Monthly Archives: July 2015

Crooked Condo Board and Manager Alleged

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M.D. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the best way to get our property manager fired and a new one hired? I am convinced that the manager is in cahoots with a crooked Board! Most of the residents of this small 26-unit complex have had issues with repairs (mostly water leaks inside our units) that go unaddressed/ignored for years. The Property Manager acts like he is our landlord and I found out that he is also a slumlord himself. The Board does nothing to control this. The physical plant of this complex is deteriorating and needs some major safety repairs and the manager never fixes anything (just says he will), yet he gets renewed and gets a raise every year. I doubt he even has a written contract, and there is no formal policy in place to review his performance. If I ask for a copy of the contract, they will probably draw up a fake one. I was thinking of calling a Special Unit Owners’ meeting and not inviting the Board Members. I have a quote from a well-run Property Management company that will not cost too much more per month. I already drew up a petition for owners to sign to have this man and his company fired, and I’m sure I will be able to get most of the unit owners to sign. Any better suggestions? I am also considering complaining to the CT Department of Consumer Protection and the better Business Bureau (other complexes have done so) because he is negligent and should not have a license, but I’m more concerned with our complex at the moment. Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

M.D., I am sorry for all of the issues facing your association. You certainly have your work cut out for you in making things right. I think you are on the right path although I would ask you to consider all of the ramifications of your actions before you move forward. Please understand that I am not an attorney and offer only friendly advice in this column. You should very likely consult with an attorney to discuss the legal implications of all that you are proposing.

For starters, in a small association like yours, finding volunteers to serve on the Board of Directors can be challenging. You allege you have a crooked Board. Your Board consists of 5 to 7 members, which represents one quarter of all unit owners. If they are corrupt, how did they get on the Board in the first place? Why haven’t they been voted out of office? If you do decide to call a Special Unit Owners meeting, they have rights as unit owners and would have to be informed. Otherwise, your meeting will not be valid. It might be easier to simply vote them out at your Annual meeting if, in fact, they are all corrupt.

The ultimate responsibility for repairing the damage to your units lies with the association itself. That means the Board needs to address the damages and unit owners need to make sure they weren’t responsible for any of these repairs. Often times, the association’s responsibility ends once the damage reaches the unit’s interior. Do all unit owners have HO-6 insurance in place? There are times when the homeowner’s individual unit insurance comes into play to cover such damage or deductibles. If unit owners are uninsured they may be out of luck getting their repairs covered by insurance.

Your Property Manager works for the Board. There should be a management contract detailing the duties and responsibilities of the Property Manager and the financial compensation offered in return. This is a record of the association and, as such, can be requested to be viewed by you or any other unit owner. Keep in mind there may be a fee for the record request but you do have a right to see it. You should also have an annual budget that details the fee so you may be able to see what is spent on management fees that way as well. As a non-Board Member unit owner, you may complain to your Board about the Property Manager’s performance but only the Board has the ability to terminate the Property Manager and replace him with a new one. Keep in mind that the Property Manager’s contract may provide he be paid even if terminated, especially without cause. Tread lightly here, M.D.. You could end up paying him and still having to pay another Property Manager to do his job. Yikes!

You are free to contact the Department of Consumer Protection, as they are the oversight body in our state for Property Managers and their licensing. The Better Business Bureau is not a particularly helpful resource for you to solve your problem but you may wish to alert others about this Property Manager’s methods. Just be sure not to slander the Property Manager or you could end up being sued. If you have solid evidence of wrongdoing, you may wish to consult with an attorney to see if a lawsuit is in order.

Tennessee Condo Purchaser BOD Attendance Rights

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L.P. from Tennessee writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in Tennessee and am thinking about purchasing a Condo. Are the Board of Director meetings open to the public?

Mister Condo replies:

L.P., thank you for writing. I am not an expert in Tennessee condo law nor am I an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, kindly consult with a local attorney who is an expert is Tennessee condominium law. You can find a great list of such folks at the CAI Tennessee website at http://www.caitenn.org/directory.php?type=4&par1=3&par2=ATTORNEYS

That being said, Board of Director meetings are generally open only to existing unit owners unless an association’s governing documents say otherwise. Unless there is a specific time period for unit owners to speak, even they may only observe and not comment. Only Board members are allowed to vote at Board meetings. The Annual Homeowners meeting follows similar convention although there are more periods for unit owner comment and opportunity for all unit owners to vote. Again, unless the rules state elsewise, non-unit owners are not allowed at the Annual Homeowners meeting either.

