Monthly Archives: August 2015

Videotaping Condo Maintenance Worker Without Consent

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J.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a member of the community videotape a maintenance man working without his knowledge?

Mister Condo replies:

J.P., for the most part, videotaping any person without their express knowledge is bad form and in some parts of the country, illegal. You would need to check with your local and state laws to see if that is the case where you live. However, the underlying question here is WHY does a community member feel it is necessary to videotape a maintenance worker who is performing work on behalf of the association at all? Board Members wishing to document poor or shoddy workmanship may wish to address the issue with a contractor but an individual community member has no business videotaping a worker whom they did not hire, especially without that worker’s knowledge. Of course, the person whose rights may have been violated here are the worker and not the association. It would be up to the worker to press charges against the association member if they violated his privacy rights. Now, if the association has its own video surveillance system in place and there are signs clearly indicating that video surveillance equipment is in use, there is no reason that the surveillance tapes couldn’t be used by the Board to document the worker’s performance. If the unit owner who is videotaping the maintenance worker wishes to make a complaint against the worker for whatever reason, the unit owner should be requested to write to the Board with the complaint and advised that the Board will review the complaint. If the unit owner wishes to submit videotape as part of their complaint, I would suggest the Board speak with the association attorney before accepting or reviewing the videotape so as not to make the Board compliant with the possible violation of this worker’s rights. All the best!

Condo Special Assessment Grace Period

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D.L. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Legally, must a condominium allow a 10-day grace period for collection of assessment payments?

Mister Condo replies:

D.L., thank you for writing. I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in Illinois condominium association law. However, I did look up the Illinois Condominium Act to see what it had to say about special assessments. What I found was that Sections 18(a)(8) and 18(b)(6) of the Condominium Property Act require the directors to give the ownership 10 to 30 days’ notice of the board meeting to adopt a special assessment. That means the special assessment itself cannot be levied without the proper 10 to 30 days notice of the Board meeting where the Special Assessment will be voted upon and/or adopted. I did not find anything about a grace period afterwards. You may wish to consult with a local community association lawyer for a more detailed answer and full legal opinion.

I will say that as a matter of common practice, most associations announce their special assessment and publish a due date at the same time, usually within a month of the special assessment. If the payment date is missed, the late fees and fines which are already in place for other missed payments (common fees, dues) usually apply, That can be salt in the wound for someone struggling to make the special assessment payment on time. However, it is the only tool the association has to make sure it collects revenue in a timely manner. All the best!

Use of Proxies to Recall Condo Board Member

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M.N. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a special unit owners meeting coming up to recall one Board member. How many proxies can one unit owner hold?

Mister Condo replies:

M.N., I am sorry that your community association has found it necessary to hold a special unit owners meeting to recall a Board member. It is important that you follow proper protocol when doing so. I asked one of my attorney pals who specializes in Connecticut community association law for his opinion. Here’s what the attorney had to offer:

“Unless your bylaws say otherwise, no one person can hold more than 15% of the total votes in the association by undirected proxies – that is, proxies which give the person discretion in how to vote them or say nothing about how to vote them – but there is no limit on the number of proxies a person can hold which direct that person how to vote on a particular issue.”

That sounds like good advice to me, M.N.. All the best!

How Many Vehicles Can Park in A Deeded Condo Parking Space?

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E.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo building has deeded parking spaces, which cannot be sold apart for the units, (i.e., exclusive use spaces). People are parking more than one motorized vehicle in a space. Our condo rules and regulations do not have a rule specifically to address this, however, it appears to be common sense that only one motorized vehicle is allowed per space even if they both fit in the entire space. Other owners are arguing that to put a rule in place barring such practice would go against their property rights. What is the right answer?

Mister Condo replies:

E.C., what a simple world this would be if common sense were the measure by which such decisions were made. I am in full agreement with you that one parking space is for one vehicle but I can also see where a unit owner who had two motorcycles that fit perfectly well inside that space would feel justified in doing so. This is a matter for your community association attorney who will need to advise the association if they can modify or add rules regarding the definition of a vehicle as it pertains to parking spaces. Certainly, they can do this for association-owned parking spaces, such as a parking lot. However, deeded parking spaces may be a different story. Get legal advice before pursuing rule changes and get ready for some pushback. Good luck!

