Monthly Archives: July 2014

Tandem Parking Allowed at Condo!

mc_parking

C.P. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

 

I live in a 24-unit building and each unit was sold with one assigned garage parking. The issue is some owners have room if they park outside the designated yellow lines to tandem park 2 cars. It has become an issue and the folks never paid extra for this right or pay higher condo fees just do it. In the by-laws it states one (1) parking stall so that is how they feel they can get around it. But again they have to park outside the yellow lines and block other owner’s access to their storage units, etc. The trustees are stating they are going to have this issue voted on to continue to allow. I am considering legal action since this is detrimental to the value of my unit since I do not have the room in my parking stall. I also have one of the largest units and thus highest monthly common fee.

 

Mister Condo replies:

C.P., I feel your pain. Parking is a top complaint from condo owners here in Connecticut and across the nation. It is the end result of too many cars per unit. Add in a lack of visitor parking and you have a formula for angry residents and disappointed visitors when it comes to parking. Clearly, the designated lines are used for demarcation purposes and people who are parking outside of those lines are doing so incorrectly. However, rules are open to interpretation and it would appear that your trustees are in favor of this incorrect method of parking. If it is voted upon following the proper procedure that tandem parking is allowed, I suppose you would have little ground to oppose it. Legal action may be your only alternative and I would certainly consider it. Also, I would strongly consider getting out of a community run by trustees who don’t understand a concept as simple as parking between the lines. There is a reason the lines were put in place and you have adequately described it. People have the right to unfettered access to their storage areas and to have a safe and orderly parking area. What’s next? Parking on the common area grass? How about blocking a sidewalk or fire lane? This is foolishness of the highest order. Good luck!

Rebuilding the Condo After a Fire

amc_image

J.R. from Brockton, Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How long can the Board take to rebuild an entire condominium building after a fire?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., I am sorry for the loss of your condo building due to fire. Rebuilding after a fire is a potential nightmare for both unit owners and the association as it is not unusual for there to be severe damage to multiple units, supporting structures, and even building infrastructure. Utility services like electric, HVAC, and even water are often damaged as well. To further complicate the repair process is the process of insurance claims and adjustments that can go on for months (and even years in severe cases).

The Board has very little power to control how long things take to happen. It is in all parties’ best interests to get things repaired and back to normal but there also needs to be readily available monies to pay for the repairs and restore the building. During the rebuilding time, common fees and even special assessments are still due and payable to the association even though the units remain uninhabitable. In the best case scenario, all unit owners had personal homeowner’s insurance policies that cover some or all of the expenses of temporary housing while the repairs are made. Even the best policy will eventually run out of housing money so, again, it is in everyone’s best interest to make the units habitable again as soon as possible.

My advice is to keep in touch with the Board or the Property Manager to get updates on what is being done and when repairs are expected to be complete. If the insurance proceeds are not coming in fast enough, you might ask the Board to consider a short-term loan to free up the funds needed for the repairs with all of the insurance money eventually collected being used to retire the debt. It is an unfortunate situation to say the least. Hang in there, J.R., and know that it will get better eventually. All the best!

Automated Condo Entry Door isn’t Automatic

mc_horrified

J.W. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a degenerative nerve disease that is called Chargot Matie Tooth disease. It effects my walking and my hands are losing strength. Consequently, I am having difficulty opening the entrance way door to the condo main floor. Recently, the condo association purchased a golf cart to transport some of our seniors down to the beach. Apparently, some had handicaps. In addition, one renter was allowed to have a treadmill in her condo for migraine headaches. Since the association has already set the precedents of allowing for some handicaps would it be feasible to request that the main condo door have a handicap button that allows it to open automatically? I sense that since the precedents have already been set, my request would not be out of the ordinary. Thanks for your response.

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., I am sorry for your medical condition. I understand that it is a degenerative disease and can be quite painful. I wish you all the help and strength you need to cope with the condition. It certainly sounds like the community you live in is not averse to making accommodations for folks with mobility issues and health issues. I am not sure that a precedent has been set seeing as a golf cart purchase can be used by all owners and the treadmill was actually purchased by the unit owner and was of no cost to the association. That being said, an automatic door opener would, in theory, benefit all unit owners and may not be that expensive to install and maintain. My advice would be for you to contact the Board with your request and explain the difficulty that the current entry system is causing you. If the Board replies that it is too expensive or that they are unwilling, you may wish to seek counsel from an attorney to see if you have any rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow the door. This may not mean the association will have to pay for the door; that expense may still be yours. It really depends on the expense and whether or not the Board is amenable to your suggestions. So, ask nice and hope for the best. Good luck!

