Monthly Archives: November 2015

Condo Association Won’t Repair Year-Old Water Leak

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V.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There is an underground water leak outside my condo, which has been running for almost a year. I cannot get the condo association to respond to my requests for information on the problem or their resolution. Can you suggest next steps?

Mister Condo replies:

V.M., I am sorry for your water leak worries. I am very disappointed to learn that you have reported the problem to your association and they have not responded to your requests or fixed the problem. You didn’t mention how this leak is affecting your unit. Are you taking on water? If so, the association should be acting promptly to stop any potential water intrusion into your unit. If it is a question of water forming mud or puddles near your building but not directly damaging your unit, then their reaction may not need to be immediate.

Either way, water and association resources are being wasted. You might want to report the leak to the regional water authority. You can simply visit their website at http://www.rwater.com and fill out their contact form. Tell them about the leak and they may investigate. Your first line of defense is your Board. Your requests should be in writing and you may also wish to appear before the Board at their next meeting. Document the water leak, take pictures of your evidence and bring them with you. If they still refuse to address the problem, it is time to look for some new community leaders. Board members that aren’t acting in the best interest of the association should be replaced. All the best!

Condo’s Limited Common Elements Incorrectly Maintained By Association

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J.W. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The Declarations for our community clearly indicate that maintenance for certain limited common elements are homeowner responsibility. Some homeowners maintain that our prior management company and boards have maintained those items using association funds. Other people feel that in order to budget and legally pay for those items going forward, that the Declarations should be amended to change those items to association responsibility. Does the current Board have an obligation to follow the Declarations and must the Declarations be changed for us to legally cover those items?

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., if the condominium’s Declarations state clearly items that are limited common elements and that the maintenance of those limited common elements is unit owner responsibility, it is interesting and surprising to me that previous Boards got it so wrong. They set a precedent that now requires the current Board to take the action of either breaking the precedent or modifying the Declaration. If it were I, I’d want to stick with the original Declaration. That requires the least amount of work and it was clearly the intention of the original developer and all previous purchasers of these units were presented with this Declaration stating what they were purchasing and what was expected of them. It is further possible that previous repairs made to these limited common elements should have been charged to the owners of record at the time the repair was made. However, that may be impractical and even impossible depending on how well the records were kept and how far back this precedent was set.

If your association has an attorney on retainer, this is an excellent example of where an expert opinion can help. Just because it was done incorrectly in the past does not mean it needs to be done incorrectly in the future. Get a legal opinion and take the appropriate action. My guess is that from this day forward, these limited common element repairs will be handled properly and you can put the issue to bed. Good luck!

Mixed Use Condo Facing Parking Lot Responsibility Challenge

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J.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a 36-unit condo with 3 businesses. The businesses have specific parking spaces. Our owners have been warned the businesses own those spots and they will be towed if they park in those spots. The businesses want the HOA to be responsible for towing. Some Board members think we should fine these owners. I say the businesses have that responsibility.

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., mixed-use condos like yours are not all that uncommon. The governance of such issues can be a little tricky, especially if the condo documents do not clearly detail who is responsible for what. For the most part, the Board of the association is the governing body for all common elements, including the parking lots unless the parking spaces are actually deeded (included as part of the property deed). Assuming the Board has control of the parking spaces, the businesses would not have any authority over towing and, in fact, may be placing themselves at legal risk for towing cars that are parked on property they don’t own!

My advice is to seek a legal opinion. What is likely to happen is that the current parking rules will be reviewed and proposed modification may have to be enacted before an effective parking management program can be put in place. Signage should be ordered to correct the situation. Towing is an extreme measure and should be the final option if all else fails. An attorney could best advise you on how to proceed with towing enforcements if necessary. Hopefully, with appropriate signage and good communication efforts with residents that unpleasantness can be avoided. Good luck!

Cat Lover Looking to Buy Pet Free Condo

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J.L. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am planning to buy a condo in Queens, NY. The rules show no pets but I love this condo and I have a cat. If my cat is always inside my property can the board enforce me to get rid of my cat?