Condo Association Mandates Outside Lights Be Left On All Night

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J.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can my condo association mandate that I leave my outside lights on all night at my expense?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., many condo associations have common area lights for lighting the property at night. They do this to protect the units by illuminating the area and making it less attractive for thieves and other folks who have no business being on the common grounds at night. The electricity for these lights is paid out of the association’s common operating expense which individual unit owners fund each month in the form of common fees or dues.

Lights that are individually wired to the unit and are under unit owner control are a different matter, although I know of many cases where the association has asked or mandated that these lights be left on. Some associations are built without security lights in place to deter crime. The Board is the governing authority of the association and can make business decisions on behalf of the association. If they have reason to mandate that the lights be left on, they can certainly do so. However, managing that situation is another story. What happens when a bulb burns out? What happens if a unit is empty and there is no electricity supplied? What if a unit owner goes away on vacation? Unit owners like you don’t feel it is fair that they keep their lights on at their own expense while some neighboring units don’t comply with the rule.

So while it is quite possible that your association will mandate that unit owners keep their lights on at night it is not an ideal solution. A better solution would be to install security lights that are owned and maintained by the association with the association picking up the bill for the electricity. That way, unit owners like you don’t feel put upon to keep their lights on and the association achieves its goal of keeping the community well lit and safer. Hope that helps.

Unreported Condo Renter; Unreported Dogs in the Condo

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L.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo docs say an owner can have two pets. There are no size, weight, or breed restrictions. Owner has had one dog. He has now brought in roommate who also has a dog. Non-owners cannot have pets so now owner claimed new dog is his. Now owner has two dogs. Several weeks later, third dog arrives and owner now claims second dog went to live elsewhere and he now owns the newest dog. Roommate is still the same. Neighbors suspect he is boarding the newest dog and does not own it. How can a condo association verify he actually owns the dog and is not boarding dogs in his unit? Concern is owner responsibility if dog injures someone or damages property.

Mister Condo replies:

L.D., regardless of what the condo documents say, if an owner is going to tell a boldface lie to the association regarding the true nature of his relationship with his tenant and the dog ownership, he puts the association in a precarious situation with regards to rules enforcement. If he claims the roommate’s dog is his, I don’t see how the association can take action against him. If he is, in fact, domiciling a third dog, the Board should send him a warning and request a meeting before the Board to defend against the claim. Once the Board has heard his claim they can then decide if a fine or further action is in order. It is possible that turning up the heat on this unit owner with a summons to appear before the Board and/or fines will be enough to have him end this behavior but it is also possible that the Board will want to speak with the association attorney about stricter actions up to and including eviction of the third dog and even the tenant if the unit owner has failed disclose that he is renting his unit.

Rules and regulations are in place to protect the quality of life within the association. Ideally, unit owners comply with the rules, as they are what give the community stability and a nice living environment. If you have a unit owner who has no interest in voluntarily following the rules, fines and legal action may be the only reasonable option. However, the Board must be consistent in their application. That means that no other unit owner can be allowed to have three dogs or violate the renter’s rules of no dogs allowed. Otherwise, the Board could be cited for discrimination and that can be quite costly. Speak with your association attorney if this owner doesn’t behave. Good luck!

Delayed Condo Snowfall Special Assessment Strikes New Unit Owner

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L.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! Our Association just sent us a letter notifying us of a special assessment (to be paid in one lump sum or spread out over 6 months) to cover snow removal and roof raking for last winter’s record snowfall. I am a new unit owner who purchased at the end of February — subsequently at the END of the winter season. I don’t feel as though I should have to pay this additional snow removal fee (only the roof raking portion since that service actually occurred when I actually owned the unit) I feel as though I’m getting hit twice since I had to pay a private plow agency for services where I previously resided (rented). Am I justified in asking for a reduction?

