Monthly Archives: April 2016

Not Enough Time Given To Pay Condo Special Assessment

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M.D. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a leaky roof that needs to be repaired in our condo. A special assessment was done and they are saying $4,000 is due in less than 30 days. Do they have to give you time to come up with that kind of money?

Mister Condo replies:

M.D., in a word, “no”. Special Assessments are typically due when they are levied or assessed. Unless your governance documents indicate otherwise, the Special Assessment is due when it is issued. To complicate matters, Special Assessments are also subject to late fees and penalties if not paid on time. That can add insult to injury as I have heard stories where unit owners are heavily assessed and then penalized hundreds of dollars in late fees for not paying on time. Further, if the special assessment cannot be paid within the normal collection period, the association can take aggressive collection actions towards the delinquent unit owner up to and including foreclosure.

Special assessments are far too common in my opinion. When associations make proper Reserve Fund contributions over the years, Special Assessments are rarely needed. My guess is that your roof didn’t just stop working one day. It is probably decades old and its failure was predictable yet the association took no steps to put away money to pay for its eventual replacement. $4000 spread out over the 20 or so years that it takes for a rood to wear out would have meant less than a $17 per month increase to common fees over that same time. Few folks would struggle with $17 per month but many would struggle with a one-time $4,000 payment. When the dust settles on this particular assessment, I would encourage you to discuss proper funding of the Reserve Fund moving forward. It’s never too late for the association to get back on track financially. Good luck!

Condo Association Caused Damage Left Unrepaired

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N.R. from Wisconsin writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

An association water pipe burst causing flooding to my unit. The association repaired everything except the bathroom floor and carpeting. The bathroom floor was damaged and the carpeting smells musty despite having it cleaned twice at their expense. This has been going on since January 8, 2014 and they are simply not responsive and not paying it. My insurance says it is the association’s responsibility and sent them a letter to that effect but to no avail. What is my recourse? Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

N.R., when the association and the unit owner disagree, a lawsuit or binding arbitration are often the only ways to resolve the issue. You might want to talk to your insurance company about bringing the suit or you might even end up naming your insurance company in the suit. I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice here. My recommendation to you is to speak with a locally qualified attorney about what legal remedies you have at your disposal. Of course, you’ll have to weigh the cost of the lawsuit against the cost of the repairs you are seeking. It may be less expensive to simply repair the floor and replace the carpet on your own. You may also have the ability to bring claim against the association in Small Claims Court if the dollar figures dictate a Small Claim.

The bottom line is that you are caught between the association and your own insurer with neither willing to do the right thing and make you whole from this damage. When that happens, a legal action is your only option. Good luck!

No Designated Condo Parking Spaces

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C.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do you know if condos are required to have designated parking spaces? We do not and people park wherever they want. Problem being one resident is saying that we are breaking the law by not having designated parking spaces.

Mister Condo replies:

C.F., I am not aware of any laws that require condominium associations to provide designated parking spaces. If the resident that is making the claim feels a law has been broken, I would think a quick call to the local police department would end that discussion. I am not an attorney nor am I a legal expert in your part of the country. You may wish to speak with the association’s attorney for a proper legal opinion and to determine if the association is, in fact, breaking any laws with regards to non-designated parking.

On a practical side, the association’s parking lots are most likely common areas. As such, they are under the full control of the Board. If the “free for all” nature of unassigned parking is causing concern for residents, it may be time to number and assign the spaces. It is quite common for condominiums to handle their parking lots in this manner. If the Board deems it necessary to assign parking spaces, they simply need to create a resolution to assign the parking spaces and vote on it. If it passes, the association will hire a contractor to stencil the parking spaces as mapped out by the Board. Voila! Assigned parking spaces! However, in smaller associations it is not uncommon to simply have a parking lot like you do now. It really is at the Board’s discretion how to handle this. Good luck!

Condo Neighbor Crosses the Line

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S.V. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My neighbor’s and my parking spaces are next to each other. They are always parking on the yellow line between spaces which makes parking hard for me. They don’t care when I’ve told them about it. Is there anything I can do?

Mister Condo replies:

S.V., in most condominiums the general parking areas are owned by the association and under the control of the Board. Since speaking with your neighbor has not resolved the situation, it is time for you to escalate the problem to the Board who should take action on your behalf. It may be necessary for the Board to actually create a rule about proper parking (no parking on the yellow lines, for instance) and an associated penalty system for violators (usually fines, escalating to actual towing of vehicles improperly parked). If you already have similar rules in place, the Board simply needs to enforce the rules. It is hard to believe that rules have to be placed to get neighbor so t behave in a neighborly fashion but there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of common sense with some folks living in common interest communities. It’s a shame they just can’t park normally but you do have a remedy. It may take some time to put in place but I am confident you can reclaim your parking space. All the best!

