Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hurricane Sandy Strikes Again

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M.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I got flood damage due to Hurricane Sandy.  The condo flood insurance for below grade covers structural damages.  I had to remove the framed wooden joist underneath my floors over crawlspace.  The insurance is stating this is a part of subfloor and was not holding up the walls. The joists were holding up the walls but not the masonry walls.  They paid for sheetrock but not for the concrete foundation slab which was required to be installed required by the town. I appreciate if you can let me know if those floor joists is structural and if the condo building insurance should cover those joists. Thank you very much.

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., I am thankful you survived Hurricane Sandy with and have only property damage to show for it. So many Fairfield County residents lost so much more. With regards to your question of floor joists and flood insurance coverage, I would have no way of knowing what is and isn’t covered by your condo’s flood insurance policy. Further, your association also has master insurance in place which may also come into play. My experience with insured losses is varied with some insurers gladly paying their claims and some bringing up clauses that release them from having to pay. Add to that mix the revised condo insurance laws that have been enacted through CIOA the past few years and you have a real recipe for a mess.

My advice would be to hire a competent attorney or insurance adjuster to review your claim and make sure you got what you were entitled to. You mention that the new construction included a concrete slab that was required by the Town. If building codes had changed and new elements were required to be installed, it is very likely that insurance would not cover the newly required building products. After all, they weren’t there when the policy was purchased. Of course, you will also need to look at the dollars and cents of hiring someone to handle this claim for you. It is possible that it is less expensive to simply pay for the concrete slab and consider it a home improvement. If it is damaged in the future, it should be covered under the new policy. Make sure to alert your Board to the addition so they can have it added to the master policy and the flood policy. Best wishes!

Condo Patio Has Got to Go!

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M.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo! I’m looking at a condo in an established community in New Haven County. This condo features private, fenced in yards for each unit. The one I want to buy has a fenced in yard as well, but at some point it was made in to a full patio. It’s not concrete, just pavers over gravel. My question is, since the outside of the complex is governed by the HOA, but I own the unit, would it be within my rights to rip out the patio and put in grass? I just have no use for a deck and a patio and would much rather have the grass for my 3 year-old and dog. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

M.T., I think you would be well within your rights to do with your private space as you see fit, provided, of course, that you obtain the necessary approval from the Board and follow the condo’s architectural compliance code. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to have your realtor inquire of the property management firm BEFORE you purchase your unit. I would hate to see you demolish the existing patio only to be told that you didn’t have the necessary approval to do so. In that case, you could find yourself at odds with the association over who did what and who had the right to do what. Far better that the Board be advised of your intention BEFORE a problem arises. All the best!

Passed Over for New Windows and Doors at the Condo

B.W. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The board is replacing the windows and doors in the condo units. I was scheduled to have mine installed in April of 2012 but they did not replace them. There are others that have had their windows replaced. How do I write a letter to the board regarding the replacement of the windows and doors in my unit since I was passed over?

Mister Condo replies:

B.W., if you have a property management company or property manager, simply write a letter to the Board explaining exactly what you wrote to me. If you have no manager, write directly to the Board President or Secretary. It may be they overlooked your unit or it may be that they had previously replaced windows and doors in your unit. Either way, you are entitled to an explanation and maybe even some new windows and doors. Good luck!

Fined for Condo Parking; Denied Due Process Under CIOA

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E.A. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a tenant and my landlord is the condo unit owner.  I was recently charged by the condo association for violating a parking rule. They gave warning by emailing my landlord and said we owe an automatic fine. There was no written notice given to us and no hearing. We denied the accusation and demanded evidence. They provided an incorrect permit number as evidence. Later they confirmed my car make/model and license plate which they had on file anyways. They said they’ll put the fine on hold until a hearing. I provided pictures of my parking permits, none matching the number they claimed was violating permit number. They can show no picture evidence and are relying on the word of a board member.

Is such a charge without evidence and providing an incorrect parking permit tag # reasonable? Could we take them to small claims court if they do not drop the fine? Can they issue an automatic fine before a hearing?

