Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ask Mister Condo In Print? I’m Flattered!

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P.D. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Will you publish a book of your postings?

Mister Condo replies:

P.D., I think I might have a heck of a time finding a publisher! Thank you for asking!

If I thought folks would read all the questions and answers that we have tackled over the years, I would strongly consider it. We have had a steady stream of questions from readers like you since we started in 2012. As we approach our third year it is hard to believe that more than 600 questions and answers now appear on our website. The folks at Google keep an eye on visitors and they report that in the twelve months that ended in November of 2014, we had more than 60,000 page visits! That’s a lot of folks reading answers and asking questions about their own condo living experience. We also have a large presence on social media sits like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Many times the conversation starts here and makes it way elsewhere on the internet. I am humbled that so many visitors take the time to read our posts and share their thoughts with us.

I don’t know if there will ever be an “Ask Mister Condo” book but I do know that the first place it would be announced is right here. Perhaps you’ll write the book’s forward for me, P.D.? Thanks for writing!

Warped Condo Siding – Who Pays?

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D.B. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The siding on the back of my condo has warped. The association says it was the vent from my gas fireplace. I had a service company check out my unit and they said it was working 100% perfectly. The association has charged me $221.00 to replace the siding. Is this my responsibility or the association’s since we really don’t know what caused the warping? It could even have been damage from the ice storm we had a few years ago. Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., regardless of the cause of the warping the repair had to be made. Your Board came to the conclusion (correctly or otherwise) that the warping was caused by your gas fireplace ventilation system, making the repair your responsibility. The opinion of the service company you hired for the inspection did not figure into the Board’s decision and the only recourse you have left is to seek remuneration through litigation, meaning you would need to sue the Board for the $221.00. While you may be in the right, I cannot advise you to sue the Board for such a small amount as your legal fees alone will far outweigh any judgment you might receive. Honestly, my guess is that the Board can find a service provider to claim even though your unit was working 100% perfectly the heat generated still caused the damage. I am not sure you would prevail, adding additional cost to your burden and not solving any problem for you. My advice is to pay the repair this time and keep a close eye on the siding in the future. If it was your gas fireplace you would be well advised to make sure the ventilation takes the heat further from the building. If it was hot enough to warp siding, it may be hot enough to cause fire. If the warping was caused by something else (perhaps the ice storm as you have suggested) it would behoove you and the Board to get a building engineer on site to evaluate. Also, is it just your unit where this has happened? The way most condos are built, similar style and materials, I would think a systemic problem might evolve over time, in which case the Board might have to take larger repair action than just getting the siding on your unit fixed. Take a good look around your complex; talk to your neighbors; see if you are alone in this phenomenon. If not, take action with the Board. If it’s just you, do what you can to stay safe and let’s hope there is no more warping. All the best!

Condo Executive Board Approves Budget Without Meeting!

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A.T. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can the Executive Board approve a new budget without even meeting? Since there was no meeting they say that they are not liable to provide minutes. Is this correct?

Mister Condo replies:

A.T., no, that is not correct. However, correcting the action may prove a bit tricky. Each and every year, the Board is tasked with developing a budget for your condo association. Sometimes the budget is prepared by a third party, like a Property Manager; sometimes it is done by a Treasurer or other officer; and sometimes it is an amalgamation of folks working on particular sections of the budget. However, the budget that is developed in this manner becomes the proposed budget until it is ratified at the Annual Meeting of unit owners. Even if there was no annual meeting of unit owners (that’s a whole other issue!), the Board should have met and either approved or rejected the proposed budget. Minutes must be kept for all meetings of the Board and meetings of the unit owners as these minutes are records that must be made available to all unit owners upon request. Therefore, regardless of whether the budget was approved at the proper Annual Meeting or improperly at an Executive Board meeting, the minutes from that meeting are association records and, as such, must be made available to any unit owners who wish to inspect them. Your condo documents clearly spell out this process and there is also wording in the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) to support these statements. Technically, a budget that has not been approved by the unit owners is void and the previously approved (previous year) budget is considered still in place until such time as a new budget is ratified by a proper approval from the unit owners.

Now comes the lesson in practicality, A.T.. While it sounds like a foul has been committed by the Executive Board on the budget ratification, there is the reality of the association needing income (common fees and assessments) to offset all of the expenses of the association. If this new budget isn’t radically different from the previous year’s budget, I would request that the Board hold a proper meeting of unit owners to accept or reject the budget they plan on using this year. If the budget is similar or even identical to last year’s budget, that shouldn’t present too much of an issue. However, if they have significantly increased common fees or taken on new capital improvement projects (big ticket items like a club house or pool) the owners have every right to challenge the budget and demand that the proper procedure for budget ratification take place. If the Board refuses to comply with the request, it is time to recall them. A Board that refuses to operate properly and in the public eye can be truly caustic to the community which they serve. The correct way is open and honest. Anything less should not be tolerated. Once again, your condo documents outline how to take corrective action is a recall is required. You may also wish to seek assistance from a community association attorney if you need additional guidance. Good luck!

