Monthly Archives: March 2016

Enforcing Condo’s “No Rooftop Satellite Dish” Rule

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J.G. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Owner refuses to abide by rule regarding placement of Direct TV dish on roof. How do we enforce this rule?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., rules enforcement begins with the associations rules and regulations. If there is a rule in place prohibiting any unit owner from modifying the building’s exterior or roof, then the offending unit owner should be served notice that he/she has broken the rule and is requested to meet with the Board at the next meeting of the Board to explain why. If your rules allow for a fine for violating this rule, also include the fine in the citation and inform the rule violator that the fine will also be discussed at the meeting. If the unit owner attends the meeting and agrees to remove the Dish and repair any damage to the roof, the Board is then free to decide whether or not to levy the fine for the rule violation. If the unit owner refuses to comply with the association’s rules on building modification, the Board is free to hire a contractor to remove the Dish and bill the unit owner for the work. Hopefully, it won’t come to that but the Board does have the authority to enforce the rules of the association provided they follow proper procedure. One caveat to consider is that the Board may wish to speak with its own counsel before ordering the removal of the Dish just to make sure all of the association’s governance provisions were followed as well as state law. Good luck!

Cognitive and Physical Abilities Questioned of Aged Condo Board Members

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A.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How are age-restricted condos (55+ years old) faring nationally when it comes to good governance (e.g., adequate reserves, fiscal soundness, effective ongoing maintenance, etc.)? Our average age in a retiree community marketed to “independent only” seniors (we are not a continuing care community) is 79 years old. We have many nonagenarians and even centenarians “aging in place”. Frankly, there are too few of us without cognitive or physical decline who are available to field a competent Board. The facility and grounds are looking increasingly shabby and there’s a pronounced refusal to entertain new ideas–like consideration of compliance with ADA requirements for barrier-free access to common elements or Wi-Fi in the Clubhouse. God help us that we might rescind an ill-conceived global ban on an owners’ right to rent a property based on an ill-informed fear of Section 8 low-income seniors “despoiling” our property. The residents here are failing at self-governance. But a quality management hire has been hard to come by.

Mister Condo replies:

A.P., I have no hard data to substantiate a generalization about the quality of governance in age-restricted condos. Further, since your unit owners are well beyond the magic number of “55”, even that data would not really answer your question as it is posed. As you know, the standards for a continuing care community are completely different than a “55+” community so the real question here is whether the association is able to self-govern with the current group of volunteer unit owners. My guess is that with an average age of 79, there are plenty of community members that have the faculties fully intact and have no problem handling the day-to-day governance issues that are faced by Board of Directors at community associations all across the country. However, if that is not the case, and the grounds are falling into decay and the common elements are not being cared for properly, it may be time to elect some new Board members who will get the job done. A well-intentioned property manager could help make the situation better but the property manager still reports to the Board and gets his or her marching orders from the Board. You need the best brightest of your unit owners to volunteer their time to serve. After all, they will benefit as well from a well-run association. Good luck!

Must Condo Association Provide Handicapped Parking for Renter?

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J.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condo association with no assigned parking spaces. Is the condo association required to provide handicapped parking spaces to renters who do not have a lease with the owner of the condo?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., generally speaking, condo associations are under no obligation to provide handicapped parking spaces to unit owners or renters. I am not sure how you have a renter without a lease with the owner of the condo but that is irrelevant to the question at hand. The Board is required to give due consideration and reasonable accommodation to any resident’s request for a handicapped parking space but they are not obligated to provide one. In fact, in most associations, there are so few parking spaces available that the request is usually deemed unreasonable. However, if the requester feels they are not being given fair consideration of their request, they may file suit against the Board seeking their handicapped space. If that happens, the association will likely have to hire its own attorney to defend against such suit. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owner Blamed for Mystery Water Leak

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J.V. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a unit on the second floor of my condo building. The unit under me is empty and has been foreclosed by the bank. While realtors, also working for the management company, were showing the unit, they found a leak in the ceilings of the bathroom. They had their people come check and decided it was my unit. I checked and there is no sign of leak or thing that could cause the leak. I went on site with them. We opened the water in my unit and I saw no water coming down. I wrote the condo board and told them the result of the meeting and told them I was not responsible and they must check with 3rd and 4th floor. Now I get a letter telling me I am responsible and I will be charged for all expenses to repair damages. Please help me.

