Monthly Archives: December 2016

Endless Condo Lawsuit Draining Unit Owners Bank Account

J.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One of the owners is suing the association. We, not the association, are running out of money to pay the special assessment. The suit has been going on for three years. Lawyer fees are over $200,000.00. and no end is in sight. We don’t want to sell, even if we could. What can we do?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., I am not sure what the lawsuit is about but it sounds awfully profitable for the lawyers and not so much for the unit owners, like you. As long as the association is engaging an attorney to defend against the lawsuit, all unit owners are on the hook for their share of the legal fees. It is possible the association could try to finance the lawsuit with an association loan but that carries its own expense and additional fees as well as raising the monthly association dues to cover the loan. Has the Board considered arbitration or any other method of settling the suit with this unit owner? There could be significant saving to the association if that path will work. Otherwise, I am afraid the legal bills will continue until the case is settled. Good luck!

Storage Unit Mold Surprises New Condo Owner

A.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I just recently purchased a condo and wasn’t told I had a storage unit until after the purchase. When I went to check out the storage unit, there was an awful smell going on. There are 4 storage units within 1 big unit. I had someone come to inspect the storage unit and I was told it hasn’t been maintained for a long time and if it doesn’t get fixed, the little mold that’s there will grow more and it can become to the point of causing illness. My son’s bedroom window is right outside of the storage unit. Now here’s what I was told. I should buy Mildastat and mop up the floors and walls and then monthly put in a bag of Dampit. Is this my responsibility being that it’s my storage unit even though it’s not inside my living quarters? Please tell or help direct me what to do. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

A.G., I am sorry for the situation you find yourself in. If you had a building inspection ahead of time and the storage unit was listed, the inspector should have looked at the unit and alerted you to the potential problem. Of course, that assumes the storage unit was listed as part of the real estate listing. At the very least, it must have been on the deed that you received upon purchase. The bottom line is that if it is part of the purchase, you own it. As the owner, you must maintain it to the association’s standards. I am not an expert on mold remediation but the advice you are receiving sounds like it should work to me. If not, consider hiring a mold remediation firm to get your mold under control and suggest a maintenance schedule for keeping the mold out of the unit. Your son’s health could be at jeopardy if the mold is producing toxic airborne particles. All the best!

Common Fees After a Fire Without Use of the Condo

D.L. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We live in a mid-sized condo complex in Litchfield county. Unfortunately, we had a fire last July that destroyed 4 units in one building. One of the residents of the destroyed unit is challenging paying her condo fees, and wants a waiver stating She has not had use of the property. I looked at our by-laws and cannot find anything that addresses that issue. Perhaps you can help. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

D.L., I am so sorry for the unit owners effected by the fire. I hope no human life was lost. I am not aware of any condo documents that deal specifically with loss of use of the property other than to state that damaged units will be repaired and brought to original condition. The emphasis here is on the unit’s reconstruction, not the unit owner’s use of the unit. While it is unfortunate that the unit owner does not have use of the unit as a dwelling during this period, that is not the responsibility of the association. In fact, if the unit owner had proper insurance, her own insurance would pay for her housing during the time that the reconstruction was being taken care of. Common fees, special assessments, and any other fees the unit owner might owe, continue during the reconstruction process. After all, there are still expenses being incurred on this owner’s behalf – insurance, management, common ground maintenance, etc.. On its face, this may not seem fair but it is the way of the world, at least the community association world. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column. This unit owner can challenge paying her condo fees if she wants but if it comes to a court case, she will likely lose, in my opinion. Also, if she becomes too far back in arrears, the association would be obligated to foreclose against her, adding insult to injury. I wrote about a similar case in Pennsylvania in 2013. You can read my reply here if you wish – http://askmistercondo.com/reduced-common-fees-after-a-fire/. Good luck!

Condo Board Takes Out a Trespass Warrant Against Unit Owner’s Beau!

J.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is it in the right of the Board of Directors and the Property management company to put a trespass warrant on my Girlfriend barring her from coming onto the property? I own my condo and have for the last 15 years. I feel that they have no right to trespass someone from my home that I want and welcome into the condo that I own all because her and the President of our association do not get along. My question is can they do that legally and do it against my wishes?

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., the short answer is “yes”, if the Board wishes to ban a person who isn’t an owner from entering the common grounds, they can take steps to do so. Of course, you can bring a suit against the Board for doing so and argue that they are denying your enjoyment of use of the property. The real question to me is why would they do so? Has your girlfriend committed a crime against the president of your association? Have the police needed to be involved in the past? I have answered a similar question not all that long ago. You can read more about my previous answer here – http://askmistercondo.com/unit-owners-fiance-banned-from-the-community-association/. I hope your situation improves soon. Good luck!