Condo Window Film In Place for 6 Years Has Got To Go!

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G.E. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have had window film on my East facing bedroom windows for over 6 years. Two weeks ago I received a letter from the property management asking me to remove it. At the same time, the management company has approved a neighbor’s 8-foot awning with stadium lights. How can that even come close to being fair?

Mister Condo replies:

G.E., the issues you are describing are both about architectural compliance. It isn’t a question of fairness as much as it is a question of due procedure. Let’s start with your window film. I assume you installed this film to cut down on intense sun on your East facing window. Does you association have rules about such film? Did you ever ask permission to install the film before you installed it? Most associations have strict rules about what can and can’t be done with windows. I know of some associations that even dictate the type and color of blinds that can be used as window treatments. This may seem extreme or unfair but it is done so to keep uniformity within the community. Since you are being asked to remove the window film, I have to assume that you never asked for permission to install it and that it is not in compliance with the general architectural guidelines for the community. Rules about such things are generally found in your condominium documents.

As for your neighbor’s new awning with stadium lights, I assume that this product is not in violation of any community guidelines or your neighbor was granted permission from the Board to go ahead and install the awning. As long as the Board has approved the installation or it is allowable under the guidelines, I don’t see where there is a problem. I am sure that you or any other resident is also free to do the same now that the precedent has been established. Sounds fair to me.

The bottom line is that interpreting and enforcing the community’s architectural compliance standards falls to the Board, and, in some part, to the Property Manager conducting the Board’s business. If you wish to petition the Board to keep your window film, I encourage you to do so. However, if they feel the window film is out of compliance, don’t be surprised if they stick with their current position. All the best to you, G.E.!

Withholding Common Fees to Force Condo Unit Repair!

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J.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The condo fails to make repairs. Can I put condo fees in escrow until repairs are made? I warned them in writing I would do this beginning January 1st. Can they charge late fees or will I lose even if I make payments monthly in the escrow acct?

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry that your condo association isn’t living up to your expectations and making timely repairs to your unit. Regardless of how you feel about them treating you poorly and not handling your repairs, withholding your common fee payments is a big mistake. Yes, they can (and will) charge you late fees. They can also turn your delinquency over to an association attorney who will very likely begin foreclosure proceedings against you if you don’t pay up. At the very least, you may rack up additional collection fees. This is not a good plan.

Condominium associations are run by volunteer members of the community who have been elected to conduct the business of the association. If you are unhappy with the performance of these volunteers, your best line of action is to elect new volunteers who will better serve the community. There are many reasons your repairs may not be handled in as timely a fashion as you would like. There may be cash flow or cash shortages that the Board is dealing with. There may be proceeds from an insurance settlement that have yet to materialize. You can and should ask for an explanation as to why your repairs are not being handled quicker but the association s truly under very little obligation to make the repairs on your time schedule.

That being said, you do have the right to hire and attorney and/or bring suit against the association for not taking care of your repairs. An attorney is your best bet for advice on whether or not you will win in such a suit. Sometimes, the threat of the lawsuit is enough to get the Board to take action. Of course, the Board will likely use its own attorney to combat the suit and a lawsuit could further delay your repairs. My advice is for you to be patient, consult with an attorney for your own peace of mind, and work with the Board to get your repairs handled. Withholding your common fees is a bad strategy that will not get your repairs handled any quicker but will cost you a good deal of money and may even delay the Board from taking action to handle your repairs. All the best!

Condo Beautification Guidelines

amc_imageJ.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We’re in the process of creating a design/beautification committee. Any guidelines available so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., beautification is one of the primary objectives of the Board, so creating a Committee that reports to the Board and takes action on fulfilling the Board’s objective of maximizing curb appeal is just good business and good community association governance. An additional benefit of having a Beautification Committee is that it often attracts volunteers who may become future community leaders. I am not aware of a “general guideline” for such a committee because every community is different and has different amenities. Needless to say, the committee should be in charge of adding beauty to the common areas and will likely be tasked with such items as flower selection, landscaping choices, shrubbery, and trees. Additional items such as watering, planting, and even community vegetable gardening might also fall under the committee’s supervision. It is important to spell out what types of budget restraints and limitations the committee is subject to (not more than $500 without Board approval, for instance) and how the committee will be structured (Committee Chair, secretary to take minutes of committee meetings and submit reports to the Board). Minutes from the Committee meetings are records of the association and must be kept on file as association record. I did a quick search on Google for the phrase “role of the condominium beautification committee” and found several interesting examples you may wish to look at. Good luck. J.J.!

