Monthly Archives: December 2016

Condo Power Washing Damages Unit Owner’s Door

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J.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a wooden front door of an older type no longer easily replaced. I live on 2nd floor. One of the board members lives on 3rd floor, bought a power washer, used it on 3rd floor walkway with resulting water runoff splashing onto my door, causing issues with wood swelling and separating. I immediately informed him he should stop but was met by attitude that I was imagining the damage caused, and in spite of obvious damage, door was still functional. However, this year, the outside walkways were coated with special paint and abrasive, I was unable to open the door. A handyman came to break the paint line at the bottom and had to chisel off pieces of the door at the bottom since the new walkway finish raised the level of the walkway. A few weeks later, I again could not open the door and had to climb in through the window. I was told that power washing had again taken place, on the 2nd floor this time. It was clear from the watermarks inside that whoever did the power washing had sprayed my door up to the halfway point. My door swelled further and has started to come apart at the bottom. I believe the association is responsible for repairing it.

Mister Condo replies:

J.F., this is a most unfortunate situation. I assume that the Board was performing its duties of maintaining the association when it ordered the power washing. The damage to your door is likely the responsibility of the association but it doesn’t sound like they are going as far as saying they are responsible. You didn’t mention who hired the handyman to chisel off the pieces of the door to make it operational again. If it was the association, they have taken some responsibility for the issue caused by the abrasive application. However, when you had previous damage from the power washing runoff, they took no responsibility from what you have told me. If it were me, I would speak with an attorney and sue the association for the damage (and the cost of the attorney to sue them). It is possible that the association has insurance that would cover the cost of making the door operational but if I were you I would want it replaced with a door that can withstand the power washing which is likely to continue. It is unfortunate that more care was not taken before ordering the power washing. I am sure you are fond of your door and would have preferred they just left it alone but the damage has been done and now it should be remedied. Don’t expect a simple conversation to suffice here. Photos and documentation are required as are proper letters to the Board informing them of the damage they caused and the remedy you are seeking. If you do not get satisfaction, do not be afraid to sue them if necessary. They have the right and responsibility to maintain the common area. They do not have the right to damage your property while doing so. Good luck!

Water Damaged Condo Unit Owner Reluctant to File Insurance Claim

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B.L. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I purchased condo a little over a year ago. Previous owner remodeled bathroom. Work was not done properly – causing leak from shower & toilet to unit beneath mine. I should note that owner is not there for weeks & months at a time, so leak went unnoticed for some time, causing more damage. Obviously, owner upset – not his fault- but not my negligence either. I filed a claim with my insurance company which they denied, saying not my liability. Other owner refusing to file insurance claim, insisting I pay for repairs. Any thoughts?

Mister Condo replies:

B.L., I am sorry you are caught up in this mess. Regardless of whether or not the other unit owner wishes to file a claim, the damage is in his unit, which is what his insurance is for. If he is unwilling to file a claim, his only other option is to sue you in hopes of having you pay for his repairs. Unless he does that, I don’t see what further reason there is for you to discuss the matter with him further. You should likely speak to an attorney to protect yourself but you have done what you are supposed to do. You made the repair to your bathroom so there should not be any additional damage. You attempted a claim against your own insurance and they denied the portion of the claim that was for outside of your unit. I am not sure why this unit owner is reluctant to place a claim against his own policy unless he fears a rise in insurance cost for making the claim but that is not your problem. The whole reason you and he have homeowner’s insurance (most condo documents require that the unit owner carry homeowner’s insurance) is so that accidents like this are covered and repairs can be made. Additionally, the association may have damage as well, especially if the water intrusion from your unit damaged and common walls or floors/ceiling between units. The association should also consider mold remediation as any residual moisture may cause potential mold. Get a legal opinion to be sure but I think you have done all that you need to do. Good luck!

Condo Parking Space Swapped

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C.S. from Virginia writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I purchased my condo in 1987 and resided in it the first five years with my assigned parking space being in the same location since 1987. Upon moving out, I have been using my property as rental property. In August 2015, management for my condo repainted the surface parking space and in the process my assigned parking space was moved unknown to me until December 21, 2015. On December 21st. my tenant called reporting garbage disposal problem. I went to my rental property and parking in the assigned parking space since 1987 to be informed I was parked in some else’s parking space. What action can I take on having my assigned parking space moved back to its original location?

