Monthly Archives: December 2012

Shining a Light on Light Fixture Replacements

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P.S. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Who is responsible for replacing outdoor light fixtures on each condo unit?

Mister Condo replies:

P.S., that’s a bright question! While it varies from condo to condo, simple light bulb replacement is usually handled by a community’s handyman. Full fixture replacement would necessitate a licensed and insured electrician to perform the work. For most condominiums, external light fixtures would be considered either common or limited common elements. If they are considered common elements, the association is responsible for replacing them and all residents pay equally for the replacement. However, if the fixtures are deemed limited common elements, the individual unit owners may be responsible for their replacement costs, even though the association might actually hire the contractor and manage the project. In that case, individual unit owners could be billed for the work done to their unit. Whether through the common fund, or through direct billing for the replacement, the cost is born by the unit owner. The good news is you should have a beautiful new light fixture and peace of mind from the added security that well lit common grounds bring to all residents. All the best!

How Much Notice on Special Assessments?

K.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! I would like to know how much notice a condo association must give unit owners for the due date of a special assessment fee payment. This assessment is on top of the regular monthly fee payment. Someone told me the required notice time is 30 days but I’d like to be sure. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

K.R., no two words get condominium unit owners more upset than “special assessment”. Depending on how large an assessment is, it can be a real problem for many condominium owners. Your question about the length of time for a required notice got me to thinking. Your 30 day notice sounded reasonable but I was not aware of a specific length of time required by law or by association rules. I asked a community association attorney friend of mine for his opinion. Here’s what he had to say:

State law sets deadlines for the Board to circulate a summary about the special assessment, but it says nothing about when the due date must be.  Unless the declaration or bylaws do so, the board is free to select any date it wishes as the due date for paying a special assessment.

Sales Tax on Common Fees?

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J.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The Management Company is charging sales tax on the common fees of owner occupied condominiums. Is that right?

Mister Condo replies:

J.H., no, that is not right! Common fees, in and of themselves, are not subject to state sales tax here in CT or anywhere else that I am aware of. However, if the association incurred a tax burden and an assessment was added to your monthly common fees to pay for that tax burden, I could understand where a unit owner might get a bill that showed a portion of the bill being used to pay taxes. If you are uncertain as to what the sales tax charge is for, I suggest you contact your property management company. If they are errantly charging you and other residents a sales tax, I hope you and your neighbors get a refund. Good luck!

Doubling the Voting Power of One Board Member Questioned

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S.S. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association board has a vacancy from a resignation. The remaining trustees can fill the vacancy. Can one of the existing trustees be appointed to fill the vacancy and thus be a trustee twice at once time; exercising twice the voting power they had previously?

Mister Condo replies:

S.S., I am not a lawyer so I cannot offer a legal opinion but I can tell you that does not sound like something that should be allowed. Assuming there are 5 trustees or Board members serving on your Board, giving one member 2 votes or a 40% share of the votes certainly violates the spirit of democracy that is so vital to healthy governance practices. It would be far fairer for the Board to appoint a 5th member to the Board or to leave the seat vacant until the next election. That way, no single Board member would have more than his or her normal percentage effect on the outcome of any votes. If you suspect wrongdoing by the Board in their governance practices, I encourage you to seek legal counsel. In Massachusetts, you will find a large group of attorneys who specialize in community association law at the CAI-NE website at http://www.caine.org/. Best wishes!

Ups and Downs Over Garage Door Replacement Costs

C.K. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Garage doors need to be replaced at my condo.  Is it possible for each unit owner to pay for their own garage door?  Two owners have no garages and the townhouse owners are being asked to pay more than double what the single owners have to pay.  Since each unit only has one door (except for the two owners), is this a fair assessment?

Mister Condo replies:

C.K., the short answer is “it depends”. What it depends upon is the governing documents describing the common elements and limited common elements of the condominium. If the garage doors are considered common to the association, then the association (meaning every unit owner) pays for the garage doors. If the garage doors are listed as limited common elements or owned by the unit owner, then either the limited parties (those in the building with the garage doors) or the unit owner would be liable for the cost. It is also possible that the association documents are unclear on the garage door ownership, which means the Board may be open to interpretation on how to pay for the doors. If that is the case, it is not unusual for those who feel the distribution of the cost is unfair to seek remedy in the form of a lawsuit against the association. Bottom line is that you will need to look carefully at your condo documents to see who should pay for the doors. Good Luck!

Who Has to Buy Condo Flood Insurance?

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J.W. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do I need to purchase my own flood insurance for my condo in a special flood hazard area?

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., this is a question that is near and dear to my heart. Many condo dwellers in Connecticut, including me, are finding themselves in the precarious situation of living in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) for the first time since FEMA remapped the region within the past few years. Ideally, your flood insurance will be purchased by your condominium association and the associated costs of that insurance passed along to unit owners. However, if the association does not purchase flood insurance, you may find that you need to purchase it on your own. Mortgage lenders will surely require you to provide proof of flood insurance if you live in a SFHA. Ask your Board or Property Manager if Flood Insurance is in place. If not, talk with your local insurance professional and purchase the flood insurance that is right for you.

