Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fined for Renting a Condo that Was Never Rented!

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M.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My son advertised short rental of my condo without my knowledge. The condo was never rented. The Board of Directors found the advertisement and without first warning with no penalties according to the bylaws, they are charging me a $2500 penalty for renting it although I’ve told them it has never been rented. Without my knowledge they took my last 2 maintenance payments and applied them to the fine and then wrote to me that I was delinquent on maintenance payment. I have told then to send me proof or I will make police report for harassment. What can I do? I did not want to go to appeal because there was nothing to appeal, it never happened.

Mister Condo replies:

M.B., this sounds like a series of unfortunate events to me and I am sorry that you and your Board didn’t find a better way to work out this misunderstanding before it came to this. That being said, let’s review what has happened and what you are likely to do next. First off, I am not an attorney so please consider this advice friendly, and not legal. For legal advice, I suggest you seek appropriate legal counsel in the form of an attorney.

If your association has rules about renting or advertising the rental of your condo it really makes no difference who placed the ad and whether it was with your knowledge or not. If the rule was broken and the Board wishes to take action they can. Is this the first time you have broken this rule? Have you ever been cited for breaking this rule before? If either of those scenarios is true then your Board may be acting within their rights to issue you a fine for the violation. If not, you are correct in that they should issue you a warning and request that you appear before the Board. If you do not appear before the Board, they can certainly go ahead and fine you. Even if you do appear before the Board, they have the right to fine you if they conclude that you violated the rule. From what you have stated you did not wish to appear before the Board. With a lack of any counter claim from you, guess what happened? They issued you a fine! Any time you are requested to appear before the Board, it is a good idea to do so. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about the appearance, it is a good investment to hire an attorney to advise you. Once the fine was issued, you were liable for the amount and they have the right to collect it from you before applying money to your common fees. That means you will accrue late fees on your common fees until the fine is settled. As you can see, it is in your best interest to get this matter taken care of as soon as possible.

From what you have stated, I would think you will want to hire an attorney to represent your interests any way. Clearly, there is a problem between you and the Board and communication seems to be severely lacking. Also at question is the legality of the measures the Board has taken against you. For starters, I have never heard of a $2500 fine! Fines are used to prevent improper behavior. At $2500, it sounds like the Board is using the fine to produce association income. An attorney can best advise you if your rights were violated and what legal recourse you may have. Typically, if you hire an attorney, the Board will do the same. Once the two attorneys sit down they can either reach a settlement or determine if a lawsuit is necessary. Keep in mind that a lawsuit can get expensive and even nasty so be ready for the long haul if needed. At some point, you may even need to evaluate if it is just less expensive to pay your fine than to sue your Board. Either way, be sure not to break any other rules of your association so you don’t find yourself in this type of predicament again. All the best!

Too Much Barking from Condo Neighbor’s Dogs!

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D.H. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I like to keep the windows in my condo open in the summer to bring in the fresh air and keep down my air conditioning bill. Unfortunately, my next door neighbor has two yappy little dogs that react to the slightest of noises outside the unit. They are good watch dogs but they go off every five minutes and once they start barking they just keep going for several minutes at a time. Our by-laws restrict pet noise but, so far, I cannot get the Property Manager or Board to do anything about the dogs barking. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

D.H., I certainly don’t blame you for wanting to save money on air conditioning and open your windows in the summer. Your neighbor isn’t playing by the rules and is creating a bad situation for you and other residents who are subject to their barking. I assume you have spoken to your neighbor about the issue and still have it unresolved. Contacting your Board and Property Manager is the right course of action. However, you may need to turn up the pressure on them if they are not following the rules for enforcing the rules.

Once you register a complaint, the violation should show up as an actionable item for the next meeting of the Board of Directors. A notice should be sent to your neighbor informing of the violation and inviting the neighbor to appear before the Board at the next Board meeting to address the complaint. If the complain is found valid, the Board is then free to issue a fine for the violation and subsequent violations, as outline in your by-laws. Some associations have a “three strikes and you’re out” clause as well whereby they can force the unit owner to remove the pet if violations continue. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Most likely all that needs to happen is your neighbor needs to close the windows so the dogs aren’t triggered to alarm. They may also need some barking control training so that all unit owners can have peaceable enjoyment of their units which is their right. Good luck getting the barking under control. Enjoy your summer!

