Monthly Archives: November 2015

Inherited Mysterious Condo Loan

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T.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When we bought our condo we didn’t have any idea about a loan that was taken out to do some improvements. We have been paying on this loan for 8 years, every time we try to request documentation on the loan, our request goes unanswered. In June, a letter was sent out to all owners giving you an option to pay off the balance of your loan within 30 days or your monthly charges will go up but they still have not produced any documentation on the loan. What is your advice on how to proceed? Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

T.S., an association loan such as you have described is a public record of the association. As such, you or any other unit owner of the association can view it. There may be a small document handling fee for viewing this record but it must be made available. Also, the previous owner should have disclosed the loan to you before you purchased the unit. My best advice for you is to hire an attorney to see if your rights were overlooked at the time of closing. Did you use an attorney for your closing? If so, a proper review of the association’s documents by your attorney should have revealed this loan. Speak with an attorney and protect yourself. Good luck!

Lightning Strikes Condo HVAC; Who Pays?

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S.P. from Georgia writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a townhome in Georgia. There are about 120 units, which have both one level condos and two-level townhomes like mine. The owners pay the monthly condo association fees ($240). The association has insurance coverage from Community Association Underwriters of America, Inc. (CAU). Recently there were severe thunderstorms and lightning in my area and my HVAC unit stopped working. The technician checked the unit and mentioned that the lightning has fried the electrical wires and he fixed them and replaced the capacitor. Kindly let me know:

  1. If I can file a claim (at least for reimbursement for the repair fees) with the condo association’s insurance.
  2. When I asked the Condo Association’s Manager he replied to my email as below:

“The association carries a $5,000 deductible. Therefore you should file a claim with your personal insurance carrier.”

  1. Generally who pays the deductible? The unit owner filing the claim or the association?

Mister Condo replies:

S.P., it is very hard to give you a specific answer to such a specific question like yours. For the most part, the condo association’s insurance is for common elements. If your HVAC is a common element (unusual) then it might be the association’s responsibility. However, the more typical reply would be that it is your HVAC unit and that it is your responsibility, and therefore your homeowner’s insurance policy that would cover the loss. The association manager’s response may also be true, which is that unless the repair was in excess of $5,000 (common), it is in your best interest to place the claim through you own carrier where you may not have any deductible. I am not certain of the insurance laws in your state so you may wish to speak with a local attorney about the deductible responsibility. My guess is that the deductible would fall to you, and again, to your homeowner’s insurance to cover that deductible. Good luck!

Condo Visitor Parking Lot Changes

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T.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo complex recently changed the visitor parking rules. We are each now given two permit parking passes, which we can give to our guests, but they must be used in specifically designated parking areas at the front of the complex. (Of course my condo is in the back.) Also they can only be used for 24 hours, after which the vehicle is subject to towing. So my problem is… I’m going out of town for about 10 days in 2 months, and I’ve asked my father to house/dog sit for me. He’s handicapped and cannot walk long distances, and I’ve asked them to make an exception and they impolitely declined, saying there are no exceptions to the new rules. I’m inclined to just have him added to my lease! Can they really do this to my handicapped father? Why would they not want to allow for specific exceptions?

Mister Condo replies:

T.M., unfortunately, the association-owned visitor parking spaces are under the complete control of the association, which is under control of the Board. Unless they are breaking any of the association’s rules (which they make), they are well within their rights to enforce the new parking rules. I am not sure what benefit it would be to you to have him added to the lease but I would think the simple solution is to park your car offsite while you are away so your father can park in your space. That may not be terribly convenient but it should solve your problem and keep the peace with the Board. Enjoy your trip.

POA Challenges in Arkansas

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R.D. from Arkansas writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Wow! I own a condo in Arkansas. POA/Board members and president of board have announced a special assessment fee for new paint job. They only got two bids and those bids were taken in summer. They painted in the middle of winter (December in Arkansas) but they paid the summer rate! I went over and saw right off they did not know what they were doing and damaging our place. Over spray everywhere, I emailed the board. They were happy with the work! Well, I saw them working in unsuitable conditions. I must have sent 100 email and pics. Told them it was already peeling. Also, I asked painter, how many coats you putting on? He said two. I said how? Reply at one time. Board president knew them, I went to board meeting, and she would not let me talk. President did nothing to help us. She took up for painters whole time. Our condos are badly damaged and paint is peeling everywhere. President would. It use bond. President singled me out, gave me a fine, did not follow bylaws, or did I get 30 days to Fix the violation, the money was taken out of my POA, with out my ok. I confronted president of board about knowing the painters and I got a nasty letter. Saying things that were not true about me, trying to make me be quiet. Everything I said is coming true. What can I do? They ripped us off! $30,000 just on the two coats at once, that I had specs of!

