Monthly Archives: August 2013

Approval of Condo Board Minutes by Email?

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L.W. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We normally approve minutes at the subsequent board meeting and publish them with our newsletter about six weeks after the meeting. Owners naturally would like access to the minutes sooner. Could the board unanimously approve minutes within a few days of the meeting via email and then be able to publish them sooner?

Mister Condo replies:

L.W., thank you for your service to your community. I am happy to hear you are publishing a newsletter and sharing your meeting minutes with your homeowners in timely fashion. As far as I know, the only proper method of approving minutes is at the next Board meeting, where I assume they are generally accepted as presented. I would think using email to expedite the process would open you up to potential liability issues so I would not encourage that you change your policy. Also, the Board is under no obligation to release unapproved minutes that I am aware of. In other words, your homeowners will need to be patient while the bureaucracy works as planned. If you wanted to release unapproved minutes in advance with the caveat that they are not yet approved, I suppose you could do so but I don’t really see the need. Are there really such important matters going on that 6 weeks makes a difference? For most communities that I know, the minutes are not all that useful to homeowners unless there are major financial issues facing the community. If that is the case, I would suggest that other methods of communication (letters, notices, etc.) should be used to communicate items of an urgent nature. Other than that, I would stay the course. It sounds to me like you are operating without a bushel covering your light, which is exactly how it is supposed to be done. Good luck!

Should Association Pay to Clean Up Burst Washing Machine Water Line?

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G.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A neighbor’s water line to the washing machine broke and flooded her unit. The association is now paying to clean and fix her condo. Shouldn’t she use her home owners insurance?

Mister Condo replies:

G.B., the short answer is “it depends”. In my experience, unit owners generally rely on the condo association’s insurance policy first and their own homeowner’s policy second for just about any insured loss. If your association had insurance in place to cover the loss then I see no problem with using that policy to pay for the repairs. However, you didn’t mention any insurance. You just stated that the association is paying to clean and fix her condo, which I may take issue with. Was the water line that broke owned by the association? That is not very common but if so, they may have the responsibility for the repair. If not, then the repair should have likely been covered by the unit owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Typically, burst washing machine lines and subsequent damage are the homeowner’s responsibility. Many policies even limit the amount of damage they will cover if it is determined that the burst hose lines were not properly maintained or replaced within a certain time interval as their failure is imminent over time.

As you can imagine, insurance companies don’t like paying for claims they are not technically responsible for and it is not uncommon for lawsuits to become necessary for claims to be paid. Depending on the amount in question, it is possible that your association just thought it would be less expensive to pay for the repair than to fund a lawsuit against an insurance company. As a member of the association, you certainly have a right to know why the repair was handled the way it was. Send a nice letter off to the Board and ask for a clarification of what damage occurred, what if any insurance was used to pay for the clean-up, and what plans the Board has so that the problem doesn’t reoccur. After all, if association funds were used for the repair, a portion of that money came from your common fees.

Upset with Condo Neighbor’s Cigarette Butt Litter

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D.N. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can my condo association, that I pay $170.00 monthly to, MAKE my neighbor stop throwing his cigarette butts on the property? Because if they can’t, I’ll call my lawyer.  Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

D.N., regardless of what your common fees are, your Board can only enforce the rules that are on the books of your condominium. Generally speaking, littering of any sort is prohibited on the common grounds of the association. That being said, enforcement of such provisions can prove quite challenging when owners flagrantly disobey the rules they agreed to live by when they purchased their unit. It is even more challenging when the unit is rented out and the tenant isn’t even aware of the regulations.

Since you have indicated that you are willing to contact an attorney to see what can be done, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. You should also request, in writing, that your Board be aware of the problem and provide any evidence that you have to support your claim. Ideally, you would need a photo or video clip of your neighbor committing the violation so that your Board was armed to make a complaint. Keep in mind that all the Board can do is issue a warning at the first offense and request an appearance from the rule breaker before they issue a fine on subsequent offenses. Also be aware that your Board is under no obligation to take any action whatsoever so if they don’t act, don’t be surprised. The battle over smoking at condos in general has been heating up for years across Connecticut and across the country. As you can imagine, those who smoke want to be left alone to enjoy their smoking; those who don’t smoke would like to see smoking at condos banned completely. Only time will tell who will prevail. In the meantime, see what your attorney has to say about it. All the best!