Condo Exterior Not Repaired in Timely Fashion

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K.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How long is too long to wait for siding repairs? Or any covered repair? I have contacted the Board since late April about damage to the siding on our unit. They’ve gotten one estimate which didn’t even happen until July. I was told it would “hopefully” be fixed within 30 days after the estimate. Well we are still waiting for the president of the association to answer my last email sent over a week ago regarding the status. I was on the Budget Committee and know we have the funds to repair the damages. I am beyond frustrated. I’m considering contacting my attorney! My fees are always on time and I pay to have these matters resolved in a timely manner. I don’t want to have to pay my attorney for something that should have been done some time ago. This is ridiculous. The secretary advised me on Thursday that she couldn’t get anyone else to come out to provide an estimate. I find that hard to believe. Is there any legal action a unit owner can take and hold the association liable for legal fees? Or are there other actions we can take that may be state mandated in CT? We are self managed by the way & the president is NOT a unit owner. He also has asked other board members not to respond to any emails without his consent. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

K.T., I am sorry for your struggles. Condo living can be challenging when simple common sense doesn’t appear to be the order of the day when exterior damage repairs are seemingly delayed for no good reason. I am not quite certain how you have a Board President who is not a unit owner but that is a separate matter. I will say that it is unusual unless the association is still under developer control but that doesn’t sound like that is the case here. Check your requirements for service on the Board. If the rules state that Board Members must be unit owners, it is time for the Board President to be replaced. Let’s talk about your specific issue.

There is no firm timeframe for exterior unit repairs to be made. The exterior of your unit is owned by the association and not you. While it is most definitely impacting your enjoyment of your unit and the burb appeal of your unit, it would be difficult for you to demonstrate how you were harmed by the length of time the repair is taking. A lawsuit is your only remedy and the standards for which you would prevail are pretty high. The suit is at your own expense and while you could try to include your legal expenses in your suit, you would first have to win the suit and then have your legal fees awarded as part of your damages. That doesn’t sound too promising from what you have described here. Of course, I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice here. You should speak with a qualified attorney to see if you have a legal remedy at your disposal.

From a practical standpoint, you have done what you are supposed to do. Depending on how often the Board meets, the repair is largely in their hands. You mentioned that your association is self managed which may add to the delay if there is no acting manager to deal with the day to day ordeals of working with contractors, estimators, etc.. You didn’t mention if the association had an insurance claim in against the damage but that can slow things down as well.

What usually happens in these situations is the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Keep on top of the Board for status updates. Don’t let months go by without getting an update. If you feel that you have been harmed financially by this slow process, seek legal counsel to consider a lawsuit. Other than that, be ready for a delayed process. Board members are volunteer leaders and if they aren’t getting the job done for the association, you can always elect new leaders come the next election cycle. Good luck!

Condo Board Paying “Consultant Fees” to Select Unit Owners

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D.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo has hired several “consultants”. These consultants are owners in this condo complex. The board refuses to let the other owners know who has been hired, what their job is and what salary they are receiving. Is this legal? Our common charges and assessments are used to pay these people. Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

D.W., in a word, “no”. If what you are saying is true, the condo Board is violating several rules of governance and may be even be violating the law. All contracts that the Board enters into, including “consulting” contracts are records of the association. As such, they may be inspected by any member of the association. You may be charged a small fee for the inspection of these records but you have every right under the law to see them. If you suspect wrongdoing, you should likely spread the word and vote these folks out of office and replace the Board members involved with folks you can trust. Unit owners should not be paid from association funds and you may need to hire an attorney to see if legal action can be taken against the current Board and/or the folks who are being paid out of the association’s funds. I am not an attorney so please consider this advice as friendly. For legal advice, I strongly encourage you to speak to an attorney who can better guide you through this potential money nightmare. All the best!

Condo Repaving Project Costs Unit Owner Parking Space

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H.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We live in a condo that is planning to repave and mill our parking facility. We do not have any specified handicapped spots and they are talking about taking our spot and making it a handicapped spot. Is that legal?

Mister Condo replies:

H.D., as long as the parking lot is owned by the association, the Board is free to manage however they see fit. If your parking spot is deeded (actually part and parcel to your condo unit), then they would need your permission to reassign your space. For the most part, that is highly unusual and the common parking areas are almost always under control of the Board. While the Board is empowered to grant handicapped parking, they are not generally required to do so. However, if a unit owner has requested handicapped parking and the accommodation is deemed reasonable, they may feel it is in their best interest to comply with the request versus opening the association up to a potential lawsuit. Good luck!

Condo Board Claims It Can’t Enforce Rules Against Renters!

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L.A. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am renting a condominium in California. My unit is in between two end units. Recently our HOA board sent a letter to the homeowners regarding parking issues and we attended a meeting where I was given fair warning not to allow my visitors to park in front of my garage. I was told there would be no warning next time, just a fine for $100.00. I am disabled and explained that I occasionally need to have things delivered, but was told under no circumstances is drop off, delivery or parking allowed in front of my garage, or I will be fined. There are 5 visitor spaces for 54 units. The problem is that both of my neighbors park in front of my garage either to drop off or to stay for long periods of time. I spoke with one of the board members and was told there is nothing they can do because they are renters and the board can only deal with the homeowners, who are not responding. What if any are my options? The landlord does not want to be involved and has told me to abide by the rules and not cause problems or they will evict me. Thank you for your help.