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., in a word, “yes”! The Board is well within their rights to enforce the condominium association’s “no pets” rule. Your love for the cat has nothing to do with it. It is a matter of the Board’s legal right to enforce the rules of the association, which they are charged to do for all residents. If they make an exception for you, they must make an exception for all. My guess is they will not do that. The exception to this rule is if your cat is a prescribed Emotional Support Animal or ESA. ESAs are not pets and, therefore, not subject to the “no pets” rule. However, you will need to provide a written statement from a medical or mental health professional stating that your cat is an Emotional Support Animal. Or you could just live someplace where cats are allowed. Problem solved. Good luck!

Steep Common Entrance Poses Challenge for Recently Handicapped Unit Owner

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M.A. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My mother has become handicapped and can no longer manage the steep step to enter the common entrance of her condo. I find it steep myself, and I am able bodied. When she had cinderblocks placed to make a step half way between the large step, the building management said this was illegal and will not offer to do anything to assist. Handicap problems are new to us and I don’t know what to do. I don’t like my mom being prisoner in her own condo.

Mister Condo replies:

M.A., while cinder blocks may not be an acceptable solution for your problem you do have rights. I am not an attorney so please accept my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, kindly consult with a qualified attorney. When unit owners face any type of disability challenge, they should immediately write to the condo association’s Board of Directors, which is usually done through the property manager (the same folks who informed you that the cinder blocks were unacceptable). While the Board does not have to modify the entrance to the building, they must allow for “reasonable accommodation” which may include a ramp or other solution so as to allow access and egress to the building. Keep in mind that the modification to the building may be at your expense. The Board has to all for “reasonable modification”; they don’t have to pay for it. However, if there are multiple residents who have similar access issues, the Board may be persuaded to not only allow but also actually pay for the modification even though they are under no mandate to do so. Write that letter and find out what the Board will allow. It isn’t likely to be cinder blocks but it should solve your problem. All the best!

Condo President Employing Unit Owner for Questionable Common Area Work

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Anonymous from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo! We have an owner who feels he knows what is best for all the units, and has gone forward on several projects in the common areas without any majority approval. My main complaint is that the work he does is biased in his favor, and is usually not of professional caliber. In many cases, he has gotten the association president to rubber-stamp his request for reimbursement of materials and tools. In one case, he is fighting tooth and nail to limit one owner with one vehicle, to only 1 parking space, when each condo unit is entitled to two parking spaces. He is enraged that this owner straddles the line between two spaces, in order to offer resistance, and defend his right to two spaces. Meanwhile, the ‘culprit’ has 3 vehicles, and sees nothing wrong with that. This has lead to another unit taking up 4 spaces, one of which is a boat, and prohibited in the bylaws, so that two spaces for visitors, or workman are now, for all intents and purposes, relegated to long term vehicle storage. What can we do? The owner most impacted is ‘presumably’ intimidated by this behavior & feels he is not in a position to sue, since he feels even if he wins, the courts are not guaranteeing reimbursement of lawyer, and court costs, which I empathize with him. I feel I have to take action to prevent him from further unauthorized abuses, or, doing work, not desired, &/or approved, and usually not up to a professionally done caliber of quality. What can you advise me? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

Anonymous, you have a few problems going on in your community right now and they each have different answers…

Let’s start with the unit owner who is performing work on association common grounds and getting reimbursed from the association for parts and tools. The common areas are under the control of the association and the Board as they are the elected directors to govern the association. The association President does not have the power to “rubber-stamp” projects on his/her own. The entire Board should vote at regularly scheduled meetings for any such changes to the common areas. As a general rule, a licensed and insured contractor should perform any work done on association grounds. This is to protect the interests of the association and prevent liability in the event the contractor is injured performing this work. If the work being done is merely gardening or such, this may not be a problem. But if this unit owner is working with power equipment and industrial tools, the association may be open to liability if any injuries occur as a result of this work. It is a best practice for associations to hire only licensed and insured professionals to perform work on the common areas within their association. I am sure this Board President is lured by the short-term sweetness of free labor for these projects but is likely not considering the long-term consequences if something goes wrong.