Bullied Property Manager at Louisiana Condo Complex

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S.S. from Louisiana writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a property manager. I was very excited to begin my new position and looked forward to doing great things for the community. I feel that I have done that since I started. However, there are a couple of owners that bully me on a continuous basis and there seems to be no stopping them. They leave messages and send emails stating what my job duties are, what a terrible manager I am, and so forth. I found out the former manager was threatened and bullied by the same people and that this practice has been going on for years. They wonder why there is so much turn over.  I don’t like coming to work anymore. It upsets me even though I have done great things and saved them plenty of money. I am looking for another job but I can hardly stand working here.  Do I have any options?

Mister Condo replies:

S.S., truly I am sorry for your situation. Bullies are never easy to deal with and your position as the association’s point of contact between owners and the management company makes your situation particularly precarious. I think you are wise to seek a new position outside of this community but that doesn’t mean you are powerless against the problem. You will likely need some legal assistance in the form of an attorney who is familiar with Louisiana state law about bullying, intimidation, hostile work environments, and the like. You may be in a position to bring charges against these bullies. Of course, that could very well cost you your job but if you were to prevail against them in court, you could make back any lost wages and perhaps a tidy sum for your troubles. My advice is to contact a local attorney to discuss your options.

If that seems too aggressive an option for you, you might consider contacting the Board members (who I assume are not involved in the bullying) and seek their assistance in correcting the abusive behavior. Unit owners have no right to engage in abusive behavior and should be told so by their elected officials (the Board). If the Board refuses to do this, once again, you should seek the advice of an attorney to determine their culpability in harboring this hostile work environment. Again, you face the same consequences from bringing legal action against the Board as you do from bringing legal action against the individual unit owners.

Whatever you decide, I think it would be wise to keep a documented trail of these incidents. Keep copies of abusive emails and phone messages. If you do end up in court, hard evidence will weigh much more heavily than “he said/she said” type testimony. It is unfortunate that it has come to this. Manners, decency, and respect are taught to most of us as children. When these basic principles of a civilized society are ignored, a situation like yours occurs. You may not be able to teach these folks to behave like decent human beings but you may prevail against them in a lawsuit. When common sense doesn’t win them over, taking them to court and getting judgment against them may be your only other option. All the best!

Too Many Units; Too Few Parking Spaces!

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E.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There are 175 units and 195 parking spaces at my condo. In the past, we were issued 2 parking stickers for each condo. There have never been enough spaces. They now want to limit 1 bedroom units to one sticker and two or more bedrooms to 2. We will still be short 100 spaces! Can they make different rules for different sized units in the same complex?

Mister Condo replies:

E.H., overcrowded parking lots are a plague for many condos in our state. I don’t suppose it’s any comfort to know that you are not alone in this struggle. Basically, with 175 units there is one space per unit with 20 additional spaces that could be used by visitors. There is no requirement to provide visitors with parking but it only makes sense that some unit owners would have visitors from time to time. The reality is that most unit owners wish to domicile two or more vehicles on the property and that is what is causing your problem. Your question, though, is can the Board change the rules about parking and who gets how many spaces. The answer is “yes and no”.

It really depends on what the condo declaration says about parking as a right of unit ownership. If the unit includes one or more spaces, then that is the rule the association is bound by unless the declaration is amended. My guess is that if there were only 195 parking spaces then it is likely that each unit gets one and the balance is for visitor parking. If there are garages with your units, that is a different story as garaged vehicles would not count towards that allotment. In other words, you could garage a car and still have an additional parking space to use; either in front of the garage or elsewhere on the property.

So, begin with your condo documents. What did you purchase when you bought your unit? Does the deed include one or more parking spaces? If so, you are well within your rights to demand you get what you paid for. If the documents do not support more than one space for your unit, you may just have to accept the wisdom of the Board and work with just one space. It is an unfortunate reality of modern living. Most units require a car for every adult occupant. In a high density housing situation such as yours, that means a lot of parking spaces are needed but not always available. Best wishes!

Golf Cart Declared Out of Bounds at this Condo

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G.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My association states that the Master Deed prohibits golf carts. They claim that I would be fined if I kept one in my garage and drove one on the streets. What right have they to tell me what I can and cannot have in my garage? How can they preclude driving a licensed and insured golf cart on the street when they allow all other types of vehicles to do so?

