Monthly Archives: May 2013

Neighbor’s Foreclosure Costs Every Condo Owner!

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B.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Why am I being forced to pay increased common fees because of foreclosures that are taking too long at my condo? I have always paid my condo fees on time and as far as I know so have most of my neighbors. Now, two units have been foreclosed upon after almost two years of the owner’s not paying their common fees and I get a notice from the Board saying common fees will be raised at this year’s annual meeting because the two owners paid NOTHING to the Association last year causing a budget shortfall of 10% in our 20-unit complex. This is so unfair! Is this legal?

Mister Condo replies:

B.G., I feel your pain. Yes, it is perfectly legal. In fact, the law currently protects unit owners and the companies that hold their mortgages from paying common fees to the association for as long as it takes for the foreclosure action to be completed. Your association will not see any money from these units until such time as the units are sold at auction. Then, your association will receive 6 months of back common fees and reasonable attorney fees. That is a pittance compared to the moneys that are owed to the association. That budget shortfall must be made up by the remaining dues-paying members to prevent the association from defaulting on its own financial burdens which are the common expenses like insurance, utilities, snow and trash removal, landscaping, etc.. The units that have been in foreclosure effectively ride along for free during this process creating a huge burden for associations like yours. The mortgage holders are also protected under the current laws and can take as long as they wish to foreclose on a unit. Combine that with a lengthy process through the courts and you have a formula for financial ruin for homeowner associations like yours.

There is legislation before the Connecticut General Assembly as I write this (House Bill 6662) that would protect you and associations like yours from further financial hardship brought on by delinquent common fees and delayed foreclosure actions by banks or the courts. I urge you and your fellow condo residents to join me and the folks at CAI-CT to contact your State Senators and Representatives to support House Bill 6662 that would extend the association’s lien on foreclosed units that are delinquent in their common fees from the current six months to a renewable or evergreen lien. Again, the bill under consideration and that most needs your support is HB6662.

That won’t help you recover all of the lost money you’ve already lost but it would certainly help moving forward. Good luck to you and all of us who live in Connecticut’s condominiums!

Fire Damages Condo Building; Lack of Communication is Destroying Residents

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M.I. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a length of time a condo board has to rebuild?  Our building burnt over 3 months ago, and nothing has been done or released as to when it will be rebuilt.  We need to get our money back out, and have no idea how to approach this.

Mister Condo replies:

M.I., I am sorry for your fire loss. I hope that the building was all that was damaged and that no people were injured. Insurance claims in disasters really run the gamut as far as how long the process takes from damage to claim, from claim to adjustment, from adjustment to reimbursement, from reimbursement to rebuilding, rebuilding to repopulation by residents, and so on and so on… As you can see, 3 months sounds like it’s only the tip of the iceberg on the whole process.

That being said, you have the right to have regular communications from all parties involved. The Board and Property Management Company would be well-served to publish frequent (monthly) updates of where they are in the process so that affected residents can make appropriate plans. If they already know this will take twelve months or longer, they need to inform unit owners and keep them in the loop as progress is made. Otherwise, folks like you will just suffer longer and wonder what is going on. Tragedies like the one you’ve experienced challenge Boards. I hope your Board will rise to the challenge and accept the responsibility of keeping you and your fellow unit owners informed as they protect the common interest of their members.

If you want to see an example of what can happen after a fire, kindly review an earlier post from our website – http://askmistercondo.com/reduced-common-fees-after-a-fire/. These folks from Pennsylvania have gone through it firsthand and have made a few observations along the way that you might find helpful. Good luck to you and all of your fellow condo members.

Recommended Condominium Association Insurance Companies

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L.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do you have any recommendations of Insurance companies that handle Commercial Insurance Policies for Associations?

Mister Condo replies:

L.T., do I ever! I have long been a big supporter of businesses that support community associations. When it comes to community association insurance, you won’t find a better list of qualified insurers that you’ll find at http://www.caict.org/?page=Directory#Insurance. This is literally the “Who’s Who” of insurance companies that specialize in the highly specialized insurance needs of community associations. In fact, the company that insures my association is prominently featured on the page. We’ve been loyal clients for years and we’ve not been disappointed. Use it in good health, my friend!