Mister Condo replies:

R.D., you certainly have a lot of issues jumbled up into one great tirade. Let’s break things down and see if we can’t get you headed in the right direction. Let’s start with the basics of a Property Owners Association, or POA. The POA gets its authority in the same way a condominium, timeshare, PUD, or other community association does. There is a charter with detailed instructions on the rules of governance. Your state also has some laws that protect you and the POA in issues of governance. There is a Board of Directors, democratically elected from within the association members and the Board is charged with carrying out the business of the association. They do this by holding regularly scheduled Board meetings, which are open to members like you to observe. Unless specified for member comment, members may only observe. The Board handles votes and issues. There may be a period of time allowed for member comment but members are usually silent during the bulk of the Board meeting. Once per year, there is an Annual meeting for all members where comments and votes from the members determine the association’s budget and the election of Board members as their terms expire. Unless otherwise specified, the elected Board members vote amongst themselves for the various officer positions, including Board President, who has the job of presiding over the Board and usually has a few other executive tasks to deal with, like signing contracts and other official documents of the association. That is your POA governance in a nutshell.

The bidding and awarding of the painting contract was the charge of the entire Board. While it is common practice to receive three bids on contracts such as painting, it is not always practical or possible. I imagine that there were two bids for the Board to consider and they chose the contractor they thought best suited for the job.

From what you have described, this contractor did not do a very good job providing the painting services contracted for. I don’t blame you of your fellow homeowners for being upset about the shoddy work. However, the painting contractor worked for the POA, not the homeowners. It is the charge of the Board to go after the painting contractor for remedy to the situation. If the contract specifying the job was not prepared in such a way that the Board can sue, there may be little left to do but cry over such a lousy job. The Board will need to make repairs to the paint job and decide if it is worth suing the original contractor for the money to do so. This is an area where the POA’s attorney may be useful. Also, I would suggest the POA use an attorney to review any future painting contract so that there is contractual wording to prevent such a shoddy job from happening again.

I can tell from your letter that you don’t particularly care for your POA Board President. It would seem that the two of you lock horns regularly. That is too bad. The President is an unpaid volunteer leader from within your community. This is someone you should volunteer to help, not fight with. Regardless of what issues you were fined for, you are entitled to due process. You should first receive a letter of violation where you are invited to address the Board to discuss the rules you are accused of violating. After consideration, the Board may then decide to levy a fine against you. The Board President does not have the authority to simply fine you. There is a process that must be observed. If not, you may wish to hire an attorney to take action against the Board. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

Condo Water Cost Chargeback Question

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R.S. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We receive our water bill from our condo management company. We noticed that our “usage rate” is 0.0789 per gallon. We vacationed there for 10 days, used 704 gallons, and received a bill for $55.55. Now, we went to the water utility website and multi-family residences are charged a usage rate of $4.71 per 1,000 gallons. Are management companies permitted to charge usage fees in excess of what a utility charges? This is Florida. Thank you for your help.

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., thank you for writing. I am not an expert in Florida utility laws so please forgive my general response to your question. You may need to speak to a local expert for a definitive answer. The question of utility usage is very likely answered in your condominium’s governance documents. Even though the bill comes from the management company, they are most likely interpreting the formula for reimbursement that is outlined in your condo governance documents. If the rate for 704 gallons equates to a bill for $55.55, then that is very likely what you owe the association for the water that you consumed. This formula may or may not be based on the actual cost of the water as provided to the association as they have additional expenses (like accounting and billing via the management company) to take into consideration before they determine their cost to provide you with the water. All the best!

Improper Notification of Condo Pool Rules Questioned

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D.F. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought a condo for my mother-in-law to reside in. The condo bylaws and pool rules stated nothing about offsite owners being restricted access to the pool. Before purchasing I emailed the management company saying “Can you provide me with the rules around owner occupancy?” – but got no response. Now the Board says my family will have to pay $90 each to use the pool because we are offsite owners. They cite a paper posting that had been put up in the building before I purchased. What amount can I sue for? Can I sue for a flat 10k saying that’s how much less the unit is worth to me now that my pool rights have been taken away?

Mister Condo replies:

D.F., I am not an attorney so I cannot offer you legal advice. If you are ready to sue, you should consult with a qualified attorney who can best advise you. As for the circumstances you have described so far, here is my advice. When you purchased, you were provided a complete set of the condominium’s governing documents, including By-laws and Rules & Regulations. There should have been rules and regulations regarding the pool use included. If rules were adopted after those documents were published (which would appear to be the case from the posting you have described) you may be able to challenge the rule based upon improper documentation. Posting a flyer in a building is not considered proper notification. Unit owners need to be mailed the rule change and the governing documents may need to be amended to reflect the rule change so that new buys like yourself have access to the rules before they close on the unit. Emailing the management company before you purchased is somewhat irrelevant as you were not a unit owner at the time and you cannot be certain the email was ever received. It was poor customer service for them not to respond but I do not think they did anything that you could sue them over. Your attorney could better advise you on that issue. As for the association’s right to restrict pool use to onsite owners, they are free to do so. The pool is an association-owned asset and under the full control of the Board. All the best!

Noisy Condo Neighbors Are a Nuisance!

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H.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My question is about neighbors. What recourse, if any, for neighbors who harass with constant banging, excessive noise, who, as an after thought of getting me in trouble by claiming I am making the noise? They were harassing someone this past December that lead to a “911” call.