Mister Condo replies:

J.V., this is a most unfortunate situation and precisely why we all need to be prepared to take legal action against our governing bodies if necessary when we live in condominiums. The Board has a duty to protect the damaged unit owner and they are doing so at your expense as an upstairs leak is most generally associated with the unit directly above the damaged unit. Regardless of how the leak was discovered, the Board has claimed that your unit is responsible making you the responsible party for the repair. You seem quite confident that you can demonstrate that you are not responsible so it would appear that a small lawsuit is in order so that both parties can be heard and reach a settlement or get a court ruling. I am not sure who “their people” were who came to look at the damage and determined that it was caused by your unit but they will need to explain their determination if the Board is going to successfully defend against your suit. Additionally, if they have not yet inspected the 3rd or 4th floor units for the source of the leak, they will need to do so because if the leak wasn’t caused by your unit, it very well me the responsibility of one of your upstairs neighbors.

Lack of Reserve Fund Hinders Condo Sale

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L.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m getting ready to put my condo on the Market, but just found out the our HOA has no money in reserves fund. They just decided on an assessment and will take effect next month. Will I have trouble selling? Should I wait until there’s money in the reserves fund?

Mister Condo replies:

L.C., I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that your association is taking corrective steps to get their financial house back in order. The bad news is that you will be the one contributing to the Reserve Fund on your way out. Also, depending on how large an assessment is levied, it could effect your ability to attract a buyer. For instance, if the assessment is spread out over a few years for multiple projects, you would have to convey the assessment information to a potential buyer. Would you buy a unit knowing that a large assessment is looming? Not likely! It would actually be better to get the assessment out of the way (at your expense) and know that the association is back on sound financial footing. That way prospective buys wouldn’t be hesitant to purchase knowing that the investment is sound for the immediate future. I am sorry that your association didn’t take better care to properly fund the Reserve Fund over the years, which would have avoided this unpleasantness. Of course, that would have meant higher common fees, which can also dissuade prospective purchasers. One way ro the other, the unit owners always end up paying. I think it is better to put the money away over time in a proper Reserve Fund versus levying special assessments or taking out association loans. That way, the folks who have consumed the usable life of the common elements are the ones who have actually paid for those common elements. Good luck!

Required Amount of Condo Visitor Parking

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J.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How many visitors parking space does a 56-unit condo require?

Mister Condo replies:

J.A., regardless of size, I am not aware of any “requirement” for a condominium to provide parking. It is bad planning to not provide parking and it certainly would prevent most folks from purchasing a unit if there was no parking provided. However, if the units were built without parking provided, then there may, in fact, be no parking available. The only time I have heard of such situations is in urban environments where public transportation is plentiful and the majority of unit owners would have no need to won a vehicle. In those cases, the real estate is just too valuable for any of it to be used on parking and there is no expectation on the part of the unit owner for there to be parking as the unit owners, generally, don’t own cars. All the best!

Peace and Quiet Lacking at This Cape Cod Condo

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C.A. from Cape Cod, Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are currently struggling with the noise level that comes along with a fire pit that the condo trustees planted less than 25 feet from our bedroom window!! We are an end unit and they thought that this would be a great spot. We have tried speaking with them and kindly asking them to set a curfew for the noise and they refused. Then we looked into fire pit laws in our town… They must be 30 feet from habilitation, we informed them of this and they didn’t not take us seriously .. We have been very kind and don’t know what to do next. Any suggestions?

Mister Condo replies:

C.A., condo associations, even small ones like yours, need to follow local laws about fire pits. However, the association is likely not the enforcing body for violating a local law. That would eb the local building or fire authority. You can likely make a report to that authority and they will cite the association and ask them to move the pit or face a fine or other consequence for not doing so. That may help your problem but it will not solve it. Even if they move five feet away from your building, there will still be a noise problem. My advice is that you examine your condo documents for a nuisance clause. Nuisance can be defined as noise, odor, or anything that makes living in your condo unpleasant. You can sue the Board for not enforcing the nuisance clause of your governing documents if they refuse your request to keep order by limiting the hours of operation and/or the smoke emanating from the fire pit which compromise the quality of life at your condo. I used to live in Cape Cod and I know how enjoyable an evening fire pit can be in season. However, you have rights under your condominium documents and your right to peaceable enjoyment of your unit in a nuisance-free environment is likely spelled out in those documents. That is what you should use to rid yourself of this problem. You have tried the kind way and it hasn’t produced results. A lawsuit usually does the trick. Good luck!

