Monthly Archives: April 2014

Handicapped Parking at the Condo

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P.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo association identify 1 handicapped parking spot for 1 particular unit and not make any other spots available for handicapped parking? Also, 1 handicapped spot for that individual but there are 23 stairs leading to his condo unit, no ramp no elevator.

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., depending on their classification as private or public places, condominiums have a lot of flexibility on parking that they control. There are laws, local, state, and federal that may come into play so it might make sense for the association to consult with their attorney before they make decisions that can be challenged in court or may even violate the law. The federal law in question is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires that reasonable accommodations be made to provide access for folks with disabilities. The act doesn’t always spell out what “reasonable” is and it also does not state who has to pay for modifications like ramps or lifts that could replace stairs. Obviously, it is in everyone’s best interest to make parking and unit access as simple as possible for a resident with disabilities. However, it isn’t always as simple as installing a ramp or designating a parking space. My advice is to consult with an attorney who specializes in this specific area of law. Good luck!

Proper Procedure for Conducting the Condo Board Meeting

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J.D. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the proper procedure for conducting a condo board meeting? Should there be time set aside during the meeting for addressing owners’ concerns? Can owners voice their concerns during the meeting?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., thanks for writing. Here is a proper response to your proper procedure question. The answer lies in the meeting agenda and the methodology of how the meeting is conducted. In Connecticut, the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) provides a solid guideline for how your Board meetings should be conducted. However, there is some flexibility in how rigidly the meeting conforms to Roberts Rules of Order; strict parliamentary procedure does not need to be followed. That being said, the meeting agenda needs to be published and distributed well in advance of the actual meeting. There is an order of how information will be shared and discussed that is outlined in the agenda. While unit owners do not have the right to speak or vote at a Board meeting, they do have the right to attend and listen to what is discussed with the exception of items that fall under Executive Session (another topic for another day). If an owner contacted the Board or Property Manager with an item that requires the Board’s attention, there should be an agenda item addressing that concern. If it is an existing agenda item, the concern might be mentioned while discussing the item under Unfinished Business. If it is a new concern, it might fall under New Business. Concerns from unit owners should be presented to the Board in writing so there is a record of the concern. The Board is not required to allow unit owners to address the Board at the meeting. However, it may wish to do so if the unit owner can bring additional information to an agenda item topic that will educate the Board. For instance, a unit owner stopping a Board member in the parking lot to complain about the disrepair of the parking lot is not the same as a unit owner writing to the Board and requesting that the parking lot be repaired. The Board is not required to act on all agenda items; things can be tabled, moved to committee, voted upon and acted upon, or removed from further consideration. The minutes of the meeting should reflect this. Just like the agenda, the minutes of the meeting need to be made available to all unit owners. Hope that helps!

California Condo in Hot Water Over Hot Water!

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D.M. from La Habra, CA writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In my condo, we have boilers to generate hot water to the condo complex.  My boiler has broken down many times and after the recent earthquake in the City of La Habra, I have not had hot water for 4 days. Can I advise my HOA to apportion some amount of my monthly dues for this extreme alteration in the promise to provide basics and amenities in a condo complex?  The hot water issue is still not fixed…

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., the earthquake your region suffered made the news all around the country, including here on the East Coast. I am sorry for your hot water inconvenience but I am glad that is the only damage you are reporting. Association-provided amenities such as hot water are an important part of your association’s obligation to you and all of the other owners of the units. However, I highly doubt a financial compensation is likely to be offered by the Board and they are certainly under no obligation to offer money in lieu of services. The earthquake, in particular, is an act of Nature and can be easily argued to be out of the control of the association.

My larger concern is that this is not the first time the boiler system has broken down and not the first time the association has failed to provide a contracted service. What often happens is that the originally installed boiler system has become too old to function reliably. In associations where proper financial planning was in place, a new boiler system is purchased so that hot water can be reliably produced. In associations where proper financial planning was not in place, the Board often finds itself applying repairs and short-term fixes to the aged boiler system and it frequently breaks down. I am guessing that is what is happening in your condo.

The solution is often for the Board to go ahead and replace the old boiler system with a new one. However, that costs a significant amount of money and the unit owners are the ones who will foot the bill, either in the form of a special assessment or increased common fees to support a loan which may be necessary to make the purchase. Neither situation is ideal but it may be the only way for the association to fulfill its obligation to unit owners to provide their hot water. Otherwise, the situation you have described is likely to continue. At some point, a group of unit owners might actually band together and sue the association for not fulfilling its obligation to provide hot water. Hot water, by the way, is exactly what the community could find itself in if that happens. Not only would the association have to pay for the new boiler system but a lawsuit as well! Good luck!