Now, let’s discuss the problem parking situation. If the parking for each unit owner is part of the deed to the unit, which I am inferring from your statement “each condo unit is entitled to two parking spaces”, then the Board may not have the authority to reassign spaces. However, if the association owns the parking lot, the Board does have the power to reassign parking spaces as it sees fit as long as it isn’t violating any rules or by-laws to do so. The real question here is who owns the parking spaces.

As for folks that park on the lines or park too many vehicles and boats in association-owned parking spaces, the Board is the governing body that enforces the rules. If your Board isn’t enforcing those rules and no unit owner wishes to sue the Board for failure to enforce the rules, then it is time for a new Board. Vote them out at your next annual meeting and replace them with volunteer leaders who will fulfill the duties they agreed to fulfill when they sought election. It isn’t rocket science. They simply need to enforce the rules of the association and/or adopt new rules if the current rules don’t suffice. All the best!

Condo Bulk Trash Eliminated; Residents Still Dumping

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L.V. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association has decided to completely eliminate condo bulk trash pickup. I understand that originally we had one but people were abusing it by putting out trash way before pickup date and since it was not fenced in some of the public would use it as their own dumping area. The condo then put up a temporary fenced area with poles in cement with wire fenced and lock. But still the same issue and they decided to remove it completely. Now new tenants (renters on leases) or owners who don’t seem to know the rules have decided to put out their old furniture in front of your dumpster where it blocks the trash bin that roles out of a two door trash enclosed area. How can this be addressed so that the unknown unit owner takes responsibility financially and otherwise to have the trash picked up by city contractor bulk trash upon request (one time scheduled pickup)? Can a letter be sent to all owners and tenants about this issue and how going forward can the association deal with individual units that violate this new bulk trash rule? I am a truly frustrated owner.

Mister Condo replies:

L.V., many condominium associations struggle with the issue of proper refuse removal and the behavior of unit owners and other residents when it comes to proper use of the trash receptacles. This can often create a neighbor versus neighbor complaint situation which is unpleasant for the residents, the property manager, the Board of Directors, and even the trash removal contractor who is often caught in the middle of trying to fulfill their contract for trash removal and keeping the area around the dumpsters relatively clean and neat. At the heart of the issue are the needs of the community and the communication efforts required to keep the trash areas clean and the residents informed and behaving properly when it comes to trash disposal.

It must first be acknowledged that just like death and taxes, trash is inevitable. Wherever humans reside, trash will be created. It would appear that at one time, the situation was under better managed and more options were offered for bulk trash removal. Trash removal really is no different than any other service that the association hires an outside contractor to handle. It would be a good idea to meet with one or more local trash removal experts and explain the problem and let them propose some solutions. If the community is demanding bulk trash removal, why not offer that service? If they require more frequent trash removal, why not offer that as well? It will cost more but that cost is simply passed along to unit owners in the form of increased common fees.

The community likely has rules about what types of trash can be disposed of and when. If the community has no such rules, the time has come to create them, along with a fine system for violating the rules. If residents are not willing to follow those rules, it is possible that some type of video surveillance system will be required to monitor the offenders. Again, this is an expense of the association that is passed back to unit owners through their common fees.

Unsightly trash left for days on end within the community is a serious problem. It can attract rodents and other pests, create an eyesore, and ultimately drive down the value of the units within the association because of diminished curb appeal. Your Board is well advised to take this problem seriously and take corrective actions to fix the problem. Use the community newsletter to help spread the word and get your community back to clean and safe. Good luck!

Board Raises Condo Fees Without Unit Owner Vote

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V.N. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association recently voted to increase condo fees. However, the trustees did not have a vote to ask owners how much. They just arbitrarily decided to increase the fees by 20%, plus a special assessment of $500 per unit to cover debt incurred in snow plowing last winter. As an owner, do I have any rights to protest this?