Mister Condo replies:

L.R., I am sorry to inform you that you are not likely justified in asking for a reduction in your special assessment. Condominiums that don’t budget properly find themselves needing to levy special assessments for all sorts of reasons. Breaking the snow removal budget is just one more of those reasons. The rules regarding special assessments are fairly simple. The unit owner of record at the time of the assessment is the unit owner responsible for the assessment. In this case, the delayed issuance of the special assessment finds you owning the unit when the assessment was levied which means you are on the hook for the whole amount. Ideally, the Board would have issued the Special Assessment before you purchased your unit but it is not uncommon for Boards to wait until the end of the snow season to determine just how short they were in their snow removal budget. The fact that you paid for snow removal in your previous home does not factor into the equation at all. You might want to suggest to the Board that they increase the line item in the budget for snow removal so you and future unit owners don’t get hit with a special assessment each winter season. All the best!

Bathroom Remodeling Project and Faulty Water Shut-off Valve = Condo Nightmare

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S.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A unit owner hired a contractor to replace a one-piece tub in lieu of a walk in shower. It was necessary for the contractor to remove the toilet in order to get the old tub out. Naturally, the contractor had to shut off the water supply valve to the toilet. The valve was off for three days because contractor was not finished with new shower installation. On the early morning of day four, unit owner awoke to the sound of water coming from bathroom. The shut off valve failed while in the closed position probably due to age or defect and water leaked thru to ceiling below and caused damage. According to CT condo laws and maintenance standards, who is responsible to repair damage? Contractor, unit owner or master insurance company? Please keep in mind there was nothing wrong with the old tub. Unit owner simply chose to update. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., water damage claims are tricky business to say the least. I am not an attorney so please accept my advice as friendly. You may wish to confer with the association’s attorney for a legal opinion on this matter.

The simplest answer would be that the unit owner’s insurance is responsible for the damage to his/her unit and the association’s master insurance is responsible for resultant damage to the building’s structural components. You didn’t mention if the ceiling below was in the unit owners unit or a neighboring unit but the same is likely true for that unit as well. HO-6 (homeowner’s insurance) is supposed to cover damage inside of a unit. Master Insurance is supposed to protect the association from claims against damage to association-owned property and liability. However, if the association had published maintenance standards for the shut-off valve and that maintenance standard was not adhered to, there may be some wiggle room for the Master Insurance to deny the claim. In that case, the association would likely pass the cost of repair to the unit owner who didn’t follow the maintenance standard. Depending on the dollar amount in question, I could see where a lawsuit could easily ensue. The contractor may also face some liability although it may be hard to prove that the faulty shut off valve was his responsibility. Some might argue the water supply to the whole unit should have been turned off, not just the shower valve.

Speak with the association’s insurer as well. These folks have the best first-hand knowledge of how best to handle the claim. The insurance laws for condos have changed a bit but the underlying principles of limiting liability have not. The fact that this was a remodeling job should have no bearing on the outcome to the association although the contractor may bear some of the burden for the damage. That is a battle best fought by the insurance companies and their attorneys. Good luck!

Banning a Condo Board Member from Future BOD Service

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J.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a new Board of Directors ban a previous board member from ever participating on the BOD again if a contract was made in bad faith or contrary to By Laws?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., thank you for the question. Your by-laws spell out who is eligible to serve on the Board and what remedies are available for improper behavior. For the most part, any unit owner is eligible to serve on the Board. Unless the condo documents state otherwise, it is unlikely that the association can strip any unit owner form serving on the Board. If the Board attempts to violate any unit owner’s right, even the Board Member in question, they may find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit. That being said, there is no reason for association members to elect or reelect any Board member that has performed poorly or in a questionable manner. Unit owners may also choose to recall a Board member for such behavior.

Contracts made in bad faith or not in accordance with by-laws may be questionable but unless a law was broken, the association may not be able to take action against the Board member who entered the association into the agreement. This is just one more reason that it is good business practice to have the association’s attorney review any contract before the association enters into the contract.

No Volunteers Willing to Serve on the Condo Board; Chaos Ensues!