Tenant Floods Condo, Landlord Has to Pay

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B.S. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Who is responsible for water damage in my condo? A tenant left the water running causing damage but the condo association is not willing to submit it as a claim.

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry to learn that your tenant has damaged your condo and/or neighboring units. That may be considered a criminal activity and I suggest you submit a police report and seek remedy from them under the law. You may likely be able to sue them for the damage and even seek criminal mischief charges against them. As for your condominium association refusing to seek relief in the form of an insurance claim, I actually fully agree. This wasn’t an accident; this was a willful act of destruction that the insurance would likely not cover. Additionally, as the damage is directly attributable to your tenant, you are on the hook for the damage to your own and neighboring units. It is possible you have insurance that you may make a claim against to cover the damage. If not, I guess you might consider this a lesson in being a landlord. Strong background checks and substantial security deposits in case the tenant causes damage are good renting policies. Good luck finding a better tenant next time.

Multiple Condo Problems, Singular Problem Source

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J.O. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Recently, my condo association sent me a letter that I have to remove my garden that I had placed below my deck about 6 years ago. It was the length of the deck and about 6 feet deep. It was in the common area, but I had asked a board member (the president) at the time if I can have a garden there. I was told that I can, as long as I do the upkeep and do not plant shrubs or trees. The new board still decided that I have to remove it and replant grass there. I complied with that, even though there are few other unit owners that have gardens in the back of their units, and I was told that this rule will be applicable to all. Still waiting for a response from my management company as to which units were notified to remove their gardens besides mine. Over the years I have invested significant amount of money there, and I feel like I am being singled out. Can I sue them for my losses?

Now, I have received a letter from my association that stated that I am in violation of another rule. This time it is towels and my 3 year-old child’s cloths that are being dried on the deck. The deck is enclosed, and my child is allergic to wearing clothes that have been dried in the gas drier. I do not see anything in rules and regulations about the laundry. All is there “No hangings of an offensive nature shall be permitted to be hung from the exterior of any unit or in portions of the interior of any unit which shall be visible from the common elements”. Is there anything that I can do about this?

I have also heard from one of the unit owners, that I was also accused of speeding. All the accusations come from the same unit owner. I do not speed. I have a three year-old son who I have to watch very closely when he plays outside, so that he does not run on the road. I drive a standard shift Honda Civic, and from my unit to the stop sign there is a distance of about 20 yards, and another 30 I am guessing that I will be receiving another letter soon about that. Is there anything that can be done about this? Thanks for your advice.

Mister Condo replies:

J.O., miscommunication between condo boards and the residents that dwell inside the condominium is always a challenge. When a board member casually grants permission for a resident to disobey a rule, any rule, there is almost always consequences. I am sorry for your troubles but let’s talk about what can be done to rectify the situation.

With regards to your garden, the Board president who told you it was acceptable to plant under your deck truly did you no favor. While he may have been willing to look the other way while the community rule was broken, the new Board is not. Had he offered to bring it up for a vote at the next Board meeting, he may have been able to get the rule changed to allow you and other community members as well to create under deck planting areas. Since that didn’t happen, I don’t see where you have any grounds to contest the Board’s request that you remove the garden and restore the common area to its original condition. However, if this rule is not being applied unilaterally and you feel you are being discriminated against you should contact an attorney to bring a discrimination suit against your Board. Discrimination is illegal and the rules need to be applied fairly and evenly.

Drying of clothes on decks is generally forbidden at most condos. Even though it may seem petty to you, most of your neighbors would likely agree that they don’t want to see everyone else’s laundry being aired throughout the complex. There has been debate on this topic and federal level. To date, it is up to the condo association to make the call. It sounds like yours has decided against the practice. I think you will need to find another way to dry your laundry. Perhaps an electric dryer if the gas one is an allergy problem for your child.

As for speeding or any other rule infraction you are accused of, your Board needs to follow a simple process of notifying you that an infraction has been reported. You have the right to address the Board to say what you have told me and the Board has the right to discuss the matter and determine whether or not a violation has occurred. They then have the discretionary authority to levy a fine against you if they deem the offense occurred. My guess is once you present your case as you’ve done here, they’ll drop it.