Tennessee did pass an interesting law in 2008 called the Tennessee Condominium Act of 2008 which does give access to a great deal of association information to prospective unit owners like yourself, L.P.. The association can charge a “reasonable fee” for this information but there is no reason you can’t request whatever information you feel you need to make a good decision about your purchase. I wish you all the best!

Ice, Mold, Missing Insurance Settlement Money Add Up to Condo Problems!

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A.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a major mold problem from ice damming and the HOA BOD and The Management Company have settled a claim and processed payment for it without notifying unit owners. There has not yet been any repair or restoration to our unit months after the event. My own HO-6 insurance company only wants to pay for the master policy’s deductible, citing a statute that they’re the primary insurance “all in”, yet the HOA BOD and The Management Company refuse to give us or our mortgage bank the requested information to date. They have not informed us, since the way I found out was to ask the adjusters multiple times directly, yet they still won’t give further details besides the fact that it was “settled” and paid out already. What rights do we have? Since they are not promptly or abiding by bylaws and duties AT ALL! Where do we go for help? Did they possibly decide to just keep the money, misappropriate it, and not tell us at all? And hope that their negligence would be okay while we get sick from a lab reported extremely high levels of mold? (Of which the master policy adjuster and “independent adjuster” that was assigned by The Management Company had visually found when assessing months ago, and sadly our own HO-6 insurance company’s adjuster found no mold at all…)

Please help and advise. It is direly needed.

Mister Condo replies:

A.L., I am sorry for all of the problems you and your fellow unit owners are experiencing. Ice damming can cause a series of problems as you have seen first hand. There is the initial problem of melting ice, which often causes water intrusion. Water intrusion can lead to mold outbreaks. There is often confusion over which insurance covers which portion of the unit (the Association’s Master Policy versus the unit owners HO-6). You seem to have experienced all of these and the cherry on top is the lack of communication between the governance body (the Board), the Management Company, and the individual unit owners. It is completely possible that this will work out over time and that there are “behind the scenes” claims and activities that are not being conveyed to you properly. However, you are not powerless here and appear to be at your breaking point so let’s talk about what can be done.

When suspected wrongdoing happens at any condo or HOA, a lawsuit often ensues. An individual unit owner or group of unit owners who feel their rights as unit owners were violated by the association and that covenants held by the unit owners were broken by the Board generally brings the lawsuit. The association has a duty to properly insure all units within the association. Unit owners have a duty to insure the interiors of their units. It would appear that the association had insurance in place and that the unit owners did as well. The real question is how was the claim handled and which insurer should be covering the damage. You have a secondary, and perhaps more important issue, of where did the money go that was awarded as part of the settlement.

Since you seem to be getting nowhere with the Board and the Management company, I suggest you do two things. First, speak with other unit owners who are experiencing similar problems. Second, speak with an attorney who is knowledgeable in community association law and get a legal opinion. Sometimes the threat of legal action gets the Board to “open up” and tell a better story about what settlement was reached and how the money is being spent. Keep in mind that there are many times when insurance payments take time and arranging the work with contractors to handle the repairs takes time as bids are collected and reviewed. That may be the case here but if so, the Board needs to do a better job or keeping unit owners in the loop about how the repairs are progressing. If you keep unit owners uninformed, they get angry and assume the worst. That does not help the situation at all.

If, after speaking with an attorney, you think you have a case, by all means move forward with a lawsuit. You may find that the association upheld their end of the bargain and that your HO-6 carrier is wrong in their assumption of “all in” coverage. You may find that your association’s insurance coverage was inadequate for this type of damage, which doesn’t let the association off the hook for the repair; it just means insurance won’t be paying for it. You may find that the association needs to raise funds to make the repair and that those funds may come in the form of higher common fees or a special assessment. The bottom line is that you deserve to live in a non-damaged unit that is mold free. It is time to assert your rights, A.L.. Good luck!

Coop Ding Dong Gone Wrong!