Mister Condo replies:

H.R., the “911” call was the right thing to do back then and calling the police is the right thing to do any time the law is being broken, including noise regulations. Of course, “911” should only be used in emergencies but calling the police to report any criminal activity within your condo or HOA is always the right course of action when fellow unit owners break the law.

Most associations have noise restrictions. Consult your governing documents to see what, if any, are in place at your association. If there are none, ask your Board to adopt them as soon as possible and then begin the task of documenting the noise violations against the offenders. The Board will likely issue them a warning letter, offer a hearing for them to defend themselves, and then begin issuing fines for the rule breaking. This may cause them to quiet down or it may not but at least you are taking the proper steps to try to control the sound. I wish you peaceable enjoyment and a speedy resolution.

Former Owner Installed Unapproved Condo Landscaping

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C.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can I be required to remove landscaping that does not meet community standards that has been in place for years and was put in by a former owner?

Mister Condo replies:

C.W., I am afraid that, under most circumstances, the Board is free to enforce community standards as they see fit. There are some exceptions and you might want to check with both your governing documents and state law to determine if your landscaping has been in place long enough to no longer be challenged by the association. In fact, it is highly unusual for a community association to allow any unit owner landscaping changes in the first place as landscaping is usually the association’s responsibility.

The other caveat is that the Board must enforce the community standards evenly. You cannot be singled out for your landscaping when other unit owners are allowed to keep their non-complying landscaping in place. In other words if your rose garden is not allowed, neither is the one in front of the unit next door or a few doors down or across the complex. More common is the placement of landscaping enhancements like fountains, gardens, extended decks, etc. that were never approved (in writing) by the Board. If these items were added without explicit written permission of the Board, then it is very likely that the Board is well within their rights to have these items removed. I hope that helps, C.W.!

TV-Sized Hole in Neighboring Abandoned Condo Unit Left Unrepaired!

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K.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The condo attached to my mother’s has been abandoned for about 15 years. The roof has a hole in it that a large TV would fit down. The water damage is now going into her condo. She had about a square foot of ceiling collapse the other day. She keeps trying to contact the owners but they will not respond. She has also contacted the HOA and they are doing nothing about it. She doesn’t have homeowners insurance. What should her next step be?

Mister Condo replies:

K.O., thank you for writing and I apologize for the length of time it takes to reply to questions. We only have the volunteer capacity to handle one question per day (Monday through Friday) and they are handled on a “first come, first served” basis.

It is unusual for a condo to be abandoned for 15 years. It is also unusual for a unit owner to not have homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance is not only a good idea, it is often required by the association that individual unit owners keep a policy in place to assist in potential claims that the association is not liable for. I am not sure what your by-laws require or what your state laws have to say on the matter.

That being said, the roof of the neighboring unit is very likely the responsibility of the association unless your governing documents read otherwise. If it can be proved that the negligence on the roof repair of the neighboring unit is that caused for the damage to your mother’s unit, you may have an action against the association. If your mother had a homeowner’s insurance policy in place at the time of the incident, it is possible that the insurance would have covered interior damage to your mother’s unit. However, with no insurance in place the expense may fall upon her as owner and she may be able to sue the association for causing the damage from neglect of proper upkeep on the roof of the neighboring unit.

My advice is that you speak with an attorney and see what local laws are in your favor and how much a lawsuit will cost as opposed to simply paying for the repair. Also, I would immediately purchase homeowner’s insurance to help pay for possible future water intrusion events. If the association does not repair the neighboring roof in timely fashion it is quite possible your mother will experience further loss. Insurance won’t prevent that but it should help mitigate the cost of cleanup efforts. All the best!

Renters Bring “Service Animals” Into Pet-Restricted Condo!

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J.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a high-rise condo with about 250 units on 14 floors. There is a building manager and staff on site. We have a rental unit in the building that has a few “20 somethings” in it that came into a pet-free building with 2 Rottweiler puppies, guessing a few weeks old, they weighed less than a few pounds. Supposedly, they are service animals.

The building manager let them know I need with a doctor’s note and now we have 2 100-pound plus dogs in a pet-free environment. I have 2 questions:

If they truly are service animals, how can it be since they were only weeks old when they got here?

Also, are 2 service animals allowed? I understand all about service dogs, but would not 1 per unit be sufficient?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., you have waded into some dangerous waters here, my friend. To date, the courts have held that condominium associations cannot prevent service animals from abiding in units even if the association has a “no pet” policy. The building manager followed the proper protocol in requiring the note from the medical professional stating that these dogs are, in fact, service animals and not just pets. Once these dogs are documented as service animals, there is little the association can do to prevent them from living there.

In my opinion, this is an outrageous abuse of the classification of an animal as a service animal. There are many excellent examples of how certain animals truly assist their humans. No one would question a seeing-eye dog’s assistance to a blind resident. “Emotional Support Animals” or ESAs are much harder to identify. It has been argued that such animals lower their owner’s stress levels and, as such, are service animals. Unless the courts begin differentiating between classes of service animals, condominiums simply have to understand that there is a fairly simple way to circumvent their restrictions on “pets” since these service animals are not “pets”. Good luck!