Condo Parking Complexities

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J.N. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are you aware of any laws or regulations regarding the size of condo parking spaces? My two parking spaces are just under 8′ wide each, as are most of the spaces in the lot my neighbors and I share. As the community has repaved each of our other 7 parking lots, the space widths have been increased to 9′ over the years to accommodate larger vehicles like SUVs that didn’t exist 40 years ago when they were designed.

When our board created a plan to increase my lot’s parking spaces to 9′ wide last year, a slim majority of my neighbors opposed the plan because it would eliminate too much grass. The board decided to delay repaving the lot as a result, but the issue will come up again this year. I’ve read that Connecticut law governing commercial parking says any space under 9′ wide has to be marked “Compact” and anything under 8′ is illegal.

Our bylaws say, “The Association shall maintain upon the common property parking spaces in the ratio of not less than two per residence.” Since the bylaws don’t define the size of a parking space, is there any universal standard for what constitutes one?

Mister Condo replies:

J.N., I am not aware of any laws that regulate the size of condo parking spaces. I think that the commercial guidelines that you mention make sense but, as you know, condos are generally not considered commercial but rather private residential and are not likely to be governed by commercial guidelines. They are, however, governed by their own governing documents, which you have stated requires not less than two per residence. You go on to state that the by-laws do not define the size of a parking space so, again, this is a private matter.

Your Board of Directors is the governing body tasked with maintaining, protecting, and enhancing the common elements of the association, including the parking lots. Sounds to me like they have already made one decree whereby wider spaces were created. They can certainly do that again but they have to balance the desires of the folks who do not want to see more of the common ground paved in order to create additional square footage of parking. This is a purely political problem at this point. Your elected Board members can either do nothing and allow the parking to stay as it is or they can take a vote to try and pave more of the common area and increase the lot size and widen individual parking spaces. This is where your vote counts. Be sure and make this an election issue and see how many of your fellow unit owners feel as you do. If enough feel the parking space widening is the way to go, your Board just might vote in favor to make it happen. Good luck!

Condo Owner in Arrears Seeks Seat on Board

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T.G. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a Unit Owner who owed more than $2,000 in condo fees. Through legal representation, the Board of Directors agreed to a payment plan for him to bring his account current. This Unit Owner wants to be on the Board of Directors, but it is our understanding that he is not eligible until he has paid all of the back fees and brought his account up to date. Is there a Connecticut Condo Law or Statute covering this issue? We had previously found a statement covering it, but cannot seem to find it again. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

T.G., eligibility to serve on the Board is often dictated in the by-laws of the condominium association. I suspect that it is contained quite specifically in the section of the rules outlining the community’s governance. Alternatively, if there is a section on delinquencies and how rights of delinquent unit owners are affected, you may find the answer for your situation there. However, I think there is a bigger issue to consider, regardless of what the by-laws or even state laws have to say about the matter.

If a unit owner is elected to serve on the Board, the unit owners electing him or her have an expectation that this unit owner will act in the best interests of the entire association. If he has gotten himself into arrears through questionable financial management of his own assets, I think you really have to ask if this is the kind of person you want so close to the association’s assets. Will he be able to separate his situation from the community’s best interests? What if he ends up in further arrears? Will he use his position to influence the Board to not take further collection actions against him? Will he be responsible for deciding how and when the Board will execute their collection plan? I don’t feel that this is an issue of legality as much as it is an issue of integrity.

That being said, if he has satisfied his arrears to the Board’s satisfaction and he is interested in running for the Board there may be little anyone can do to prevent him from doing so. If he is elected and serves honorably, there is no problem. However, if his eligibility to run is forbidden in the by-laws, the community would be well-advised to adhere to those rules. I imagine that if he honors his repayment plan, he will be perfectly eligible in a year’s time. For me, that would suffice. All the best!

The Only Condo Unit Without Heat and Hot Water Included

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T.K. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a 2BR condo in a medium sized complex that has a Board of Directors but is managed by an outside company. My unit is heated with electric baseboard heating (which is connected to my electric bill) while the rest of the complex is heated by its own heating system with heating oil that is paid for out of the condo association’s budget. If I am not receiving the same services as comparable apartments, do I have legal ground to challenge the amount of my common fees and to be reassessed?

Mister Condo replies:

T.K., it certainly sounds like you have an unfair situation at hand here. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney so please think of my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney with expertise in community association law. That being said, let me tell you what I do know.

Back when your condominium complex was built, certain decisions were made as to the mechanics of the buildings and how the common expenses were going to be handled. It is very likely that during this period the situation you are describing was decided to be the best way to heat the units. Unfortunately, that may have meant that your unit was built with its own electric heat and hot water and that your unit was tasked with the expense of paying for the electricity to create that heat and hot water. Fairness didn’t likely factor into the equation. It was most likely just the reality of the mechanics of how best to provide heat and hot water to the units that make up the condominium.