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F.T. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a cooperative having 15 buildings. Each building has four units. About ten years ago the cooperative had to replace the front doors to each unit to meet fire code. When this was done each unit was assessed for the cost. When the door replacement took place it disabled the front door bells on a number of buildings. This situation has never been corrected. Thus, when guests and delivery people come to the buildings’ front door and ring the nonworking bell, they receive no response. When shareholders complain about this situation, they are told by the board to install their own remote-controlled bells. Are proper working bells on the outside of the building the responsibility of the cooperative? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

F.T., I imagine this disabling of the previously functioning doorbells has coop unit owners quite upset, and rightfully so. I am not certain as to their “responsibility” in this matter but I would think they should respond to owner demand or get voted out of office. After all, if they are not behaving in the best interest of unit owners, why should they be reelected? I imagine that the Board is under no absolute obligation to return the doorbells to their previously operable condition unless functioning doorbells are part of the governance documents but surely they, too, are inconvenienced by the silencing of the bells. There is likely language about them keeping common elements in good working order but whether or not that could be extended to doorbells is a question for the association attorney. As an easier solution, I would encourage you and fellow coop owners to contact your Board and ask them to look into a feasibility study from an electrician to see how difficult and how expensive it would be to get the bells back in working order. It might require another special assessment to handle the cost of replacement, but from what you have told me, that wouldn’t deter unit owners. They just want their doorbells back in working order. If the feasibility study shows that the cost to restore the doorbells is, in fact, exorbitant, the Board should publish standards for wireless doorbell chimes. There are many makes and models to choose from and if all unit owners were free to choose their own, a bit of chaos and ugliness could ensue. This is a project that is best managed by the Board and since they have control of the community’s architectural compliance authority, they could use that authority to dictate a uniform make and model for the doorbells. Again, they could offer to install and pay for the cost of the doorbells and pass that cost along to unit owners in the form of a special assessment. All the best!

New CAI Video for Community Association Members and ResponsibleCommunities.com

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Mister Condo strongly suggests any current or prospective condominium unit owner or HOA member spend 30 seconds watching this video produced by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). Trust me, it’s 30 seconds well spent! Click Here or on the video graphic above.

On another note, have you yet visited ResponsibleCommunities.com? This is a new web offering from the folks at Community Associations Institute (CAI) The information on this website can help current and prospective community association members preserve the nature and character of their community, protect property values and cultivate a true sense of community. Mister Condo strongly encourages you to use and share this information.

Condo Snowfall Assessment Leaves Unit Owner Cold!

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R.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If I just moved into a condo 3 months ago and there is an assessment for snow removal from 2 years ago, do I have to pay it for the year I didn’t live there?

Mister Condo replies:

R.J., generally speaking, assessments are levied upon the owner of record at the time when the assessment is levied. The assessment may be a result of a budget shortfall in the current year. The Board may be citing snow removal from two years ago as a reason but if that snowfall had caused a budget shortfall that year, the assessment should have been levied in that year, which would have been the responsibility of the previous owner of your unit. That’s not what happened. The assessment came when you were the owner of record. As such, it is yours, I’m afraid. If, in fact, there was an assessment for the previous year’s snowfall levied before you took ownership of the unit, you would not be liable. However, from what you have told me, that isn’t the case. All the best!

Over Grown Common Area Result of Under Active Board

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J.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo grounds are over grown with old bushes, weeds and dead trees because the Board has ignored them. We formed a committee to work on cleaning it up. The Board does not want to help as with many unit owners because they pay an association fee. What can we do?

Mister Condo replies:

J.K., I can sense your frustration with seeing your common grounds in such disarray. Keeping the property looking good is very important in maximizing values of the individual units within the association and you would think the majority of unit owners would demand that the grounds be kept in top order. However, from what you are telling me, that just isn’t the case. Even members of the Board are uninterested in lending a hand. That is a real problem.

As you mentioned, the Board is the governing body responsible for maintaining the common grounds, which include the landscaping. I am guessing your community is struggling in other areas as well and funds are tight. There is probably strong pressure on the Board to keep the common fees low, even though it is likely that fees need to be increased for everything from proper contribution to the Reserve Fund to professional landscape management, which is the proper way to handle this situation. Your Beautification Committee should be charged with guiding the work of the landscape contractor (with the Board’s approval, of course). Committee members might also volunteer to help out with some light duties like weeding, watering, or plant care but the overall job of making the property look good should be left to the professionals. There are plenty of landscaping contractors to work with and they are, generally, excellent at what they do.