Problems with the Board, Problems with the Condo

mc_horrified

K.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am having problems with my condo board. The place seems to be falling apart with little attention to serious problems like buckled sidewalks, growing potholes, mold on buildings and more. Now, I get a notice that the common fees are going up. I don’t know what they are using the money for but it certainly isn’t for upkeep of the property. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., you have mentioned several serious issues in your letter and I imagine there is a bigger problem lying beneath the surface of what you have described. Aging condominiums are the norm these days with most of the condominiums in the region being in the 20 to 30 years old state of age. These communities were built a long time ago and the effects of aging are evident in those associations that are not actively managing the problem. Sidewalks, parking lots, roofs, decks, fences, and more begin aging the moment they are installed. These common elements will all need to be replaced over time and that is where the association’s Reserve Fund comes into the picture. Have you seen yours? If not, ask to see how much money is set aside for these repairs. If the Reserve Fund is not enough or not existent then you may have found the underlying cause of the problems. There simply isn’t enough money to make the necessary repairs. Many associations refer to this as deferred maintenance and it is an ugly beast for many associations.

As for what you can do it is really quite simple. You need to get involved. You need to take an active role in your association and volunteer your time and effort to serve on committees or run for office and serve on the Board. You need to learn as much as you can about what ails your community and you need to help guide the Board to take corrective measures to straighten things out. That may require special assessments. That may require raising the common fees significantly. That may require the community borrowing money to make the needed repairs and get back on track. The bottom line is that the Board is comprised of volunteers. No one gets paid for their service. All community members have a vested interest in the fiscal strength of the association. The problem will not fix itself but you can take steps today to make sure the community has a brighter tomorrow. Good luck!

Shortage of Condominium Handicapped Parking Spaces

mc_parking

K.V. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There is a shortage of handicapped parking at my condo. Can I make the Board add more spaces so I do not have to park so far away from my unit?

Mister Condo replies:

K.V., I am sorry that you have to park further away from your unit than you would have to if there were more handicapped spaces at your condominium. I am sure it can be quite the challenge when you have to park far away. The short answer is that your Board is not under any obligation to provide additional handicapped parking but it has been my experience that a well-worded request can carry great results with the right Board. My advice is for you to write a heart-felt letter to the Board explaining the difficulty you are having and how you and other unit owners would benefit from having additional handicapped parking made available. Please understand that your Board may be unable to grant the request due to parking restrictions or currently deeded spaces to other unit owners but my guess is that they will at least give your request the serious consideration it deserves. All the best!

Insurance for Condo Renters

amc_image

P.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If I am renting my condo, what type of insurance do I need since the master policy seems to cover most things?

Mister Condo replies:

P.M., that’s a great question! Insurance needs vary by individuals but, for the most part, renters here in Connecticut need to purchase apartment and homeowner’s insurance, more commonly known as HO-6. You’ll want to work with an insurance professional to determine the right amount but you want to insure everything on the inside of your unit that could get damaged or stolen in the event of a catastrophe or theft. The premiums shouldn’t be that heavy and you’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing that your valuables are well-insured. Thanks for the question!

Condo Noise Rules?

M.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are there examples of condominium noise by laws?

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., this column gets no shortage of questions dealing with noise issues in condominiums. I’d have to say noise control is a top issue for anyone who lives in such close proximity to other condo or apartment dwellers. I have seen noise restrictions worded in various ways but they all have basically the same intent and that is for unit owners and residents to voluntarily comply with the noise rules of the community so that everyone can peaceably enjoy their condo living experience.

The rules might look something like this:

Noise Rules

“Residents and guests are required to keep noise levels to a minimum at all times. For purposes of this discussion of rules, daytime hours are considered 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.. The hours between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. are considered nighttime hours and extra attention to noise must be paid during nighttime hours.

