in having an HOA here, can we just stop functioning as one? What does it take to dissolve the HOA?

Mister Condo replies:

D.A., I am sorry that your HOA has become so dysfunctional that it wishes to dissolve. There are many advantages to keeping the HOA but I hear what you are saying about folks just not being interested. Once again, I am not a lawyer so think of this advice as friendly and not legal.

The easiest place to start is the HOA documents. I hope you can locate your copy or find a copy. There may be a simple method for dissolution outlined in the documents. If so, simply follow the steps. I’d also hire an attorney to review your actions to make sure they are legal.

Another consideration is in the paperwork that was filed with your local municipality when the HOA was formed. If there was a binding agreement with the town or city, you may be bound to honor that agreement and maintain the HOA. Again, the attorney can help with that process.

Provided there are no other legal hurdles for you t dissolve, you will also need to rally the fellow homeowners. If not enough of them are interested in dissolving the HOA, you will not be able to proceed. Since the association does own some land, there may also be tax issues and how to rid the HOA of the land. Maybe the town or city will take it back as a donation? If not, that could also stop the process from moving forward.

A simpler solution may just be to let things continue as they are. All of the effort and cost of dissolving your HOA may far outweigh the value of doing so. And who knows, maybe a more enthusiastic group of owners will someday volunteer their time to serve on the Board and revitalize the HOA? There could be tremendous benefits to all HOA residents if that were to happen. Good luck!

Accused of Feeding Stray Cats

A.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I received a warning letter from condo management that they received a neighbor complaint that I was seen feeding stray cats which drew raccoons to my patio. This is simply not true! A cat comes and visits me but it is a unit owner’s pet and I let him in. I am pretty sure I know who the neighbors are that complained. Up to this point we were friends and I was shocked that I received this letter. I put some bird seed out in the grass for the birds and maybe that is what drew the raccoons to the area? Yet others in my complex have bird feeders on the property. I resent being accused of something I didn’t do. I was threatened with a fine and a hearing if this continued. What do I do?

Mister Condo replies:

A.M., I am sure you were shocked to receive a warning letter from the condo property manager. No one likes to be accused of something they didn’t do. However, the management company does need to respond to the complaint they received. After all, you would expect them to respond to a complaint if you made one, wouldn’t you? That is the nature of the job for the property manager and it is all a normal course of business.

As you can imagine, unit owners reporting violations of rules by other unit owners is an ugly process. It often pits neighbor against neighbor. The good news is that it also allows for simple resolution in a very public forum. You have the right to defend yourself and you also have the right to ask that all rules regarding pets and wildlife be observed. You mention that neighbors have birdfeeders. I assume birdfeeders are allowed. You mention that you distribute birdseed by simply putting it out on the grass. Maybe the solution is for you to purchase an inexpensive birdfeeder.

You also mention stray cats, raccoons, and a neighbor’s cat who apparently is allowed to roam the common grounds freely. Stray or feral cats can be a big problem for condos as can raccoons, skunks, and other unwanted wildlife known to spread disease. Most condos forbid pets off leash as well for safety concerns. You might want to check your rules about these issues and make sure you are in compliance.

Finally, if you are fined by the association for a rule infraction, you have the right to appear before the Board and tell your side of the story. Assuming you have been a good resident for some time, they will consider your side of the story before making a decision as to whether or not to levy a fine against you. It sounds to me like that is highly unlikely. My advice is to get a birdfeeder and enjoy the birds while not tempting raccoons or other unwanted wildlife on to the property. Best wishes!

Stop Banging those Drums!

C.L. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a townhouse condo in Lower Fairfield County. My neighbor has a teen-aged son who recently took up playing drums. The noise is so loud in my condo that I can’t even hear myself think. I have called the property manager and complained but nothing has been done. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

C.L., noisy neighbors are a real problem in many condos, especially to their immediate neighbors with adjoining walls, floors, or ceilings. It’s always best to try to solve the problem with kindness first but follow up with serious measures to protect your rights.

First, if you know your neighbor well enough, why not start with a conversation about the noise issue? Ask if your neighbor has any complaints about noise coming from your unit. Talk about the noise coming from your neighbor’s unit and ask the neighbor if they have any ideas about how to stop the noise from travelling unit to unit. Maybe they’ll offer to soundproof their walls or maybe they’ll offer to limit the amount of time the drum playing will occur. Or, maybe, they’ll do nothing. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Second, review your condo docs and look up specific sections that ensure peaceable enjoyment of your unit. Once you are familiar with what is not allowed at your condo, it is time to write a letter to the Board and the Property Manager demanding that the rules of peaceable enjoyment be enforced. Most condos have this restriction so you should have a pretty good case to have the property manager enforce the rule. Also, make sure your Board is alerted as well. The Board can actually be your ally in making the property manager enforce the rules against noise.