Is a Condo Tag Sale a Good Idea?

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E.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a Board of Director member of a condo and want to propose amending our rules and regulations to allow one yard sale a year for our residents. Currently it is not prohibited in any of our documents. I am looking for sample wording. Can you provide?

Mister Condo replies:

E.G., yard sales are actually prohibited at many associations for the simple reason that the common grounds seldom offer proper parking for tag sale customers who are likely to not be familiar with the association’s rules on proper parking. When tag sale visitors start parking in spaces that aren’t theirs to use, chaos and anger from unit owners can ensue. One of the best “Pros and Cons” discussions I have ever read about it can be found here: http://www.hoaleader.com/public/Pros-and-Cons-Banning-Yard-Sales-Homeowners-Association.cfm

Provided you think the association can withstand the stress of holding a tag sale, you can introduce a resolution that looks something like this:

WHEREAS, the Board wishes to encourage XYZ Association residents an opportunity to participate in an Annual Tag Sale on association grounds; and

WHEREAS, the Board also wishes to have visitors from outside of the community visit the association grounds for purposes of this Tag Sale; and

WHEREAS, the Board will promote the Tag sale in local newspapers to promote the event;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the XYZ Association will conduct its first annual Tag Sale on   <date>  and that Tag Sales will be limited to this annual event in subsequent years.

Or words to that effect. That should get you started, E.G.. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owners at War with Board!

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P.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo board and homeowners are at war with each other. How do we promote harmony in the building?

Mister Condo replies:

P.A., it is always upsetting to me to learn of condominium communities that experience strained relationships between Board Members and the community members. Condominium dwellers, especially those that share a single building, are going to come in close contact with each other on a regular basis. There should never be an “us versus them” relationship between the volunteer Board members who are usually community members themselves, and the folks who elected them to be their volunteer leaders. The issues usually arise from poor communication between the Board and the unit owners. It can be corrected but it is not a quick or easy process.

You need to start at the core of the problem. It is usually money concerns in an underfunded community where the Board has to make hard decisions about what items to fix and what items to defer maintenance. When the Board needs to raise money, it can only come from one place – the unit owners. When unit owners get hit with increased common fees, special assessments, or the need to raise fees to cover a community association loan, they tend to get angry. This is because from their point of view, they thought they were paying their fair share by paying their common fees on time. The reality is that all is fine until the underlying problem is discovered and dealt with, resulting in financial hardship for many owners. The typical reaction to this distress is anger and that anger is often aimed at the Board as they are the authority figures who appear to be imposing the stress.

Education is always your best defense to diffuse these situations. Newsletters, notices, letters, websites – whatever the Board has at it’s disposal to tell the story is the best way to dispel the darkness and shed light on the concerns. It can’t be seen as a Board problem but, rather, a community problem. The community needs to be aware of the problem and given an opportunity to react to the problem and even offer suggestions for solutions. Otherwise, community members feel alienated from the decision-making process and are subject to anger. Even offering every opportunity to share information with the community can still be met with hostility by some community members. That is simply human nature. However, the vast majority of unit owners are perfectly able to process information and come to rational conclusions. These are the folks that will support the Board in their actions to correct the problem for the community. You can’t completely eliminate the battles but you can certainly stop the situation from escalating to a war. All the best!

Condo Board Member Getting Paid as Condo Superintendent

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L.L. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our superintendent recently left to take another job out of state. Our Board Vice President has assumed the position of superintendent! Can he hold both positions? I don’t know if he is being paid by the association. Do we have a right to know? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., it is highly unusual to have a volunteer Board member functioning as a paid worker for the association. It creates a potential conflict of interest that should not be overlooked by the rest of the Board and unit owners like you. As a superintendent, the employee reports to the Board. As a Board Member, the superintendent is subordinate to the Board. In this case, the employee is reporting to himself, which is where the conflict of interest arises. As a Board Member, he could influence decisions about his salary, working conditions, and much more. Also, how can he determine when he is volunteering his time as a Board Member versus when he is billing his time as an employee?

The correct solution is to either find a different person for the role of superintendent or for the Vice President to resign his position on the Board. There are many folks qualified and capable of handling either responsibility. There is no need for the association to put itself in this potentially compromising position that could erupt due to the potential and likely conflict of interest. Good luck!