New York City Condo Windows Taking Much Longer than a New York Minute!

K.M. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I need to replace my windows. I’m on the 20th floor of a NYC high rise on the Hudson River – facing the river.  The windows are 30 years old and rotting.  One is visibly broken at the frame- separating from the glass and crazy bursts of wind come through all of them. The Management company is “letting” one owner replace their windows which have been on order for months.  They’re telling me I have to wait until JUNE of next year for some engineering report just to order them.  I am FREEZING and the summer will be hell. I WANT to pay for them to be replaced and they are delaying it with their bureaucracy.  What are my rights?

Mister Condo replies:

K.M., Congratulations on the decision to replace your broken windows. I am a bit surprised that the association doesn’t have a better window replacement program in place for you but I am not sure that they are violating your rights in any way by having you wait until they have an updated engineering report, especially if that report contains information relevant to your window replacement. There may be some temporary solution like having the windows sealed that could give you relief while you wait for your new windows to be installed. You may be able to ask about paying for your own engineering report although I suspect that would be very expensive. Of course, I am not an attorney so if you feel you have a legal claim against the association for preventing a faster window replacement timeline for you, you might want to get a legal opinion. I read an interesting article in the New York Times that you might want to review for a bit more information – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/realestate/the-red-tape-of-new-windows-in-new-york.html?_r=0

Good luck with your new windows. I am sure you will enjoy them once you get through this red tape.

Pigeon Netting is for the Birds at this Condo

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S.B. from Puerto Rico writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo board here in Puerto Rico voted to put in a pigeon net that obstructs my ocean view. The net was put in without alternative techniques considered and with no pre-approved net designs and with no notice to or informing of affected parties such as myself. In fact, none of the four floors that were netted had anyone at board meeting. The net was put in quietly as part of a larger rehab project for painting building exterior that required-but did not have-unanimous consent of owners and special notification of affected units. I have retained counsel and we are going through arduous process of getting a hearing with local consumer affairs unit of government. Question: what Grounds might I have to just take the net down in front of my window and Challenge their authority in this matter? Thanks in advance.

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., as I am guessing you have found out by now, the condo building exterior is the purview of the Board. In fact, all of the common elements are under the Board’s control. Of course, the Board is elected by you and all of your fellow unit owners. When the Board does something that the majority of unit owners don’t like, they are generally rewarded by being voted out of office at the next Annual Meeting. In severe cases, associations can even hold recall elections to get them out sooner. My guess is that your building was facing a pigeon infestation problem and the Board was getting complaints and requests to do something about it. This is what they came up with. My guess is that the Board did nothing improper, just unwanted and, perhaps, not as well thought out as it might have been. They certainly didn’t do a very good job of keeping unit owners like yourself informed of why, how, or when the pigeon net was installed. Since you have already retained legal counsel, my guess is you will get your day in court. However, I think your efforts might be better spent communicating with the Board and helping them seek alternate solutions, if there are any. Hopefully, you can turn this negative into a positive and get your view back as well as help solve the pigeon problem. Good luck!

Coup d’état at Miami Condo!

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B.P. from Miami writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A group of people in my condo appointed themselves as the governing board and have removed mail and checks from the condo office. These individuals have opened an account in the name of the Condominium and are holding the monies in that account. Unfortunately, no one living in the condo knows what to do and to whom we should address the issue. Suggestions please.

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., that is a most unusual situation. My first question is what is the existing Board doing about this? You do have an elected Board of Directors for your association, don’t you? They are the ones who should be taking action. The actions they should be taking are civil (lawsuit) and criminal (call the police)! You cannot simply appoint yourself to the Board of any condo and you certainly can’t deposit checks in the name of the association. That is fraud and very likely punishable with jail time. Of course, this assumes you have a sitting Board that was elected by the unit owners and that there are Minutes from meetings stating so. Does the association have an attorney? If so, now is the time for the sitting Board to get in touch with the association attorney so these individuals can be ordered to cease and desist through a court order. A condominium is a corporation. Corporations are not simply taken over because a group of shareholders decides they would do a better job running the corporation. There is due process and it would appear this self-appointed Board has circumvented the process. Now if all of the unit owners appear to be happy with this new arrangement it is just a matter of recalling the old Board and electing this new Board into their positions. I am guessing there is a lot more to this story than what is being shared here. I would love to hear how it turns out. Good luck!