Residents shall not play any musical instrument, radio, stereo, television, or cause any other noise at a level that would disturb any other residents. Noise levels must be kept below 80 dB (the sound of a typical vacuum cleaner) during daytime hours unless previously approved by the board of directors.
No one shall make any noises in the building or adjacent grounds that may disturb the occupants of other units during nighttime hours. Noise levels must be kept below 40 dB (the typical sound of human voice) during nighttime hours.”

Perhaps some readers would care to share their specific association rules regarding noise so you can get some more ideas. The bottom line is that it is important to have rules in place so that all residents know what to expect and when other residents are not following the rules. We’re all in this together. All the best!

Condo Noise Rules?

mc_scales

M.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are there examples of condominium noise by laws?

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., this column gets no shortage of questions dealing with noise issues in condominiums. See all of the noise related questions we’ve already answered here – http://askmistercondo.com/tag/noise/.

I’d have to say noise control is a top issue for anyone who lives in such close proximity to other condo or apartment dwellers. I have seen noise restrictions worded in various ways but they all have basically the same intent and that is for unit owners and residents to voluntarily comply with the noise rules of the community so that everyone can peaceably enjoy their condo living experience.

The rules might look something like this:

Noise Rules

“Residents and guests are required to keep noise levels to a minimum at all times. For purposes of this discussion of rules, daytime hours are considered 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.. The hours between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. are considered nighttime hours and extra attention to noise must be paid during nighttime hours.

Residents shall not play any musical instrument, radio, stereo, television, or cause any other noise at a level that would disturb any other residents. Noise levels must be kept below 80 dB (the sound of a typical vacuum cleaner) during daytime hours unless previously approved by the board of directors.
No one shall make any noises in the building or adjacent grounds that may disturb the occupants of other units during nighttime hours. Noise levels must be kept below 40 dB (the typical sound of human voice) during nighttime hours.”

Perhaps some readers would care to share their specific association rules regarding noise so you can get some more ideas. The bottom line is that it is important to have rules in place so that all residents know what to expect and when other residents are not following the rules. We’re all in this together. All the best!

Condo Concerns in Aging Community

mc_money

C.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

2 years ago the property manager quit unexpectedly. The board said we were broke, $63,000 in debt and proceeded to increase our condo fee by $100. Six months prior it was increased by $50. Our community is 20 years old and nothing gets replaced, everything gets patched because they say we can’t afford to do much of anything. Recently, I compared the 2013 operating budget with the 2014 budget and even with the increase, we are now $93,000 in debt. In 2013, the budget shows that funds were allotted to pay off that debt, but those funds were never applied to that debt. The whole amount owed was carried over to the 2014 budget. My question to the new property manager was, “what happened to those funds?” The property manager said, “flooding in a couple of units was paid out of pocket by the Association because the Association has a $50,000 insurance deductible.” Shouldn’t the home owners be responsible for the flooding (hot water heater) damage? Even with some homeowners being behind in their condo fees, based on the operating budget, we take in more than enough to pay our bills and even increase our Reserve account. Something is not right here. In my mind, red flags are going up all over the place. Please help.

Other concerns:

1. Insurance increased by $20,0000.

2. Our Reserve fund, even with the increase never goes over $25,000.

3. What is a comparable amount paid to a Management Company? We pay $25,000 annually.

Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

C.C., you are wise to be concerned over the fiscal management of your association. It might be that the common fees have been too low for too long or it might be a series of unfortunate (and uninsured or underinsured) events that have led to your community’s fiscal worries. The good thing is that with the help of concerned and involved unit owners like yourself, the community can very likely pull out of this in a much better financial position.

Here in Connecticut, the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) has been the law of the land for several years now. There were some major insurance reforms in that legislation that might work to your association’s favor with regards to who is responsible for things like flooded units due to outdated items that fail such as older water heaters, washing machine supply lines, burst pipes that were left unprotected during winter, and so on. However, for those items to be taken away from association responsibility, the association must first publish and enact maintenance standards. If your condo board hasn’t done so yet, now would be a good time to get those in place so we aren’t having this same discussion next year.