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C.M. from Washington State writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 44-unit condo in Washington State. Our Association dues started at $99/month in 1997 and are now $225/month. We don’t have a pool or any other amenities. My husband and I were one of the first homeowners to move in almost 18 years ago. He served on the Board as Treasurer until he died in 2008. After he died, a new homeowner ran for the Board and has been President ever since. Most of the homeowners are senior citizens, and do not want to volunteer to serve on the Board or Committees. The Board President has told everyone that he will serve as President as long as he lives in the condo; so there is no one who will run against him or wants to remove him. The others that serve on the Board are merely puppets, and don’t do anything without his approval. We have a Board Secretary, but she doesn’t take or transcribe the Minutes; he does. And he includes, omits, or embellishes what he wants to report. We have a management company, but they don’t really manage; they only send out bills and the monthly financials. He manipulates every aspect of running the Association. The only Board Meeting I’ve attended was the Annual Meeting last December. He manipulated a hand vote on an assessment that homeowners who didn’t attend the Meeting did not want or could afford. Even though many expressed their dislike for how the vote was handled, he insisted it was done “by the book.” Since I don’t approve of how he conducts Board Meetings and will not go, I’ve submitted letters of concern and asked that they be included in the Minutes. He refuses to include my letters, and won’t answer any of my questions. His standard comment is: “your various requests for Board action are denied, no further action is warranted. The Board opts not to distribute your document. Note: best means to be informed on Assoc. business is to attend monthly Board Meetings.” Our bylaws say we can file a complaint with our management company, but I think he controls them, too. What options do I have; and how should I file a complaint? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

C.M., I am sorry to not respond to your question sooner but the volunteer nature of our time needed to reply to the questions only allows us to field one question per day Monday through Friday. There is routinely a 6 to 8 week backlog of questions. Thank you for your patience.

The situation you describe is not all that uncommon, especially in communities where many of the unit owners are elderly or infirmed. Common interest real estate governance requires active participation from unit owners to function properly. The Board president you are describing is apparently taking advantage of his position as a volunteer leader and allowing the power that comes with that position to behave in a manner that is not in the best interest of the association and his fellow unit owners. The management company works for the Board. Since the Board president is effectively controlling the Board, the management company is likely falling in line so that they can continue on as the management company. After all, the Board controls whether or not they have their contract renewed. If the Board is happy with the management company’s performance, it is unlikely they will change how they perform.

I apologize in advance for what I am about to say as the words may come across as a bit harsh or uncaring. I assure you they are anything but…

The real problem here is lack of unit owner involvement. You have stated that you do not attend Board meetings and that “Most of the homeowners are senior citizens, and do not want to volunteer to serve on the Board or Committees.” That is a tremendous problem for an association that is required to govern itself. Community Association Volunteer Leaders are the lifeblood of good association governance. How could you possibly expect any change if no one is willing to volunteer?

I know of plenty of communities like yours that have no problem attracting volunteer leaders from within their membership. In fact, senior citizens make up a vast majority of Board members across the country and for good reason. These are the folks that are most likely to have the skill set and available time required to perform the job of making solid business decisions on behalf of the association. Many have retired from careers where they needed these skills. If your community were full of infirmed and bed-ridden unit owners who were physically unable to serve, I would understand the lack of volunteers. But to simply say “I am retired and unwilling to serve” is a cop out on the part of the unit owners. In some ways, they are getting what they deserve with the current Board president. It would appear he is the only volunteer who is willing to serve. Also, why does the association continue to reelect him each year? Why do the other elected Board members not do anything to reel him in? They all have votes and they can easily outvote him on any item with which they disagree.

My best advice for you is to get active and get involved. You and your fellow unit owners need to stop taking a “victim” mentality and get on the Board and bring some other concerned and active members with you. If you and your fellow unit owners are not willing to make this commitment, the abuse will likely continue and you will have no one but yourselves to blame.

You have an excellent resource in your state to help you as well. The Washington State Chapter of the Community Associations Institute has a website at https://wscai.org. They also have an upcoming event called “Community Associations Day for Condominiums and HOAs” – https://wscai.org/community-associations-day/ that I would strongly encourage you to attend along with other like-minded folks from your association. In addition to regional experts, you’ll have access to hundreds of fellow association members. My guess is that you’ll find folks with similar concerns and even a few folks who solved your problem in their own community association. The event is Saturday, September 25, 2015 and is held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

I wish you and your fellow unit owners much success in taking back control of your association. Good luck!