Mister Condo replies:

G.S., your association has all kinds of rights to allow or disallow vehicles onto the common areas of the association. In most associations, the roads are private and completely owned by the association. It could be an insurance issue; it could be just an antiquated rule from the original Declaration and by-laws of the association. Have you seen the actual rule? I suggest you take a look at your copy of the community’s rules and regulations. They were part of the legal and lengthy set of documents you signed when you agreed to abide by the rules of the community when you moved in. If the document prohibits golf carts, I am afraid you will need to abide by the rules or face fines or further punitive action. On the flip side, if you live in a community where golf carts would make an acceptable means of transportation, you may wish to petition the Board to consider changing the rule. If enough of your neighbors and the Board see it your way, the rule may just be changed. If not, you may just have to take a Mulligan and get rid of your golf cart. All the best!

What Right Does the Condo Association Have for My Car Insurance Info?

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B.H. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in Florida. My condo association is requiring copies of each vehicle’s insurance policy. Wouldn’t the registration be enough? Isn’t that exceeding the right to know?

Mister Condo replies:

B.H., Sunshine State greetings! Your condo association is most likely enforcing a rule of your community that states that no unregistered or uninsured vehicles will be stored on the property. Think about it. If one of your fellow unit owners was keeping an uninsured car on the property and that vehicle were to be involved in an accident on the common grounds the community would be at risk of being sued. It is far better to provide the proof of insurance which you are required to have to operate the vehicle than to risk having uninsured vehicles domiciled on the common grounds creating a potential risk to all unit owners. Best wishes!

Seeking a Map for this Virginia Condo Parking Lot

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I.A. from Virginia writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are there any companies that map out designated parking spaces in condo parking lots?

Mister Condo replies:

I.A, mapping of condo parking spaces usually happens when the condo declaration is filed. In a new build, that duty might fall to the architect. In an existing condo where new blacktop is applied or a parking lot is milled and rebuilt, the line striping usually falls to the paving or blacktop contractor. There are many companies is Virginia that provide parking lot line striping services. My guess is that they would also be useful in helping to map out designated spaces as provided in the condo’s original declaration. I checked the Southeastern Virginia Community Associations Institute website and found the following list – http://www.sevacai.org/directory/ads/asphalt-maintenance-and-or-line-striping,9.html.

If you are not in Southeastern Virginia, head over to http://www.caionline.org/chapters/find/Pages/list.aspx and scroll down to Virginia to find the local chapter of CAI near you. Reach out to them for a list of vendors that are chapter members who offer the services you seek. It’s always a good idea to do business with a CAI vendor as they are skilled in working with community associations like yours. Happy mapping!

Access to Condo’s Appeal Evaluation Questioned

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M.M. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association just paid $5000 for a real estate “consultant” to evaluate our condo and recommend what we could do to make the condos more appealing. The report is several months late and we are told that when the report is available it can only be viewed in the office and it will not be posted on our web site.

Can we force the Board of Directors to post the report on-line so residents can read it at home? I don’t think the BOD wants the residents to see the report.

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., I salute your Board for looking at ways to increase appeal and add value to your condo association. “Maintain, Protect, and Enhance” is the mantra of well-meaning Boards at condos like yours. Without being privy to what information is contained within the report, I cannot guess as to why the Board feels the report is best left for viewing at the office versus a more public disclosure but the short answer is “no”, you cannot force the Board to post the report, or anything else for that matter, on-line. Unit owners must be given access, and from what you tell me they are, but they have to go to the office to see it. Generally speaking, most Boards would prefer to keep documents that might contain negative information about the association less public rather than more. For instance, if the report indicated aging common areas or decaying decks or any other negative information, the Board may wish to use the information to create an action plan to deal with the report’s findings rather than alarm unit owners with information that could be taken out of context. My advice is to head to the office and take a look at the report. If it is something that you feel every unit owner needs to see, ask the Board to make copies and distribute. Otherwise, I would advise you to simply trust the judgment of the people the community has elected to conduct their business. All the best!