Mister Condo replies:

C.S., unless your original parking space was deeded (most are not), there is very little you can do other than to petition the Board to reassign your old space, which they are unlikely to do. Parking lots in common interest associations such as your condo are typically under direct control of the Board. The Board authorized some routine parking lot maintenance and decided to reassign parking spaces, which is their right. Unfortunately, you were not notified of the parking reassignment until after the fact. Had you known, you would have likely asked them not to change it but they did and time has passed. Reassigning the space now might be harder than it appears and they may have had other reasons for making the change that you not privy to. I know of some associations who receive requests for parking space reassignments to accommodate folks with disabilities. I know of some associations who have changed the spaces to try and get more parking out of the lots. Regardless of their reason, the Board has made their decision. You can ask nicely but I wouldn’t expect anything to change. All the best!

Condo Owner Taking Over Neighboring Parking Space

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C.S. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a townhouse condo; 7 units all connected together. In the back of the units is a driveway where we all have our garages. Next to each garage is everyone’s AC Unit (technically, that’s the unit’s extra space). My neighbor has two cars (one being a very large truck) and likes to park one in front of my AC unit. That infuriates me heavily. I left him a note that was to the point; “stop parking your car in front of our AC unit. That’s our space. Thank you.” I also sent our condo head an email explaining the situation.

Are there any laws that say I can have this car towed if he continues to park in my section? I think he knows what he’s doing but just playing dumb.

Mister Condo replies:

C.S., there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the parking spaces and who owns what in your condominium association from what you have told me. The first step is to get some clarity. Let’s start with the deed to the unit. Your deed spells out what you own. Typically, it describes the interior of your unit as your property. Occasionally, parking spaces are also deeded. However, unless it is spelled out in the deed, the parking areas and all of the other common grounds are association owned, meaning they are the responsibility of the Board to govern and maintain, which includes enforcement of rules about their use. My guess is that each unit is allowed use of an assigned parking space in the garage and/or on the common grounds. The areas in front of the Air Conditioning units may or may not be used for parking and the Board should have rules in place about if they can be used for parking and who has the right to park there. If it is as you say and the space in front of your AC unit is yours to use, your neighbor has no right to park there. However, unless your driveway is being blocked by his vehicle, I would think you would have no authority to have the vehicle towed. In fact, if there is no rule in place about who can use the common areas for parking, there may not even be a rule violation in play here. Leaving notes on neighbor’s vehicles may seem like one method of correcting the problem but my guess is you will not get any response from your neighbor and you are not creating a good living experience for you or your neighbor. What you should do is report the rule violation to the Board for them to take action. If they determine a rule violation has occurred, they can summon the owner to the next Board meeting and then fine him or give him a warning for breaking the rule, provided the rule exists. If there is no rule, it is now time for the Board to step up and create rules about parking in the common areas and then enforce those rules throughout the association. They cannot simply target your neighbor if there are other reported rules violations. Small associations like yours face special challenges when it comes to rules enforcement because the folks enforcing the rules are also nearby neighbors. The idea is for all unit owners to play nicely since the sandbox is so small. When that doesn’t happen, neighbor versus neighbor squabbles can turn into all-out war. Work with your Board to remedy the problem. Hopefully, your neighbor will start behaving in a more neighborly manner. Good luck!

Etiquette of Past Condo President Offering Advice to Sitting Board

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J.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am the past president of my condo association. I am currently not a board member. Is it proper, in a polite manner, to offer advice (when asked) to another non- board member regarding how they should handle a situation affecting them that involves a current board decision?

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., I would have to consult with Miss Manners to give you an etiquette answer but, in my opinion, not only is it proper but it could be very important to assist new Board members with your sage advice as they may not have any “institutional” memory of how things were handled in the past. One of the more curious things I have noticed with Boards is that members come and go but the particular intricacies of the association remain. If there is no one on the Board that was around when a certain issue came up in the past, they may not realize that there has been a precedent or that a previous Board faced the same challenge and learned the best way to handle it. You are not casting a vote or acting out of turn. You are simply responding to a request for information that can assist the current Board make the best decision for the good of the community. I would think even Miss Manners would approve of that behavior! Good luck!