The problem here would seem to be with your Board’s unwillingness to collect the necessary common fees to fulfill their duty of keeping the common elements in top shape. If the majority of unit owners agree with them, J.K., there may be little you can do. However, if you or like-minded folks are willing to serve on the Board, I would suggest you get elected and take charge of the situation so you can get your curb appeal back where it belongs. All the best!

Complaint Against the Condo Association

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J.R. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Where do I file a complaint against a condo association?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., since you didn’t mention the nature of your complaint against your condo association, I am not real clear on how to advise you. Your first step might be to write to your Board of Directors with the specifics of your complaint. If the Board provides you with a satisfactory explanation, your complaint may be acknowledged and settled. If you are not happy with that outcome you may wish to speak with an attorney or file a complaint with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) who is the state entity charged with handling certain complaints that are filed against condo associations or Property Management companies. Keep in mind that there are only a few things that the DCP can do, especially based on the nature of the complaint. When all else fails, you are free to bring a suit against the association. This is a radical solution but is sometimes necessary when unit owners feel wronged by their association. Depending on the nature and validity of your complaint, you may find it necessary to bring a suit against your Board. Have you spoken to an attorney? That may be your best advice, especially if you have not been able to resolve your issue through negotiating with  your association. I hope it works out for you, J.R..

Warrantee Coverage for Condo Roof Damaged by Harsh Winter?

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P.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our roofs were damaged by the harsh winter. A roofing company is doing an assessment of the damages. The roofs were all redone within the last seven years, but our management company cannot find any guarantees or warrantees in their files. Do we have recourse?

Mister Condo replies:

P.P., I am going to go out on a limb here and say “maybe”. Your management company may not be able to find paperwork supporting the warrantee but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that you cannot put in a claim against it. However, harsh winters may be considered an “act of God” or an uncovered warrantee condition. Where is the roofing contractor who installed the roof seven years ago? Are they still in business? Are they unwilling to assist in the repair or warrantee claim? Since you live in a modest-sized condominium association, I assume you took several bids before replacing the roofs. The bid that was awarded seven years ago should be part of the association’s records and also provide a clue as to the roof’s warrantee. If applicable, the brand of roof (shingle manufacturer) may also be useful in helping to determine the applicable warrantee, if any. Good luck!

Condo Rules Bent for Some; Not All!

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L.N. from New Hampshire writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a condominium association in New Hampshire, which seems to bend the rule for some but not for others. It’s confusing and frustrating.

Mister Condo replies:

L.N., no one likes seeing certain individuals get preferential treatment from those in charge. Without knowing what specific rules were bent for the benefit of which unit owners, let me offer some general advice I have found to be useful when working with condominium association Boards. There is a check and balance system in place but only if the affected unit owners take action.

Rules of the association are interpreted and enforced at the discretion of the Board of Directors or Trustees, who are the democratically elected leaders of the association. Therefore, when poor governance such as selective rules enforcement is demonstrated, it is time for some new volunteers to run for the Board. If no new volunteers are willing or popular enough with their fellow unit owners to get elected, the community often gets what it deserves, which can range from simply poor governance to more outrageous events, like misappropriated funds and preferential treatment for Board members and their “friends”. That being said, Board members can find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination lawsuits if they selectively go after individuals for breaking the rules and yet choose not to enforce the same rule even handedly with all association members. For instance, if two unit owners both park in the Fire Lane and only one is noticed, fined, or towed, that unit owner may be able to claim that they were unfairly singled out. If there is a repeated pattern of such abuse, and the abused owner is willing to take action (bring suit), the Board may find itself in trouble.

On the other hand, Boards are also free to selectively enforce rules as long as they do so completely and not selectively. For instance, I know of many associations that have a one pet per unit rule and yet many units boast two or more pets. As long as the Board doesn’t single out any one unit owner for enforcement of that rule, the rule is “bent” for the benefit of all unit owners. I don’t agree with this type of governance but it is fairly common in my experience.

The bottom line is the quality and quantity of well-meaning volunteer unit owners to provide their condominium association with good governance practices. That means maintaining, protecting, and enhancing the common elements and providing an even application of the rules for all unit owners. Common interest communities like condominiums are only as enjoyable to live in as the Board members allow them to be. With the right folks in office, many associations thrive. However, when individuals with self-serving agendas or selective rules enforcement take charge, it can be quite unpleasant. Use the power of the vote to get the leaders your deserve. All the best!