Devil is in the Details of this Condo Deck Addition

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P.E. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently added a deck to my condo. There are no rules in our by-laws regarding decks. Apparently they were all put on by the builder with no permits. Permits were only approved for patios. I had to go before the town to apply and pay for a special land use permit (on my own) in addition to the building permit, because the board would not get approval for the whole complex at the same time for fear the town would make them bring existing decks up to code or fine them. The board approved my deck, but did have me sign a paper that said I would build my deck in a similar design to the existing decks (approx. 15 years old) and the decking and supporting structures should be a similar color to the existing decks as well. Nothing was stated about the railing or post colors. Originally there was a patio on my condo with a white picket fence around it which I had planned on removing until another neighbor (a past president) informed me that the fences were put there for safety reasons (due to steep embankment in the back). So a section of the fence is going to have to remain because of this. Again the fence is white, all the door, window trim, and accent colors on the condo are also white. I decided to put white posts on my deck to help coordinate the fence and condo with the deck. The deck is made of Trex decking, original decks are wood (builder’s special) decks. It clearly looks so much better (even some board members agree) with the white posts, but they are taking a stance saying I must remove the white posts within 30 days or they will begin fining me $25.00 a day. Now the kicker is that 2 other people have white railings in our complex. One is a railing along a patio and the other is a railing and posts on a handicap ramp with a landing on the top made of a combination of Trex decking with a wood rail. I assumed that since 2 other units had white railings some mild white accents on my rail would not be an issue. The board says that one is a fence not a rail and that the other is a handicap ramp, so the rules are different than for decks.

The Board is very difficult and not very friendly. All 70 + years old and they don’t like it when they are questioned. They clearly make up the rules as they go and make it difficult for everyone in the complex. Most of the owners don’t go to the meetings because of the Board. The Board says they don’t understand why no one goes to the meetings. They won’t let me be on the board, because I am not a resident, my mom lives in my unit and I am there at least 3 times a week. Yet the vice president of the complex (who runs the show) lives 6 months and a day in AZ.

Lastly this is far from a high end condo complex. There are many eye sores that this Board could spend more time on, as well as things that are different from one unit to the other. Someone told me I could override the Board’s decision if I petition and have 51% of the owners sign it supporting the color of my posts. Is this correct? I don’t have a lot of money to spend on a lawyer to fight this, but I do think the board is being ridiculous. This is a beautiful $10,000.00 + deck! Please Help!

Mister Condo replies:

P.E., there are so many things going on here I am not sure where to start. I am sorry for your situation although it sounds like you have a lovely new deck for you and your mother to enjoy so there may be something to be said for that. From what you have told me there are some things that have likely been mishandled by both you and the Board. Let’s start with what went right and then talk about what went wrong and how you can remedy the issues.

I assume when you asked about installing the deck you submitted the request in writing and received a written response from the Board giving you approval. This will be very important as to what follows. As long as you have the Board’s written documentation offering you approval for your deck you have a paper trail that you can rely on to support your case. I would be looking for items like materials used, size of deck, and other items pertaining to the construction project. Without such a letter, I am not sure what the Board thought they were approving. The oversight of the post and rails is unfortunate but was not included in your proposed deck request from what you have told me. I know that hindsight is “20/20” but if you find yourself undertaking a similar project in the future, be sure to include ALL aspects of the project. Better to seek approval than ask for forgiveness in a condominium where architectural compliance is largely decided by the Board. Had a proper project plan been submitted and agreed to by the Board, you would have none of these issues today.

Your assessment of the Board is a bit troubling. In fact, they are volunteer members elected by the unit owners to conduct the business of the association. If they are performing poorly, the community should find better volunteers to replace them. You are not a unit owner so I would not expect you to be allowed to serve on the Board.

The only real issue here that I see is the white color of the posts. You feel that white is the way to go and the Board does not. Since architectural compliance is the Board’s responsibility and you did not include the posts in your request for the deck improvement, I think you will have to yield to the Board’s decision or prepare to bring suit against them to defend your position. I am not familiar with a 51% petition to override the Board’s decision. If that is peculiar to your association’s by-laws that may be an option for you. A far better plan would be to invest a little more money in an attorney to get a legal opinion on your standing and to represent you and your mother in a suit against the Board if it comes to that. You’ve already invested $10,000 in the new deck. My guess is that for a few hundred dollars more you can hire an attorney to determine what your legal options are. Or you could spend the money on replacing the posts with something that the Board agrees to (in writing, before the work begins). Good luck!