After the Fire, Who Pays for Extensive Condo Repairs?

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D.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There was a fire in our building, in the unit directly below my unit. In order for the building to be mitigated of smoke and soot, my unit has to be gutted because the building construction was balloon construction and there was not fire blocking. My unit has sustained smoke damage. Since my unit, new kitchen and baths have to be gutted in order for the building to repaired who is responsible for making my unit whole again?

Mister Condo replies:

D.C., I am so sorry for your loss and the damage that occurred at your condominium. You didn’t mention if there was a loss of life so I am assuming it was property only that was damaged. The answer to your question about responsibility lies in your governing documents and/or any state laws that might override those documents. For that reason alone, it may be worth your while to consult with an attorney and get a fully qualified legal opinion in addition to my friendly advice. Generally speaking, your own homeowner’s insurance would cover damage to your unit. That is what insurance is for and you should make a claim with your own policy to get things going. If you have the proper coverage, your policy may even cover your hotel expenses while the damage is repaired. Additionally, since there were undoubtedly common elements damaged in the fire, the association may have its own claim to make to pay for any damage the common elements sustained. Finally, the unit owner of the unit where the fire actually occurred may have some liability if the fire was caused by something the unit owner did. This is where the attorney may be able to offer an opinion as to whether or not a lawsuit may be needed. At the very least, I would like you to get a legal opinion before you agree on any settlement. There may be other factors besides smoke damage. Was water used to put out the fire? Is there wet drywall that could lead to mold? And so on, and so on. You don’t want to make a mistake in the claims settlement process that will leave you short at the end of the process. When entire kitchens and baths are gutted and rebuilt, there can be plenty of surprises. Don’t get caught short. All the best!

Unit Owner Unable to Move Car for Condo Parking Lot Plowing

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J.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

This may be a stupid question, but I exceed at asking stupid questions :-). I am currently considering moving to a condo because I’m 66 and have epilepsy. My question is, since most condos don’t have garages, does the owner have to move his or her car in the winter for plowing? Or is there some other arrangement in which the condo association gets a duplicate car key? As I have epilepsy, I can’t be moving my car in the early morning.

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., the only stupid question is one that isn’t asked! Thank you for posing yours. The answer depends on the condominium where you will live. While it is true that many condos don’t have garages, there are many that do. I also know of a great many with carport style parking. Either would be a suitable choice for someone who can’t move their vehicle so plowing can occur following a snowstorm. Additionally, I know of many condo residents who rely on friends and neighbors to help them out in a storm – not just moving cars, but fetching mail and even groceries. Those are volunteer efforts that rely on the kindness of neighbors. You won’t find that in the condo’s governance documents and there is no way to assure yourself that you will have such neighbors in your condominium but I think, given your jovial attitude and likeable personality, you would very likely find one or more neighbors willing to help out. Of course, the ultimate responsibility is yours, but I am guessing it will all work out for you in the end. Good luck!

Condo Board Lacks Board Members… and President!

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E.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have no president nor do we have enough board members. What do we do?

Mister Condo replies:

E.H., I am sorry that your modest-sized community cannot find leaders from within the rank and file. Typically, condos and HOAs are governed by volunteer leaders that are elected by association members to make the important business decisions that guide the association to success. A lack of leadership can be catastrophic as the community effectively has no representation, leaving all of the day to day operation up to the management company, if you have one. Otherwise, association services stop in short order as there are no officers to collect common fees and pay vendors. It is only a matter of time before vendors with claims against the association bring a lawsuit and the courts can order a receiver to govern the community. A receiver is a court-ordered guardian of the association. It is usually an attorney who charges the community his hourly rate and then dictates all facets of the community association governance and fees. Typically, the books are reviewed and a new common fee structure is mandated. Unit owners do not get a say in these fees or how the community is run until such time as the receiver relinquishes control back to the community via a new court order. As you can imagine, this is a dire measure and one to be avoided if at all possible. If you have enough volunteers to satisfy the requirements of your condo governance requirements, you can easily avoid this “worst case” scenario. If none of them wish to serve as President, I need to ask why they would serve at all. The President merely presides over the Association. It is no more difficult to serve as President than it is to serve as a Board member. The President usually has the additional responsibility of signing documents on behalf of the association and running the meetings. Neither of these tasks should prove daunting to anyone who is already willing to volunteer to serve on the Board. If existing Board members refuse to step up, it is time to find new volunteers. Spread the word within the community and see if you can’t find at least one volunteer willing to lead. Also, be sure to fully support whoever decides to do so. It seems to me they are doing the community an awfully big favor by agreeing to lead. Good luck!