Finally, consider what you can do to help keep out the noise from your unit. You may be able to install some acoustic deadening material on your interior walls to keep the noise from the neighbor in check. I know that can be expensive but it may be your final option if the noise continues.

With all of these options at your disposal, I wish you peace and quiet in short order. Good luck!

Separate Attorneys for the Condo Association and the Management Company?

J.W. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a mid-sized condo (between 50 and 100 units) in NY. We are having issues with our management company. Numerous board members recently resigned. We have a big remediation project on the docket. Our annual meeting is next week. Should the attorney for the board be the same person who works for the management company or should we have our own? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., always nice to hear from our neighbors in the Empire State! Sounds like you have a lot going on at your condo right now. As you know, I am not an attorney so please consider this advice friendly and not legal. For a true legal opinion, I suggest you seek out an attorney in your area, preferably one that specializes in community association law. That being said, here is what I think.

If the Board is considering taking action against the management company then each party would likely need their own attorney unless they chose to represent themselves without counsel. If the management company and the Board are actually working together on a lawsuit against a third party, then I don’t see a problem with the same attorney representing both parties as the interests are similar. However, if there appears to be an issue between the interests of the association and the interests of the management company, it would not be unusual for each to have its own attorney. Even though it may cost more money to hire separate attorneys for the association and the management company, it is the safest way to assure that the association’s best interests are served. Best wishes!

Late Fees on a Special Assessment

J.A. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Unit owners in my condo were given a large assessment recently. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to pay for the assessment as the board requires. I am doing my best and making a payment each month until my assessment is paid in full. My question is about the late fee I am being charged each month until my assessment is paid. Does the Board have the right to charge me a monthly fee until the assessment is paid in full?

Mister Condo replies:

J.A., I am sorry that you found yourself facing a costly special assessment. While it is possible that your Board may have been able to offer unit owners options for paying the assessment, the bottom line is that once the assessment is passed, it is treated like any other monies owed to the association. That means it is subject to the same rules, penalties, and late charges as common fees.

I am glad that you are making your payments to the association. Monies collected through special assessment are generally needed quickly by the association to make repairs or replace common elements. In a larger condo like yours, those projects can cost millions of dollars. When the association’s Reserve Fund isn’t adequately funded, special assessments or community association loans are the only ways these projects can be paid for. You might want to suggest your Board consider have a professional Reserve Study conducted to assure that a similar situation doesn’t occur again. You might also ask the Board to consider a community association loan to pay for major expenses. That would likely increase your common fees but would allow for major projects to be paid for over time instead of all at once, which is why you got hit with the special assessment in the first place. Good luck!

Bully On The Board

L.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There have been “questionable” dealings between a local waste and recycling contractor and one of the Board members at our condo. My husband and I have questioned these contracts at association meetings only to be bullied and even threatened by the Board member in question. We have called agencies and even the Attorney General’s Office. They all say what this board member did with the refuse contract is absolutely illegal. What do you feel? Also, can I sue the Board for the threats I received at the meeting where I spoke up?

Mister Condo replies:

L.H., it is never pleasant to feel bullied or threatened. It is unfortunate that cooler heads have not prevailed at your condo to keep harmony between unit owners, the waste contractor, and the Board member who bullied you. Since you have already been in contact with state agencies and the Attorney General’s Office, you can imagine that I am inclined to agree with what you have heard from them. If the allegations you are claiming are true, it looks like you may have grounds to bring charges against the Board member in question and/or the contractor. If the Board is unwilling to secure an attorney to proceed, you should consider hiring one on your own and including those attorney fees in the eventual suit you will bring against the Board member and/or the contractor. I am curious as to what advice you were given by the Attorney General’s Office or other state agency. If you alerted them of a potential crime, what action did they tell you to take?

As for your being bullied or threatened by a Board member, that is an entirely different matter. Board members do not have a right to threaten you or any other unit owner. As a citizen, you have the right to make a complaint with the local police. Of course, timeliness is part of a police report so if you haven’t already made a complaint with the police you can’t be too certain of the outcome. However, if a similar event happened again, I would not hesitate to get the police involved. Threats should not be tolerated but it is not the Board’s place to police the community. If a crime is committed, call the police!

One final note, L.H.. It seems to me that the condo you are living in is not an ideal community for you and your husband. I know I wouldn’t live in such a place with such a horrid person serving on the Board and behaving in such a way as to make life there difficult. If you don’t have him jailed for his bullying behavior, I suggest that this Board member should be voted out of office. If you can’t garner enough votes to do so, I strongly suggest you consider moving to a more agreeable community. The situation you are describing is the exception, and not the norm, in most condos. I am sure there is a lovely community nearby that would welcome you and your husband to a more peaceful life. Best Wishes!