Condo Adds Hiking Trail and Potential Liability!

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M.M. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association has just completed building a two mile hiking trail around the property. The trail meanders thru some very isolated and rugged areas. My question is: should the trail be patrolled during normal hours of use? A minor health issue or a fall could be tragic. I would think our insurance company would demand it if they were aware of the trail.

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., you have truly answered your own question with your final comment. Liability and Risk Management is indeed the forte of insurance experts. Alerting the insurance provider to the new trails is the duty of the Board. However, you are well within your rights to make sure that it is done and done quickly. If an accident were to occur and there were loss of life or injury on common areas that were not insured you can be certain that great financial hardship will follow. Any unit owner of record when the association was to experience such a loss could find themselves on the hook for their portion of the loss. My advice is to demand that the Board have the community association insurance professional assess the association’s risk and take action based upon that recommendation. At the very least, my guess is that very large “USE AT YOUR OWN RISK” signs will be required and additional coverage be added to protect the association. At worst, the underwriter may even insist that the trails are closed if they pose too great a risk to the association. Happy Trails!

Unit Owner Responsibility Repairs Made with Association Funds!

mc_moneyD.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have an Association President and Secretary who are using funds to pay for Unit repairs that are the owner’s responsibilities. What can be done about this?

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., condominium documents usually spell out which repairs are the responsibility of the unit owners and which are the responsibility of the association. Board members are not free to use association funds to pay for repairs that are not the responsibility of the association. If these two Board members have chosen to overstep their use of the association’s funds that is generally considered grounds for a recall to remove them from office. Refer to your condominium documents and/or local state law to see how to do this. Generally speaking, adequate notice is given to all unit owners and a special meeting is held to recall the Board members and elect new officers to replace them.

Of course, I would want to know what else they have done and how much of the association’s money has been misappropriated before advising you to do so. If the repairs were minor, perhaps a slap on the wrist and a demand for the unit owners to repay the association may be in order. If the amount in question is large enough, a suit can be brought against the unit owners receiving these repairs so that the association can recover the funds that were used inappropriately. Consult with an attorney if necessary.

Finally, it would appear that these Board members are not adequately serving the needs of the association. It is a volunteer position so rally some better candidates from your membership. Be sure your new folks are educated and understand the vital role they play in protecting the association’s assets. All the best!

Replacing a Condo Property Manager During Developer Control

amc_imageR.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I ‘m the president of the Board of a newly developed condominium association. Can we replace the property manager that was hired by the developer? 76% of units are sold; we have two homeowners on the board. I’m not happy with her performance although I will say she is trustworthy.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., welcome to you and your new community! As condominiums transition from developer control to Board control, there are plenty of hiccups that can be experienced. The answer to your question is in your condominium documents where you will find the terms and conditions for when the Board takes over control from the developer with regards to governance of the association. Until that time, it would be very unlikely that the developer would agree to change property managers as the current manager was hired by the developer to assist in the day to day management of the property so that the developer can focus on construction and sales. To further complicate matters, your association may be the first of several phases, each with their own set of transition issues. My best advice to you and your fellow unit owners is to seek the advice of an experienced community association lawyer, separate from the attorney hired by the developer, to keep an eye on the best interests of yourself and your fellow new unit owners. In addition to guiding you through the often tricky area of developer transition, an experienced community association attorney will prove invaluable as the association finds itself in need of establishing further rules or dealing with potential lawsuits arising from construction defect issues. Just as the current property manager was hired by the developer, the attorney associated with the development was hired to represent the developer’s interests as well. You should have your own counsel to get your own advice. All the best!

2015 Manager of the Year Call for Nominations!

Today’s column is something a little different. So much of what we read and hear about in the news today is negative so how about some good news today? Do you know a hard-working Property Manager that deserves some special recognition? Now is the time to take action.

In 2013, the “Manager of the Year” contest kicked off a nationwide search to recognize and honor the top community association property management professionals. The 2015 contest is open for nominations until January 5th. That means today is a perfect time for you to take the time to visit the official website at http://www.manageroftheyear.org/ to learn more and nominate a deserving manager.

Nominees will be reviewed and entered into the competition. There are three phases to the competition which culminates after online voting concludes on April 10th. Even if the manager you nominate doesn’t win, you can bet you’ll have said “thank you” in a very special way just by taking the time to nominate them. It doesn’t cost you anything more than your time and consideration. That’s an investment we can all afford.

Learn more about the Manager of the Year contest. See a short video to get a flavor of the contest, click here. To see the 2014 contest introduction, featuring 2013 winners, click here. One of my favorite things about this contest is that there are truly no losers. Just by being nominated, participating managers know that their clients are thinking about them and wanting to say thank you in a special way. And that’s a win in anybody’s book. All the best!