Mister Condo replies:

L.A., you have described a most curious situation here. The fact that you are disabled adds an extra wrinkle to this story but the Board is dead wrong is telling you that they cannot govern the actions of renters but while they can govern the actions of unit owners. Renters are fully bound by the rules of the association and the owners of the units they rent can be fined for any infractions the renters commit. Your landlord has a duty to protect your rights although, as a renter your rights are between you and your landlord. Does your rental agreement include parking in and/or in front of your garage? If so, you have every right to insist that portion of your rental agreement be honored. If not, you may be at the mercy of the landlord to intervene with the Board on your behalf. As far as the Board evicting you, there is a lengthy and legal process to do so and they cannot just arbitrarily evict you because you asked for a parking space rule to be enforced. If you experience any type of discrimination, you are well advised to seek the advice of an attorney who will likely bring suit against your landlord and/or the association if it is determined that discrimination has occurred. I would also reach out to local news outlets (newspaper, TV) if the Board persists in denying you the ability to have items delivered. If they won’t listen to reason from you about your disability requiring special deliveries, perhaps they’d like to defend their actions to the local media who would likely have a field day with such a story. I wish you all the best, L.A..

Condo Board’s Actions Questioned By Unit Owners

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K.M. from Chicago, IL writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I would like to know if there are any rights that condo owners have that supersede the condo board? I would like to know if condo owners can band together to get an audit without the cooperation of the condo board? I would like to know if the condo board can legally choose a company to renovate without the condo owners having a vote in it? Is there any recourse for condo owners who feel fraud may have taken place especially if the board or the vendors are involved? When an owner in a condo building becomes sick and it is recommended that she uses a therapeutic dog in a building that does not allow pets, would it be against the Americans with Disabilities act to deny him/her the ability to have the dog in common areas outside of her/his apartment?

Mister Condo replies:

K.M., you sure have a lot of issues with your current Board, don’t you? Obviously, the association does not have to continue to re-elect any Board member who isn’t doing the work of the association or is even under suspicion of mishandling association funds. The simplest solution is to seek out volunteer leaders from within the community and elect better folks to serve on the Board.

The Board, and the Board alone, has the ability to conduct an audit. Owners cannot ban together and get their own audit. In fact, I doubt you could find a affirm that would even consider auditing a non-profit like a condominium without the Board’s consent. That being said, individual unit owners do have the right to inspect association records so if there is a particular area where you think fraud has occurred, you could ask to see those records. Keep in mind that there may be a fee involved for inspecting the records.

The Board hires contractors for renovations. Again the records are available for unit owner inspection so you may request to see bids and Board votes on which bid to accept. If you feel there was collusion or fraud in the awarding of the bid, you might wish to gather with fellow unit owners to expose the fraud and determine if a legal course of action is warranted. A criminal action is unusual but a civil suit may accomplish what you seek.

Any unit owner who presents the Board with a doctor’s notice about the need for a service animal is not bound by the association’s rules about pets as service animals are not pets. If the doctor’s note is presented and the Board refuses to allow the service animal on the grounds, the unit owner being denied access to the service animal should file suit in court and will likely win. The Board needs education on what the law allows with regard to service animals. Quite simply, they are not pets and cannot be treated as such.

So the bottom line is that the Board needs to maintain trust with unit owners or risk being tossed from office, either in due course or by a special meeting of the unit owners, which is outlined in your condo’s governing documents. Of course, you need to have a replacement slate of volunteers willing and able to step in one the old guard goes. Boards are not all powerful. Your condo’s governing documents spell out their powers and how to remove them if they abuse those powers. All the best!

Condo Caretaker Employed Without Contract

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J.G. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a board member’s brother who is considered the caretaker / maintenance guy (who has been doing a lousy job here for years). We have complained about it for as long. He is not legally contracted but instead has the approval of the board to do our landscaping, snow removal and unit maintenance (in units) where and when the issues have been determined to be the responsibility of the association. How can we get rid of him and force the board to legally hire a qualified person and not a relative of a high ranking board member?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., you cannot get rid of the caretaker as he is employed by the Board, with or without contract, legally, illegally or otherwise. What you can (and should) do is get rid of the Board! Any Board that puts its association members at such incredible risk is failing miserably at their primary duty of protecting the association from unwarranted risk. The Board has one primary duty and that is to protect, maintain, and enhance the association and its assets. I can only imagine that this caretaker / maintenance person is not properly licensed or insured and that the association could be found completely liable if he were ever to hurt himself or another person during the performance of his duties on behalf of the association. This is just poor judgment on the part of the Board for allowing this to happen and they should be replaced with Board members that are going to handle the business of the association in a more professional and fiscally prudent matter. But nothing will change if everyone just sits back and lets it continue. It’s time to rally the troops and get some new volunteers to serve as community leaders. Perhaps you’re up to the task yourself, J.G.? Good luck!