It sounds like you have made an enemy in a unit owner who is reporting things about you to the Board. Neighbor versus neighbor issues are the most difficult to control in small condo associations. If you can’t make nice with this person, you will likely be cited for more infractions, real or imagined. My guess is that once you repair your garden, stop air drying your laundry on your deck, and make peace with your Board, these complaints will stop. If not, you might consider speaking with an attorney to discuss how best to get this neighbor to stop complaining against you. Not breaking the association rules is generally the best way to make it stop but sometimes it just takes a bit more. Best wishes!

Another Taxing Question for Mister Condo

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A.C. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are management companies allowed to charge a sales tax on the monthly management fee? For example, we agreed on a $25/unit, but are being charge $25+tax/unit.

Mister Condo replies:

A.C., this is the second property management fee tax question I’ve had this week! The answer is it depends on who occupies the unit. Condo units that are rented out are considered commercial property and, as such, management services offered to those units are taxable. Condo units that are owner-occupied are not considered commercial property so the management fee is not taxable in the eyes of the state at this time. However, if a management company is collecting the tax and forwarding that tax to the state, it is unlikely that the state would correct them. It would be incumbent upon the management company to keep track of which units are rentals and charge the association the correct fee and tax based on the number of rentals. It is a tricky proposition. You can read more about it at the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services website by downloading their pamphlet at http://www.ct.gov/drs/lib/drs/publications/pubsip/2006/ip06-35.pdf. In particular, read Page 20 of this book and you’ll see a very clear explanation. All the best!

Condo Fire Lanes Too Big, Condo Parking Spaces Too Small!

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J.L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Mister Condo, I have been living at a condo complex with my mother for about 5 years and have had very little problem with parking. However, one night after school, I came home to a new fire lane which extends nearly 40 feet! Is that even legal? Also, I came home to parking lines painted, one in front of each garage however between me and my neighbor 2 spots were painted. I believed that my property was foundation to foundation, however the line was drawn from half of a foundation to the edge of my garage, which makes 9 foot which is code. However, I measured the ones in between me and my neighbor and one is 8′ and the other is 8′ 2″. Now by my town’s code it is 9′. I have asked multiple times to get this fixed and their answer was the condo complex is considered unfinished so the town would say this is okay. What are my other options? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., what a disappointment it must have been to have your parking situation changed so drastically. I hate hearing stories like this where it seems unit owners are simply forced to accept changes they never agreed to. Let’s break down the events as your have reported them and talk about what, if anything, can be done.

Your first question is about a fire lane and its length. Fire lanes and their length are generally dictated by the local municipality. A quick phone call to your local fire department’s regular phone number may clear this up. DO NOT CALL 911 for this! This is not an emergency. The fire department can do one of three things. They can tell you it is fine. (Answered) They can tell you it is too long. (Contact your Board and tell them) They can tell you that it is on private property and that it is not their decision. (Contact your Board and ask them to consider shortening it) Whichever thing they tell you, you will have your answer and you can then take appropriate action. All three answers pretty much put it out of your hands but at least you will have an answer.

Your parking space line painting situation is another matter altogether. I would ask you to review your condo documents and see if your exact parking space size and placement is listed within. If it states you have a 9’ wide driveway of a certain length, you may have legal grounds to proceed. Contact an attorney and take appropriate action. If it doesn’t you may still wish to speak with an attorney to see if the association’s argument that town code doesn’t have to be followed because the development is unfinished holds any water. Again, your local fire department may have something to say about parking density and building safety. Time and time again, parking is a chief concern for condominiums because so many people live so close together. You should be entitled to safe access and egress to your vehicle and your unit. Creating undersized parking spaces is a long-term formula for big problems. I hope your association will correct this for you. As usual, ask politely but follow up with a threat of lawsuit if being nice doesn’t work. Do you know which company performed the line striping? Even they might be worth getting an opinion from. If they regularly line parking lots, they should know what is and isn’t acceptable, even in unfinished developments liking yours. Best wishes.

Little Dog, Big Problems for the Condo Owner

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D.R. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a one dog rule in our condo. My daughter who is away at school left me her 5lb. Papillion to take care of about a year ago. This dog was sick and had been neglected by my first wife. Unfortunately, we already had a dog of our own. We have been found out and received 2 letters from the board. Today we attended the board meeting to plead with them to allow us another few months, when my daughter will be able to take care of the dog herself. I don’t know what they are going to decide. They vote in private. What are my rights in this situation, if any? Is there any way to legally keep them off our backs? We are good people and never made any trouble.