May I assume that in addition to the individual units that are heated by the association’s oil-powered heating system that other common elements (halls, entryways, club house, office) are also heated by this same heating system? If your unit is the only unit that isn’t a part of the condo that is being heated by oil I can see where there would be great difficulty in removing the heating oil bill from the community. In theory, the association would need to look at all square or even cubic footage including your unit that is part of the association. Then they would have to subtract the square or cubic footage of your unit to arrive at what is considered your portion of the heating bill. For purposes of this example, let’s assume that there are 50 units with 2,000 square feet of livable space apiece and another 5,000 square feet of community space (halls, entryways, club house, office). That would be 105,000 square feet of community space. Your share of that space is 2,000 square feet or 1.905%. If the community spends $50,000 annually on heating oil, that is a little over $950 that you contribute (as part of your common fees) to heat the entire community and common areas. This is a very crude example and is only meant to illustrate. Your actual numbers may vary greatly and would require more information than you or I could easily access.

Perhaps the electricity consumed to heat your unit could be considered as part of the community’s heating expense. It would be far easier to simply add the cost of your heating to the cost of heating the entire community. Of course, you use electricity for other things that your community does not pay for other unit owners so, again, you have a challenge. You would have to find a way to monitor your specific use of electricity for heating purposes (specific meters on your heating and water heating devices). In theory, you could be reimbursed by the association for the electricity consumed for just those purposes.

Obviously, you need to take a look at your unit’s documentation to determine if you are paying for something you shouldn’t. My guess is that your heating is not included because it is not part of the association-owned oil-powered heating system. It is very likely spelled out in the documentation for your unit. However, if it states that heat and hot water are included, which appears to be the case for the rest of the units in your association, you may have a case. As you can see, this is an accounting nightmare and you will very likely require legal assistance to make your case should you decide to pursue a remedy. It is unfair and unfortunate but certainly not unheard of. All the best!

Conflict of Interest to be Paid for Service on the Board

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C.V. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is it a conflict of interest for the condo Board to get paid?

Mister Condo replies:

C.V., in my opinion it is a potentially tremendous conflict of interest for members of the Board of Directors to be paid by the condo association which they govern. However, there are some associations that allow the practice and others that actually call for the directors to be paid. Most associations that I know of have very specific wording in their condo documents that prohibit Board members from being paid by the association. They are certainly allowed to collect reimbursement for expenses caused by serving on the Board (printing, postage, and such) but those expenses need to be well-documented and authorized before being paid.

As a rule, Board members are democratically elected volunteers from within the community who serve to make their community a better place for themselves and their fellow unit owners. Since they control the finances of the association, they are responsible for determining the annual budget which includes all of the association expenses and income, which comes in the form of common fees to all unit owners. There is a clear conflict of interest in allowing a person set an expense of the association and then benefitting from that expense. That is the reason it is a volunteer position.

My advice is to see if your condo documents allow for the members of the Board to be paid. Chances are it is not allowed. If it is not allowed and the Board has still decided to pay themselves, it is time to get a new Board. Spread the word and elect new leaders who will conform to the spirit of volunteerism that is required for service on the Board. All the best!

Can the condo Disallow Satellite Dishes?

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P.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the rule if the condo wants to disallow satellite dishes?

Mister Condo replies:

P.W., satellite dishes can be quite the eyesore depending on where they are installed and how they are maintained. Additionally, since condo unit owners need to attach them to building exteriors or roofs, they add the extra burden of maintenance and potential damage to common elements owned by the association. It is no wonder so many condo units have lots of rules in place to prevent unit owners from simply installing a dish and altering a building’s outer appearance.

That being said, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has said that unit owners have the right to install a dish in any area that they have exclusive use of control. You can read more about what the FCC has to say about it at their website – http://www.fcc.gov/guides/installing-consumer-owned-antennas-and-satellite-dishes. For most condominiums, there isn’t a lot of area exterior to the unit under the individual unit owner’s control. Perhaps a deck, patio, or balcony might be considered an area for their exclusive use. What most associations have done is require a unit owner to give notice that they are installing a dish antenna and to provide a set of maintenance guidelines that the dish owner must follow or be subject to removal of dish and/or fines by the association.

What many unit owners have done is petition their board to allow an installation on common property but with an agreement from the installing unit that they will maintain the dish, pay for any damage arising from the dish installation, and agree to remove the dish if the service is discontinued. Also, there are some condominiums that will actually have a single larger dish that provides service to multiple residents. You need to work with the satellite TV provider to see if that option is available.