Who Can Make Motions at Condo Board Meeting?

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P.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a new HOA President. Who can present a Motion in a Board of Directors meeting? Is it Board members only? Or can Unit Owners also make motions? If only Board members, how does a Unit Owner get a Motion on the floor?

Mister Condo replies:

P.M., welcome to the world of community association governance! Congratulations on becoming your Board president. I hope you find it a fulfilling experience. Associations have different rules on how motions are made so let me speak in generalities. You should review your particular rules of governance to address the particulars of your association. Board meetings are generally restricted to Board members for making motions and voting on measures. Homeowners are allowed to attend and observe quietly. If the Board has an open period for homeowner questions, it is usually at the beginning of the meeting and homeowner comments are usually limited to just a few minutes. The Annual Meeting is the place for homeowners to participate more fully and cast their votes on major items such as the Annual Budget and the election of Board Members. Generally speaking, the agenda for the meeting sets the topics that will be discussed and where motions will be made. It is quite common for an agenda item to include a discussion on a particular topic followed by a motion from a Board Member that the item be voted on. If a unit owner had an item of such great importance that it needed discussion and a vote before the Annual Meeting, they should be encourage to speak with a Board Member who they voted for in advance of the meeting so the Board Member could propose the measure and ask for a vote. The Unit owner might be present at the meeting and might even be called upon by the Board for further explanation of the item if necessary. However, unless your documents say otherwise, it is highly unlikely for a unit owner to even speak at a Board meeting, let alone propose a motion for discussion. It is also paramount that any item that will be voted upon be published in the agenda for all homeowners to be aware of before the meeting. Otherwise, on a more controversial issue, homeowners could claim the vote is improper because notice of the vote was never given. A properly prepared agenda assures that important business items are discussed and voted upon. It also allows Board members to come to the meeting prepared for the meeting’s business. Hope that helps!

Harassment and Abuse at Small Condo

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R.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am an owner in a 4-unit self-managed association. My son and I are under constant harassment from two of the owners for no other reason than disagreement with their ideas for the property. The fourth owner doesn’t want to be involved and therefore is no help at all. The condo problem: one of the owners continually alters the common areas without approval. They have altered the house plumbing, added new plants where there was lawn, nailed signs to the building, and now a spy camera affixed to the outside building pointing directly at my entrance and parking areas. My question: Since we are self-managed and no other owner will help, is there any recourse other than hiring an attorney?

Mister Condo replies:

R.B., I am sorry to say that there is truly no other recourse for you. Small associations only work well when all of the unit owners get along (or leave each other alone) and follow the rules of the association. It would appear that this unit owner has no intention of doing that so you can either put up with it or take action. As for harassment from another unit owner, you do not need to tolerate that. Get the police involved if you need to or speak to an attorney about your rights. If the unit owner escalates to assault or battery, definitely call the police. At some point, it isn’t about breaking rules; it’s about breaking laws. No condo owner should live in fear of harassment from another condo unit owner. As for the video surveillance system or “spy cam” as you have called it, there may be state laws addressing how and when they can be used. Again, speak to an attorney to discuss the legality of such a surveillance system in your state. Good luck!

Condo Seeks to Ban Pets for Renters

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K.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Association allows unit owners to have dogs. Can the Association prohibit renters or lessees from having dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., the short answer is “yes” but be careful. I am not an attorney so please accept my advice as friendly. For a proper legal opinion on amending your documents properly, I must insist that you speak with a qualified attorney. Many associations have rules about banning pets in rental units. However, if these rules aren’t in place as part of the original condo docs (most aren’t) then the documents need to be amended to reflect the changes. That means following the proper procedure for amending the documents, often requiring a full vote of all unit owners, not just the Board. The issue is that a unit owner who purchased a unit with the intent of renting it out did so based on the rules in place at the time of purchase. Changing those rules after the unit is purchased may create difficulty for the landlord unit owner who should be allowed a vote on the issue before the documents are amended. Depending on the make-up of your association, the rule may or may not pass. Condos with high concentration of landlord owners are not likely to pass a rule that restricts who the landlord can rent to. Condos with high concentrations of resident unit owners are very likely to pass such a rule. Finally, keep in mind that even with a rule in place prohibiting renters from having pets, that rule does not apply to any emotional service animal. If a renter has a note from a health care professional that the dog or cat they own provides emotional support, it is not considered a pet. The association cannot ban emotional support animals from residents regardless of their status as owners or renters. All the best!