Mister Condo replies:

V.N, the answer is “maybe”. However, the long-term effect of questioning the decision may be negligible. When you say your condo association recently voted to increase condo fees I do not know if you mean the entire association had a vote or just the Board. Common fees are generally tied to the Annual Budget, which is adopted at the Annual Meeting where all unit owners are encouraged to attend. If a quorum was present and the budget was adopted by a majority of unit owners, the vote is likely valid as is. The same is true for the Special Assessment, which sounds just fine as it was for a specific amount and for a specific project. If the Board decided to increase common fees without a vote of the unit owners, unit owners may question the vote. I have seen Boards do this in reaction to their knowledge of upcoming expenses (roof repair, for instance) and not enough money in the Reserve Fund or budget to cover the upcoming expense. This is not the proper way to do this but it is often the most practical. If you were to question the common fee increase based on protocol, you may prevail. However, the “arbitrary” increase you mentioned may not be arbitrary at all but rather “impending”, in which case the common fee increase may only be the tip of the iceberg as to how much money is really needed for upcoming projects. Still, unit owners have the right to know why their common fees are being increased and the Board is not free to do this on their own. Have you looked at meeting minutes surrounding the fee increase? There may be a perfectly good explanation. Increasing common fees “arbitrarily” serves no one, including the unit owners that serve on the Board. They have to pay the increased fees as well. I’ll bet they had a perfectly good reason for voting for the increase. Good luck!

Private Parking Firm for NY Condo Raises Fees and Forgets to Bill Unit Owner

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A.M. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I purchased a condo and a private company has the parking garage for the complex. Two years ago, I completed paperwork along with my credit card information to pay for 1 parking spot inside the garage. After a few months, I was not being charged for the parking and now almost two years later they want to back charge me for the months that have not been paid. They also increased the monthly parking and I never received a letter stating the new monthly rate. They are charging me for the new rate when I was never informed. Am I liable to pay for the previous months due to their error? It has been almost 2 years of not receiving a bill or charge on my credit card that they had on file. I reside in New York. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

A.M., sometimes a free ride is bliss and sometimes it can cost you. My guess is that the parking garage company will prevail here because you did consume the service they were offering. When you say you “completed paperwork” I assume you mean you signed a contract that obligated you to pay for a parking space for a certain amount of time. That agreement is likely going to be what gets called into question with regard to your liability for the unbilled use of the garage and the actual rate for which you agreed to pay for use of the space. However, you may have a beef with them over their business practices and their failure to bill you in timely fashion. I am neither a lawyer nor an expert in consumer law in your state so I must insist that you speak with a qualified local attorney to get a legal answer to your question. Your local department of consumer protection may also be an advocate for you. At the very least, their failure to bill you creates doubt as to the legitimacy of their claim. As for the price being raised without your notification, it is unethical but perhaps not illegal. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owners Not Returning Emergency Contact Forms

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C.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How can the association get Unit Owners and residents to complete annual Emergency Contact Information forms? Approximately 25% return forms and only 15% of those are completely filled out. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

C.S., public relations is certainly a part of good community association governance. When unit owners do not comply with association requirements for items that are required of them such as the form you are describing, two things should happen. First, the Board should evaluate whether or not the information being asked for is completely necessary. Second, if it is deemed necessary, the Board should mount a campaign to make sure that the information is collected. There are a few ways to do this.

If you have a property management company, you can assign this task to your property manager and understand that you may need to pay your property manager for the extra work. A campaign of letters, emails, and phone calls should then ensue and my guess is that you will be able to collect at least one half or more of the unit owners information that you seek.

If the completion of the forms is in the association’s rules or by-laws, you can add a little meat to the request by also implementing a fine for not submitting the required form, providing there is a resolution previously passed by the Board to issue fines for non-compliance. It doesn’t need to be a large fine. I would think $25 or so will do. Forms that are submitted incomplete should be returned to the submitter along with a note stating that ALL information is required and that the submission of an incomplete form does not satisfy the requirement of submitting the completed form. Keep in mind that once the Board issues the ultimatum that there will be fines for non-compliance; all of the usual rules for assessing fines are in place. A warning letter requiring the unit owner to appear before for the Board is required before issuing a fine. Then it is just a matter of following procedure. Nobody likes to get a fine and those that do and still refuse to submit your emergency contact form are not going to fill out your form regardless of what actions you take against them. This more aggressive action requires that the Board take resolve in getting these forms completed and submitted. The Board must stand firm in their resolve or this approach will not work. All the best!