Mister Condo replies:

D.R., I feel for your troubles. You were very kind to agree to take in your daughter’s dog while she was away at school. However, your kindness to your daughter and her dog does not supersede the rules and by-laws of the condominium association to which you voluntarily agreed to abide by when you purchased your condo. As for specific rights, I do not believe you have any. As for the sympathy of your fellow condo residents who serve on the Board, I am sure you have them. You have put them in a sticky situation. If they set aside the one dog rule for you, they effectively have to set the rule aside for everyone or they could open up the association to discrimination charges in the future. They vote in private for good reason. This is an important decision for them and their ruling can have long-reaching affects. My guess is they will find against you and ask you to remove the dog or face fines. Ideally, you will find a temporary home for the dog until your daughter can reclaim it. However, if that is not possible and you wish to keep the dog in your condo, you will likely be fined by your association. You can hire an attorney and fight these fines or you can simply pay them until such time as your daughter can take her dog back. Since you are good people and never make any trouble, I trust you will find the solution that works best for you and for your association. Best wishes.

Clarification on Property Management Fee Tax on Condo Unit

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D.P. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Thank you for responding to my question regarding sales tax. To clarify, the tax that is being charged is a tax on the property manager’s fee for the percentage of their fee based on the number of “rented units”. It is not a tax on common fees but a tax on the management company fee. The property manager said to us that it is a state law that this tax be paid. Please clarify is you are aware of this state tax. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

D.P., thank you for the clarification. I am very much aware of this tax and you can read about it as well at http://www.ct.gov/drs/lib/drs/publications/pubsip/2006/ip06-35.pdf. In particular, read Page 20 if this book and you’ll see a very clear explanation. How it works in Connecticut is that rental units qualify as commercial property for income and are subject to sales tax on the management fees. Units that are owner-occupied are not subject to the commercial property management fee tax. Sounds like your property manager was right on top of this. Kudos!

Condo Owner Seeing Red Over Not Seeing Green

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J.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am frustrated with my condo association. The lawn in front of my unit was damaged last fall by a contractor the association had used for many years. A new board member, who is responsible for the grounds, got rid of him and hired a new contractor. I was also told that they would plant seed in spring in the damaged area of the lawn. The new contractor said he was not told to plant seed and so he hasn’t. The grass is still badly damaged. The back of my unit has a lot of muddy areas and some of the front lawn is dead. I finally had enough. I emailed the board, took pictures of the damaged lawn and sent them and a complaint to the Management Company. I requested sod and said I did not want to be involved in the installation but I would if I had to help. I tried to communicate with the grounds guy but he did not even walk around my yard to see the problem. I also told him the new lawn company does not pick up branches or twigs. They just run them over. He said that when they cut grass in a week, the mower would pick up these little twigs. Well they came and went and there are more twigs that were simply run over and left behind. How can I get the Board to correct these problems?

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., the short answer is you need to remain vigilant. It is unfortunate that you are having a difficult time with the lawn in front of your unit. The reality is that it is not your lawn but rather association-owned common property owned by you and every other owner within the association. It is the Board’s responsibility to maintain, protect, and enhance the common elements. However, there is very likely no written code of how well they need to do that. That is why we elect the right volunteers to serve on our Boards and encourage and support them to do the best job they can. As for your specific requests, it sounds like you are doing the right things. You have documented the issues with your letters, emails, and photos. You have alerted the Board and the Property Manager of the shortcomings of the current contractor. Now you need to be patient but not docile. The old saying that “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” can be kept in mind but don’t make yourself a nuisance to your Property Manager or your Board. You’ve made your complaint, now let’s see what happens. Keep in mind that the Board is made up of unpaid volunteers that may meet once per month or once per quarter. If they need to vote to spend money on seed or hire a new contractor it can take a few meeting cycles for that to happen. If your property manager has agreed to be involved and oversees the contractor, you might get some faster results although there is no guarantee of that. The bottom line is that the contractor and the Property Manager work for the Board, not you. You need to work with the Board to make things happen. Of course, if you feel you could do a better job and wish to volunteer your time to serve your community as a leader, I would encourage you to run for a seat on the Board at your next Annual Meeting. Good luck!