There is a difference between the budget and actual expenses of the association. You have commented on the budget that was prepared and accepted in 2013 versus the budget that was prepared and accepted in 2014. The budget is a good planning tool but it really doesn’t reflect the reality of how the money was spent from year to year. The example of an unexpected $50,000 loss is just one example of how the budget is not in sync with the reality. You can request and check the association’s Profit and Loss statements to see how and when the money was actually spent. Keep in mind that this is the job of the Board and that this has most likely already been done by them.

The bigger issue here is true fiscal responsibility and accountability. In an older association like yours there has seen wear and tear on the common elements since it was first built. In an association of your size, $25,000 is nowhere near enough to cover the likely things that either need to be replaced currently or will need to be replaced shortly. That is where the community association Reserve Study comes in. The Reserve Study looks at all of the common elements, assigns a current value and likely lifespan of the element and a predicted replacement value for the element. It is the only real tool to help a Board determine how much money should be contributed to the Reserve Fund. Too many Boards make decisions about the dollar amount of common fees based on political pressures from fellow residents to keep the common fees low. It sounds to me like your Board has taken corrective measures over the past few years to move the community towards better fiscal responsibility. If you can avoid major uninsured catastrophic losses for a few years you may be well on your way to a fiscal recovery.

With regards to your other concerns, you are not alone in experiencing insurance cost increases. A $20,000 increase doesn’t surprise me. I assume your Board has shopped around for the best coverage and rates for the association. I wouldn’t be too concerned if the Reserve Fund is not increasing in amount at this time. More work needs to be done before the Reserve Fund is being accurately reported and described in your Annual Report and Budget. Management fees vary greatly by services offered and the provider. It is the job of the Board to hire the management company. My guess is that they are happy with the service and the price paid. It would be “Apples and Oranges” to comment on the management fees without seeing the contract.

The bottom line is that as a unit owner you have a vested interest in how the money of the association is spent. While the allure of lower common fees is tempting to many unit owners, the reality of an underfunded Reserve Fund is right around the corner. The common elements will need replacing. It is not a question of “if” but rather “when”. When the time comes to do so, the Board will need to either borrow money (raising common fees yet again) or levy a special assessment against all unit owners. I hope they are able to get the association’s financial house in order before then. All the best!

Grandfathered at Grandmother’s Condo?

amc_image

R.P. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hello! I am living in a condo that was owned by my grandmother before she passed away. The condo is now owned by a trust run by my father who has allowed me to stay living in the condo. One of the board members who lives in the unit below mine has repeatedly been a problem, even when my grandmother was alive. She harassed her, and now is starting to do the same toward me and my family. The attorney which represents the condo sent a letter regarding a law passed 7 years ago which only allows owner-occupied units. Otherwise, a security deposit must be sent to the attorney that would be kept in an interest-bearing account. I have lived in the condo with my grandmother long before the new amendment. Is there some kind of legal recourse which grandfathers me in? Is there some kind of collusion amongst the board member and the attorney I can bring up? Eventually, my father will be selling me the condo once family affairs are finalized. In the interim, what kind of recourse do I have so that I can live peacefully?

Mister Condo replies:

R.P., I am sorry for the loss of your grandmother and that you are finding yourself at odds with the condo Board where you live. As you may know, I am not an attorney so any advice I offer you here is strictly friendly and not to be taken as legal advice. For legal advice, you should turn to an attorney who can best guide you on your legal rights and steps you can take to correct any legal actions brought against you by the Board.

Let’s start with the harassment issues. Since your grandmother has passed, there is little but resentment for those who harassed her that you can hold on to. However, if a Board Member is currently harassing you, you have the right to take action against that Board member. Consult with an attorney and don’t hesitate to press charges. Other than governing the community as a whole, Board Members do not need to interact with other unit owners in a harassing manner. It is illegal and you have rights which an attorney will help you to protect.

I am not familiar with the law about the security deposit for non-owner-occupied units but you may be subject to it. Once again, consult with your attorney to determine if it applies to you. If it is truly just a security deposit that will earn interest, it doesn’t sound like you will be harmed by providing it and taking it back after you purchase your unit from the trust. It might be less expensive to offer the deposit than to fight it in court so ask your attorney and then take the correct actions.

I hope this clears up the issues for you, R.P.. I wish you peaceful condo living and a speedy resolution to these issues. All the best!