Rotting Condo Decks are a Rotten Shame… And Liability!

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D.D. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condominium is suffering from decks that are clearly rotting. I had the leg of a deck chair pop a piece of wood right out from under the chair last week. I’ve complained to the condo president (my neighbor) but he says we don’t have any money in the Reserve Fund to address the problem. What’s it going to take for me to get the association to replace my deck like they should?

Mister Condo replies:

D.D., rotting decks are a serious problem that no condo association should take lightly. In fact, even decks that appear safe and strong need to be replaced on a regular basis at condominiums so that the association protects itself against liability in the event of a deck failure on decks that have lasted past their warranted life span. If a deck is warranted for 15 years the clock for replacement is ticking the day the deck is installed. In fifteen years time, it will need to be replaced, even though it is very likely to still look and function fine in fifteen years time. The reason for this is insurance liability. If the deck fails and was out of warranty, the association could find itself on the receiving end of a very expensive lawsuit. How expensive? One recent case in Indiana has the unit owners seeking millions form the association. You can see the chilling video here: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/25/indiana-deck-collapse-lawsuits-filed/5802677/

Hopefully, nothing like that will befall you or your community. However, deck repairs and maintenance cannot simply be shrugged off with a simple “we’re out of money”. Share this story with your condo president. He needs to address the issue with his fellow Board members to devise a plan to pay for the needed deck repairs. It may be a life or death issue. At the very least, it is a potential liability that your association does not need or want. Options to pay for the deck repairs include levying of special assessments and/or borrowing money from a bank.

Also, since he has indicated that the Reserve Fund was not properly funded, this is a good time to look at all of the other projects that are improperly funded. The decks are very likely just one of many items that have been deferred over the years. Common fees will likely need to be increased to cover the deficit. A recent study of condominium Reserve Funds across the country found almost 70% of them to be underfunded. It is high time that this trend be reversed. Your community can use the deck replacement project as the first step in the right direction of fiscal responsibility and condominium association stewardship. Good luck and be safe!

Poorly Maintained Condo Greens Has Unit Owner Seeing Red!

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C.G. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo grounds are a mess. The landscaper only comes every other week and is here for less than an hour. 3 guys cut the grass, blow the clippings off the parking lot and then leave. Meanwhile, we have brown patches throughout the complex, weeds, crabgrass, and dandelions throughout the property. I have complained to the Property Manager but he says there isn’t anything he can do. Do you have any ideas?

Mister Condo replies:

C.G., bad looking common areas are bad news for any condominium association. Curb appeal is very important in keeping property values maximized and keeping the community vibrant with civic pride. Unit owners and other residents are very much as upset as you are. It is the charge of the Board to keep the common assets of the association in tip top shape. That includes your grounds. However, it’s not like the members of the Board of Directors are required to get out there and keep the grass green or remove the weeds. What they need to do is reevaluate the plan for keeping the community looking good.

If your association has a Grounds Committee, you should start there. If your association doesn’t have one, why not volunteer your efforts to get one started. The Grounds Committee is generally charged with repair and upkeep of common grounds, community gardens, even trees and shrubs. Ideal committee members are folks with some gardening history and interest in how the grounds look. They can make recommendations to the Board on what to plant, what type of grass to grow, and more. They may even be involved in helping prepare the Request For Purchase (RFP) that the Board should issue each year to hire a grounds keeping company. It is very likely that your current contract calls for nothing more than “mow and blow” which is what your current landscaper is doing. They cut the grass and blow away the clippings. In their defense, if that is all their contract calls for, that is all they can do.