Mister Condo replies:

E.A., the Common Interest Ownership Act, also known as CIOA, has a lot to say about the correct methodology for applying, appealing, and contesting fines from a community association to one of its members. CIOA is designed to protect both owners and renters from being cited for violations of association rules without fair warning, hearings, and the ability to contest the fines. No community association enjoys fining its members. It is a tedious process that ultimately builds ill will between residents and the Board that is made up of volunteer community members.

I am not the one to play jury here but I can tell you that based on what you have presented here, you would likely prevail in court. However, that seems like an awful lot of trouble for what I am guessing is a very small fine. I would weigh the cost of going to court with the amount of the fine before I made the decision. However, by taking this Board to court you will be sending a message from yourself that you are aware of your rights and you aren’t afraid to use them. Good luck!

Noisy Condo HVAC Is Not Cool!

D.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! I bought a condo on the top floor of my building 3 months ago. During renovations I noticed there was a lot of vibration and noise coming from the HVAC system on the roof above my unit. I had a sound expert come and assess the situation. His analysis showed the level of sound was twice what the accepted standard is.  I have emailed and met with the Management Company and board, but no one is moving forward to fix this. I even offered to underwrite the cost. Because of their indifference, I want to know what I can do legally. It is a simple fix and I cannot understand why they would want it to blow up on them. Thoughts?

Mister Condo replies:

D.S., I am sure that living with a noisy HVAC system above your head is quite a pain and I am sorry for what you are enduring. I am not an attorney so I would advise you to speak with one pronto if the Board doesn’t come around to see it your way. There are lots of reasons why a Board may not move quickly on an issue like this. The first one that comes to mind is this is the first time they have been made aware of the problem. You hired a sound expert but I’ll bet they haven’t. This HVAC system existed for years before you lived there and undoubtedly made just as much noise and vibration as it does now and they never had a problem. You have created a new problem for them and they need to learn how to solve it. The HVAC system is a common element and while it has a life expectancy that will require eventual replacement, there may not be enough money in the current Reserve Fund to handle such a pricy item. Your offer to underwrite the cost is impressive but the association still has to deal with the long-term issues of replacing such a potentially expensive item. My guess is that the squeaky wheel will get the grease in this situation and that if you persist or bring suit against the association, you will get your new HVAC system. However, as is the case in most condos, things take time and you should continue to work with your Board to solve the problem and understand that they only meet monthly and they may need to hear back from contractors, building inspectors, and even noise inspectors before they can commit to a new system. If the process moves too slowly for you, you might consider launching a lawsuit but, keep in mind, a lawsuit might slow things down further and will create another unexpected financial burden for the association.

Town Hall Records Differ from Condo Specifications

A.K. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am interested in purchasing a condo, with a basement, adjoined by a spiral staircase. Town Hall says they are considered two separate units, with two deeds. The basement is considered a storage area, although someone installed a shower and heat. Common charges are huge for my condo. I wonder if they can be reduced, based on the fact that the basement is only considered a storage space and not a dwelling. Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

A.K., Town Hall records are likely the deed and declaration of the condo when it was first developed. It sounds to me like there has been significant modification to the unit and/or adjoining storage area that make the Town Hall records obsolete regarding the calculation of your common fees. My bigger question is regarding the deed(s). What does your sale agreement paperwork say? Did you buy one unit or two? There seems to be a part of the story missing and you may need to hire an attorney to get to the bottom of it but you might not like the outcome. If the units were modified and combined without proper permitting from Town Hall, you might just be stirring up a hornet’s nest whereby the Town may have a right to separate your unit into the single unit and storage unit it was originally submitted as. That spiral staircase might have to be removed and walls separating the units reinstalled. I am not saying you don’t have a right to find out, I am just warning you as to one possible outcome. If that scenario seem undesirable to you, I would continue to pay my common fees and be thankful for the size of the unit I was enjoying. All the best!

Mold Is Making My Condo Uninhabitable!

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T.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have had a leak in both bathrooms for over a year. Maintenance has not been able to find where the leak is coming from.  The condo is currently uninhabitable due to mold.  What are my rights?