Crumbling Homes in a Crumbling HOA

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D.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Thank you for your article. I have a townhome that was built substandard, now have both foundation and structural damages. Old HOA Board was kicked out by new Board. Old HOA had committed fraud and embezzlement. New HOA has moved on. They hired an engineer but will not fix or file charges. I have now put close to $140,000 into home and been declined modifications due to damages. Now disabled, I am about to be homeless. I have reported all this to state and federal authorities since years ago. Answer has been it would take $25,000 up to hire attorney with no guarantee of satisfaction. I have prayed for help and have none. What can be done here for justice? I’m now with other owners with no answers and nowhere to turn. What can be done?

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., I am truly sorry for your problems. While I do not know all of the circumstances surrounding your HOA’s plight, your story is not unique. Purchasing into an HOA is an agreement to enter into a business. In addition to purchasing your living space, you are essentially becoming a stockholder in a corporation. In this case, it would appear to have been a poorly run corporation with many, many issues. I am not sure how many of these issues were apparent when you decided to purchase but now that they have surfaced, you are wise to seek legal help. I would not seek modifications for such a property if it were me because it would appear that between foundation and structural damages you have described you may very likely be putting money into a bad investment. You have mentioned a changing of the guard with regards to the HOA Board. However, you have also indicated that the new HOA Board isn’t doing enough to remedy the situation. You must find competent volunteers from within the ranks of the HOA members to guide the association through the turmoil. It may take lawyers, court cases and a lot of legal expense (passed down to homeowners like yourself) to get through this quagmire but it is necessary if the association is to get back on track. Support interested volunteers for the Board and do not reelect ineffective leaders. If the association does not get back on track, it is very likely to fold under its own weight. Unit owners can only bear so much expense before they become upside down in their homes and bank foreclosures loom. I can’t promise you a rosy future at this HOA but, form what you have told me, it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Good luck!

Condo Owner Makes Deposit on Unapproved Replacement Windows

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C.I. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am in the process of replacing my condo windows using a large chain store. I chose an Anderson window that fit the specs exactly and all information was submitted to the management company. The board voted no on the windows and stated only one brand of window, Alside Ultramaxx, can be used. At this time my windows were made and I had put down a deposit. The previous rule was as long as the window fit the specs it would be approved never anything about a specific brand. They also recommend the vendor. Can a condo board do this? How can I obtain bylaws that reflect this?

Mister Condo replies:

C.I., the short answer is “yes”. The condo board is the governing body that approves architectural compliance guidelines which are outlined in your governance documents. It typically states than any improvements must be association approved. I am sorry you had already put down the deposit on the windows when you were told “no” by the Board but you should have gotten the approval first by simply submitting the window proposal to the Board. They still would have said “no” but at least you wouldn’t have made your deposit. Have you tried working with the store to get back your deposit? If windows were ordered to your specifications, that isn’t too likely but it may be worth asking. There is always a temptation to replace windows on your own and, like most unit owners, you don’t want to spend more than you have to. However, the Board is the final say on such items and you would be well advised to seek their approval BEFORE you order any item that falls under the association’s Architectural Compliance guidelines. Had you purchased and installed these windows, the Board would be well within its right to make you remove them and replace them with approved windows. This would have been far more expensive than the loss of your deposit. I would chalk this one up to a lesson learned. Good luck with your new Board-approved windows. I hope they give you years of enjoyment.