Your new RFP should include weed removal, planting fresh seed in dead grass areas, suggestions for upgrading plants, mulch, watering systems, and whatever else it is going to take to get your community back on track to looking beautiful. The benefits are plentiful but it all begins with the plan. Get involved and start enjoying a better looking community tomorrow! All the best!

Loud Music Played in the Wee Hours in the Condo Parking Lot!

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J.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

3:30 in the morning; loud music in front of the condo visitor parking. I warn the tenant for this but she escalates the situation and calls the police on me telling me that all the police are her friend. She also curses at me and tells me “I am going to throw you from those building,” and some other accusations. What should I do?

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry that you have such an unruly tenant living in your condo complex. Calling the police is always your best bet when the law is being broken. Of course, you should notify your Board and/or Property Manager that a resident is violating association rules by playing loud music at 3:30 in the morning. Confronting this individual may put you in harm’s way so I do not recommend that you down that path again. You tried and were met with resistance and threats. Let the law enforcement people do their job and keep the peace. Let your Board do their job and address the violation. You just go on trying to enjoy your condo and keep your distance from this disagreeable individual. Good luck!

Can the Board Tell Me What to Use Inside My Condo?

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T.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Does the Board of Directors have the authority to mandate what type of materials a unit owner uses in their condo? Braided Washing Machine Hoses or Specific type of Building Materials, for example.

Mister Condo replies:

T.H., the short answer is “yes”! Most unit owners are aware that they cannot make any modifications to the exterior of their units due to architectural compliance issues, which the Board oversees. Insurance issues, also the purview of the Board, require that the association maintain certain standards so that the insurance can remain in place and claims can be honored. Washing machine hoses and water heaters are two very common wear items that quite often lead to insurance claims when failure results. Rather than continue to pay the claims that can be easily avoided with proper maintenance and materials, the insurance company dictates the materials that should be used and the useable life cycle of the products. If the product, such as the washing machine hose, is shown to be out of date r of the wrong material, the insurance company does not have to pay, which results in a financial hardship for the community. To avoid this, the Board simply mandates that the accepted materials are used and maintenance standards are met. This has the added advantage of protecting you, the unit owner, as well. All the best!

Too Much Partying Next To the Condo

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N.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small shoreline condo that is surrounded by residential properties on three sides. The back of my unit is situated less than 100 feet from a 3 family home that is rented out to tenants that have very loud parties every weekend. I would love to open my windows and enjoy the sea breezes but there is always music and noise coming from the backyard of the neighboring property, not to mention the smells of whatever they are grilling. Can my Board do something to control the noise and odors so I can experience “peaceable enjoyment” of my unit as described in our by-laws?

Mister Condo replies:

N.G., I am sorry you are unable to enjoy your unit peaceably. However, there is nothing in any condo by-laws that governs the behaviors of people not specifically living in or visiting your condominium. What you are experiencing is an issue for your local municipal authorities. Your Board is powerless to enforce its own noise restrictions outside of your immediate association grounds. Unless your neighbors are breaking laws or violating city ordinances regarding noise or backyard barbeques there really isn’t too much that you can do. Since your back deck faces the offensive property, may I suggest that you get more use out of your front deck, which I assume faces your own property? Sorry for your inconvenience. Enjoy your summer!

Condo Owner Wants to Defend Neighbor

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F.D. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Mr. Condo, how can I write a positive letter about one of my neighbors to defend him about a false accusation made by another neighbor?

Mister Condo replies:

F.D., you are a good neighbor to defend your fellow resident and share what you know about the accusation with the parties concerned. I assume you are looking to defend your neighbor to the condo association Board who has been alerted to a rule infraction or such by another unit owner. Typically, reports of rules violations are made to either the Property Manager (if you have one) or directly to the Board. Neighbor versus neighbor issues are the most common reports and the Board is tasked with reviewing the complaints and taking action if deemed necessary. You are free to write to the Board or Property Manager and tell your side of the story so that they may take your account of events into consideration when deciding what action to take against the unit owner who been accused of the rule violation. The actions that Boards should take include notification of your neighbor that a rule violation has been reported and an invitation to address the Board concerning the infraction. If your neighbor takes no action, the Board may issue a fine for the violation. If your neighbor wishes to address the Board and defend himself, your letter may be quite useful in bolstering his defense. Either way, the Board can choose to do nothing or they may issue a fine for the offense as outlined in your association’s by-laws. The Board is tasked with governing the association, which includes managing the budget and dealing with the larger issues of the community as a whole. Neighbor versus neighbor rules violations are quite often a nuisance that the Board must deal with but it takes them off task of truly managing the assets of the association. If you decide to send your letter, please keep it short and sweet. Ideally, the Board will simply review the complaint, your letter and decide to take no further action. All the best!