Unruly Renter Makes for a Bad Condo Neighbor

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M.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a one bedroom condo in a building with four units. Of the four units, three are owner occupied. The rented one bedroom condo is a nightmare. The unit has been in the foreclosure process and the renter behaves awfully. He is unemployed and spends the entire day chain smoking cigarettes and drinking. At times, he has a toddler son, the child’s mother, and several friends staying down there. People come and go at all hours slamming doors and screaming. His guests take up all the visitor spots. The worst thing is his pit bull which barks and growls through the window whenever I step out my back door. His dog and his friends’ dogs bark all day and night. I can’t sell or I would. I am desperate. The other 3 owners are equally frustrated. Thanks for your help.

Mister Condo replies:

M.T., I am truly horrified by the living conditions you are describing. You and your neighbors are being denied peaceable enjoyment of your units. The renter is not conforming to the rules of the community and is creating intolerable living conditions for all residents of such a small condo. You need a long term strategy for combating this type of abuse and you need the resolve of your neighbors to help make it happen.

There are no rules or laws against residents behaving poorly. Renters do not generally have the same vested interest in keeping the community marketable and healthy. From what you have described, I can’t imagine this renter showing any interest in following the rules so my advice is to go after the owner, who is already in foreclosure. Work with your Board to make sure your community association attorney is doing all that can be done to move this foreclosure along. The sooner you attract a new owner, the sooner you are likely to be rid of this unruly neighbor. In the meantime, I’d keep the local police on speed dial. Your town likely has ordinances against barking dogs and after hour noise. Don’t hesitate to involve the police if laws are being broken.

Also, now would be a good time to put rules in place to protect the community from future abuse from renters. You can pass rules that disallow pets for renters. You can charge “move in, move out” fees to discourage renting. You can require extra security deposits for renters. You can limit their use of parking spaces and enforce those rules by towing their vehicles. The community is not defenseless against abusive tenants. If you need advice on how to legally protect yourselves, I encourage you to seek the advice of an attorney. You can beat this problem and reclaim the peaceable enjoyment that is rightfully yours. Good luck!

Condo Painting Woes in Arkansas

R.Z. from Arkansas writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hello! My condo is in Arkansas. My question is about repairs and painting that were done to my unit. The problem is the painting contractor has only applied one coat of paint where the wood was replaced. It looks different from the rest of the exterior where two coats were applied. I’ve emailed the board told them that only one coat of paint has been applied, not 2 coats like the rest of the building. Nothing is getting done about the issue and I don’t know where else to take it.

Mister Condo replies:

R.Z., thanks for writing and sorry for your paint troubles. I think you are on the right track to getting this situation remedied. Contractors are hired by the Board to perform repairs and upkeep on the common elements. The painting contractor that was hired by the Board is accountable only to the Board for the work done. As long as the Board is satisfied, there isn’t too much you can do. Instead of emailing the Board, may I suggest that you take some photos of the painting discrepancy in question and include those photos with a written letter asking the Board to look into the matter? Email is useful but I think photo documentation will better support your claim. Hopefully, the Board will take appropriate action and hold the contractor liable to complete the job. Of course, if the initial contract between the Board and the contractor was for one coat of paint, the only other option may be for the Board to hire another contractor (or the same contractor) to apply a second coat of paint as should have been done originally. Best wishes!

Is Proxy Voting Designation by Email Valid?

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A.K. from Windham County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A member emailed that he lost his proxy form but was giving his proxy to another unit owner via an email saying he has the right to vote for him. He also copied the board. Both “from” and “to” emails are valid and are on association records. Is his proxy valid?

Mister Condo replies:

A.K., the digital age brings many new digital questions. While the recently enacted provisions in the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) do allow for certain communications to be expressed electronically, I am not aware of any specific provisions that allow for proxy designation to be granted via email. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means that I doubt all of the necessary steps of proxy designation were followed or that many communities have the foresight to allow for this type of proxy designation in advance of the first time it was used. Clearly, the intent to grant the proxy was in place and the validity of the email was determined. Does your association routinely use email for other aspects of community association governance? Was the proxy form emailed to all unit owners? Did they all have the opportunity to electronically designate a proxy? Were all of the other rules about proxy voting observed? Did this one proxy vote have an effect on the outcome of the vote? All of these questions raise new questions which could be challenged in court. My advice would be to review the validity of electronic communications with regards to proxy voting to determine if it was fairly administered and would stand up if challenged in court. If that answer is no, I would advise the Board to revise its rules on proxy voting to either include electronic designation for future votes or disallow the practice. That would clear up the issue moving forward. All the best!

Transfer of Ownership Questioned at 55+ Community

A.K. writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live with my husband in a condo for 13 years in a community that is designated as 55 years and older. The condo unit belongs to my father-in-law. This month my husband turned 55 years old and my father-in-law wants to turn over the condo to him as owner but the condo Board is giving us a hard time. Can they do that? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

Answer

A.K., I am not sure what you mean by a “hard time” but the condo Board can certainly request that the transfer of ownership from your father-in-law to your husband go through the proper channels to assure that the association’s rules and by-laws are followed. As long as your husband meets the requirements for ownership in the community, I can’t see what would stop this transaction from moving forward. It sounds like he has just made the age requirement. What else does the association require? You should request a copy of the condo documents to see if there are any other hurdles to overcome and I would also seek the help of a qualified real estate attorney. Real estate ownership is a highly legal process and I think you and your husband would be well-served have the advice of an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. Best wishes!