The bottom line is that there are lots of ways to receive broadcast signals these days. The FCC does all it can to make sure you have a choice in the matter. Condominiums do not have to allow individual satellite antenna installations on common elements but they cannot prevent you from installing a dish on any part of the property that you have exclusive use of control. Forward thinking associations find ways to work with their unit owners so that the property is protected and the unit owner still has freedom of choice. All the best!

Noisy Workout Equipment Creates Problems for Downstairs Condo Neighbor

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J.J. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am unhappy with the level of noise from my upstairs neighbor.  This mostly happens between 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM and each session lasts for half and hour or more.  They use treadmill or other exercise tools.  As soon as they start exercise over the machine, my ceiling and sidewalls starts shaking up with loud noise.  The ceiling fan dance all the time during these sessions.  I have an infant of 7-month old who is not able to sleep while all this activities are in practice.  I am afraid that it might lead to my infant child ill-health who has been deprived of mostly needed sound sleep.

I can handle infrequent loud noise, but this has become too much to handle.  It has interfered with my family sleeping habits, and contributed to migraine headaches. I requested my Condo management to talk to my upstairs neighbor but instead of talking to that neighbor the management responded to my email as follows:

Prior to sending a violation notice from the Association, you will need to try the neighborly approach first and try to work this out on your own. Most likely, they have no idea this is causing a loud noise beneath them. Please touch base with them the next time you hear the noise. Usually, neighbors can come to a friendly agreement. If for some reason, this approach does not work, please send me an email and with the outcome of your discussion with the neighbor and the details (days/times) of the noise.”

I don’t want to go in discussion with my neighbor just in case he is not tolerant or polite. What should I do?  My management has thrown the ball back to my court.  I would like my management to point out to them that perhaps they do not realize that they make so much noise and disturb others.

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., neighbor versus neighbor complaints at condominiums are always a difficult issue for everyone involved. At the heart of the matter is who can do what to get the neighbor to behave better. The Property Manager can only do what the rules allow and what the Board of Directors will enforce. The Board of Directors can only enforce what is in the condo documents. Sometimes, the police are called. They don’t enjoy these issues either because there is usually a question as to whether or not any laws have been broken. It becomes a situation where the ideal solution is for the neighbors to work it out and a figure a way to peacefully coexist.

I actually agree with what your Property Manager is telling you. However, you do not need to physically confront your neighbor if that makes you uncomfortable. You can send a letter instead and use the exact words of the email that was sent to you. Also include a heartfelt note about what you have told me here. Offer to meet with the neighbor to settle this in a neighborly fashion but explain that a meeting is not necessary. You just want to find a way for each of you to enjoy your unit and not drive each other crazy with noise.

Take a look at your condo’s rules about peaceable enjoyment. Noisy activities are likely limited to certain times of day. You can ask the Board to enforce any provision that bans a particular type of behavior. However, the times you have mentioned aren’t likely to fall into that category. How about the weight of the equipment and the type of flooring material on which it rests? A treadmill on hardwood would make a lot more noise than a treadmill on a carpet and rubberized floor mat.

The bottom line is that it takes patience and resolve to straighten out a situation like this. The Board and the Property Manager have very limited powers, especially if no specific rules are being broken. I have seen situations like this escalate to minor warfare with neighbors blasting TVs and stereos at each other at all hours. Please don’t let this happen to you. I hope your neighbor is as reasonable about this issue as you seem to be. Good luck!

Regulations for Handicapped Parking at the Condo

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P.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What are the regulations for Handicapped parking in a condo? How many handicap parking spaces are needed in a 165-unit complex. Also does it make a difference if the complex is broken up into 4 sections?

Mister Condo replies:

P.W., parking in condominium associations is a private matter with the decisions being made by the governing body which is the association’s Board of Directors. I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly. Of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) trumps any rules and regulations as it is a federal mandate and associations must comply. That being said, the ADA does not specifically address condominiums and uses broad terms such as “public accommodation” which is traditionally used to describe places that are open to the general public (shopping malls, theaters, and so on). Most condominiums are considered private property and can claim they do not fall under the “public accommodation” classification. However, those that have guest parking and/or guest access to facilities need to look carefully at the “public accommodation” rules. Clearly, there have been numerous court cases where these arguments have been made.

The bottom line is that a Board of Directors would be wise to heed any request from a disabled person seeking handicapped parking within an association. While the Board may not be under direct legal pressure to make the accommodation, they may face legal consequences if they don’t at least hear the issue and try to solve the problem. If you are seeking a particular accommodation for yourself or a loved one, I suggest you contact the Board and make your request known. Then, after a reasonable time, if no satisfactory action has been taken, you should consult with an attorney who specializes in ADA law. I would think most Boards would rather grant some type of accommodation than risk ending up on the losing end of a lawsuit and taking the heat that could come from bad publicity for not being handicapped-friendly. All the best!