Mister Condo replies:

T.H., mold remediation in condominiums is a national problem. The very nature of common interest communities and not having access to some of the common elements where mold can grow and cause a problem has lead to many a lawsuit between owners and their associations, which is also my advice to you. If your condo is uninhabitable due to mold, you should consult an attorney who will likely advise you to bring an action against your association. Of course, that is provided that the mold is growing in an area that is not specific to your unit. For instance, if you had a hot tub or other fixture in your unit that was leaking and creating mold, you would be responsible for that mold. But if the mold is growing in the walls of yours and an adjoining unit, the association may well be on the hook for the mold remediation and any injury you have suffered. Contact an attorney today to find out what your rights are. Good luck!

Legal Action Against Condo Owner Should Be the Last Resort

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S.F. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A fellow owner is in violation of several of our association rules, including renting out her parking spots, storing furniture in common spaces and renting to more than 3 non-related tenants.  She ignores me and the other owner’s requests to change these actions.  Is legal action our only other option?

Mister Condo replies:

S.F., when fellow unit owners refuse to follow the rules, legal action is the final option a community has to exercise to protect itself. However, there are several steps to take before hiring an attorney and heading off to court. You did not mention to me the procedure in place to deal with rule breakers. While a “request” sounds polite, it may be time to stop being so polite and change from “request” to “demand” and “fine”. Let me share with you what you will likely need before bringing a lawsuit against the owner in question.

Documentation is key to making your case in court and should be collected immediately. Verbal admonishments carry almost no weight and are easily dismissed. Take photos of the alleged rules infractions and document all of the communication efforts between the Board and the unit owner. Be sure to follow the procedures as outlined in the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA), namely, that letters are sent inviting the owner to appear before the Board to discuss the offenses and that the Board intends to levy fines against the owner before actually issuing the fines. In most cases, letters and fines will cause the rule-breaking to stop. However, if the owner persists and the Board feels it has done all it can do, it may be time to hire an attorney and take more drastic action. This can include eviction of tenants and even foreclosure on the unit in question if fines and common fees are not paid in timely fashion. Consult with an experienced community association attorney for best results.

Condo Board President Serving Double Duty As Board Treasurer

C.C. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can the President of the condominium board also act as its Treasurer?

Mister Condo replies:

C.C., most condominium governing documents would suggest that the role of President and Treasurer are designed for two different people. From a perfectly strict interpretation of those rules, I would say “No”. However, if an association is unable to produce enough qualified and willing volunteers to serve on its Board, it is entirely conceivable that two or three people could end up filling all of the roles required for running a successful condominium association. President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, and even directors-at-large all have important roles to fill but what happens when only three community members care to run for office? Would you simply fill three offices and let the other work go undone? That could ruin an otherwise successful condominium. My advice is to attract a high number of qualified volunteers so that it is not necessary for one Board member to fill multiple offices. That way the spirit of the governing documents is fulfilled and the community benefits from having a full Board. Serving as President and Treasurer really creates too much work for one volunteer and puts the community at risk of losing both a President and a Treasurer versus just one or the other if a volunteer stepped down or left the community. Good luck!

Required Monthly Reports from the Condo Board Treasurer

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R.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What monthly reports should the Board require either from the Board treasurer or the paid professional?

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., reports from the Treasurer of the Board should be offered at each meeting of the Board. The Treasurer’s Report should include cash on hand, checking account, reserve balances, and delinquency reports. Paid professionals are typically used for audits. Their reports include analysis of the association’s finances and may include tips for best practices on how best to manage the association capital resources. Additional reports might be required for associations facing unusual circumstances, such as high rates of foreclosure, new additions to the association (a new phase or development), and even reports of insurance claim activity or pending litigation where financial consequences (good or bad) may be experienced. In other words, if it will have an impact on the association’s ability to make good on its fiscal responsibilities, it should probably be included in the Treasurer’s Report. Here’s to all those hard-working volunteer Board Treasurers out there. Good job!