FEMA Says Condo Is Now In a Flood Zone!

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R.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We were not in a flood zone a few years ago but the maps were changed. About half the owners don’t want flood insurance and half do. Are we obligated to get flood insurance for all?

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., welcome to the post-Katrina world of FEMA flood zone mapping! Your community is not alone in finding itself in this predicament. It is an issue all across the country as it is not just shoreline condominiums that have been affected. Community associations with rivers, streams, ponds – any kind of nearby water – are finding themselves with a new flood zone designation courtesy of FEMA, the agency that was tasked by Congress to remap and rezone the country in the wake of the devastating losses incurred during Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms of similar consequence.

In our state, the community association is required to provide adequate insurance for all common elements. Traditionally, that meant a Master Policy that would cover the amount of the value of the buildings and common elements that were owned by the Association. Flood insurance is a bit of a grey area when it comes to “required” insurance. I have not seen it decided by a court yet but I would think the argument to require it is as simple as showing that the federal government has deemed the property likely to flood by designating it a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). As such, the association should provide the insurance as required under state law. There is also a practical reason for the association to do so. Mortgage companies will require flood insurance for any property seeking a mortgage within a SFHA. It is very likely less expensive for the association to purchase this insurance for the entire association than it would be for individual members of the community to purchase their own policy. Of course, the argument against having the association pay for the flood insurance is usually from those folks who do not carry a mortgage. They are not under any pressure from a mortgage company to carry flood insurance so they would like to avoid the expense and not pay for insurance that may be required for their neighbors but not for them.

My advice is to have your Board and unit owners within the association discuss the issue. Find out how many individual unit owners are required to maintain flood insurance and see if there isn’t a consensus on having the association purchase the insurance for all unit owners. Purchasing the flood insurance certainly is in line with the spirit of the state law and may be an item that is already being purchased by a majority of the unit owners already. The association may actually be able to save money for individual unit owners by purchasing the insurance as an association. Even the unit owner’s who do not carry mortgages will benefit from the coverage as extra protection in the event that FEMA’s classification of “likely to flood” ever comes true. All the best!

Indecent Behavior (And Exposure!) On Condo’s Common Grounds

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B.C. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo complex is age restricted. Adult children over the age of 18 are permitted as long as the resident is 55 or older. One adult child has a record of being a nuisance. Numerous residents have written the board stating they are afraid because of his actions. Recently he was arrested for indecent exposure. What can the Board do to insure the safety of our residents?

Mister Condo replies:

B.C., I am sorry that your condominium residents are feeling threatened because of a fellow unit owner’s child. The reality is that other than practicing good safety habits and involving the police when appropriate there may not be anything that the Board can do to help protect residents. Boards are not law enforcement. The association has no legal authority over the residents of the condominium. You cannot legislate legal behavior on the part of residents or their allowed guests. You can instruct residents about how and when it is appropriate to call the police. Certainly, you do not need to tolerate indecent exposure on your common areas. Call the police if that happens. My guess is that a person this age and demeanor is going to be a problem wherever they are. The fact that you are an “over 55” community may allow you to modify your rules about who can live there. However, consult with an attorney before modifying your by-laws, keeping in mind that state laws may supersede any rules you change. Also, rules apply to all unit owners; not just the one causing the problem. Going after this one individual may open the Board to a discrimination lawsuit. You certainly don’t want that! All the best!