Monthly Archives: September 2018

Condo Unit Owner’s Right to Association’s Financial Transparency

J.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What rights do I have for convenient financial transparency from our board of directors?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., financial transparency is typically outlined in the association’s governance documents. Additionally, in Connecticut, the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) offers unit owners additional transparency if the governance documents don’t offer the same or better. Of course, your definition of financial transparency may not be exactly what you are looking for. Things like the Annual Budget are readily available and should be presented to all unit owners at the Annual Meeting. Detailed items, such as invoices, bids, etc. may require some additional work on your part to get and the association can charge you a fee for such requested documents. The transparency is still there but it is not necessarily free. Unit owners are part of a corporation. Corporations need to keep records and those records can be inspected by shareholders (unit owners). Those are your rights. If they are violated, you may have a case against your association. Good luck!

How Too Many Non-Resident Unit Owners in a Condo Association Changes Everything

E.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The same people who established the condominium in which I live still control it. Though units were first sold in 1990, one of the developers maintains 15 of the 130 units. This block of condo units represents 15 votes, which when added to condo units controlled by their friends on the board, leads to a lot of apparent financial shenanigans and bullying of owners who simply want a little transparency. About 70% of the owners currently rent out their units, mainly because they hate the way this place is run. Those of us who are left living here cannot seem to oust the trouble-making board, nor win the support of the non-resident owners who are generally apathetic, now that they’re gone and have a paying tenant to cover their costs. Many resident owners, however, are either angry, stressed, depressed, chronically ill, demoralized, etc. as a direct result of feeling powerless to do anything about their maltreatment by the current board, which has both directly and indirectly ruled the roost since the beginning. This is one miserable place. We have turned to lawyers and they say get a petition together to call a special meeting and vote the board out. This is not possible, given the apathy of so many non-resident owners — many of whom also fear retaliation by certain board members and their property management company, which has been with them from the very start. The resident owners who really care about reform — and who have been suffering physical and emotional harm — have already been burned by one attorney who proved incompetent, so we are wondering if a class action lawsuit might be a viable avenue for us. We would let the attorney have all the winnings. We just want to see some justice done after all these years.

Mister Condo replies:

E.C., I am sorry for your situation. Associations that are largely under developer control even after the developer transition period is over can be tricky. Associations with large percentages of rental units come with their own problems. You have a double whammy at your association. Your best bet is increasing the numbers of resident owners who are willing to volunteer and serve on the Board if elected. As long as the resident owners are the minority, nothing will change, in my opinion. At their core, condo associations are democracies. The people with the most votes are the ones who govern the association. As long as those people are not resident owners, I don’t see much motivation for them to change how they govern. You indicate that this behavior has been going on for years. If it were me, I would have sold my unit by now. Unless you see the pendulum swinging towards more resident owners, I would encourage you and anyone else who is unhappy there to consider moving out. You can contact an attorney to see if you have a case but I haven’t heard of anything you’ve mentioned as being a valid reason for a lawsuit. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney so my advice is strictly friendly. For a legal opinion, you will need to seek out the services of an attorney who could better guide you legally. Good luck!

Condo’s “Backyard” Cannot be Used to Walk Dogs

T.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our association has a rule that dogs are not allowed in our backyard near the River. Can they prevent me from using my backyard for my dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

T.B., they absolutely can restrict use of the common grounds as it applies to pets. Many condo unit owners are under the impression that the land that surrounds their units is theirs to use as they see fit. That is rarely the case. In fact, the association owns all of the common land within the association. That includes the land behind your unit which you refer to as your backyard. Since the association owns the land, they make the rules. If the rule is that you can’t use the common area for your dogs, then that is the rule. You can ask the Board for an exception but it is unlikely that they will agree. I hope you can find a suitable solution to your pet problem. Good luck!

Neighboring Association Trash Dumpster Intrusion

T.P. from Chicago writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The neighboring condo association has had their 2 garbage bins on our property for the last 6 years. I’ve always had a problem with that because, 1) they don’t maintain the area, I do, and 2) the liability of a “slip and fall” happening on our property by our neighbors or their trash removal company. I recently asked them to move the bins and was told “no”. Can I contact their trash removal company and have them move the bins? What other options do I have? Thank you from a Chicago Condo Board President.

Mister Condo replies:

T.P., unless there is some kind of agreement between the two properties, the neighboring association has no business intruding on your private property. This is a simple matter for your association attorney to remedy via lawsuit. Quite simply, the trash contractor is trespassing on your property. A “cease and desist” order should do the trick. If not, your association attorney can direct you to the next steps. You tried the easy was with the request for them to stop. They didn’t comply so it is time to escalate the situation. Good Luck!

Previous Condo Board Failed to Incorporate New Rule

B.R. from Maine writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A condo board passes a new rule but fails to incorporate it into the existing list of rules & regulations. Board members change. New Board finds the ‘changed’ rules in a review of minutes. Are these changed rules still valid or were they terminated when they weren’t published in the rules & regs?

Mister Condo replies:

B.R., the vote on the rule change stands, in my opinion. If the seated Board had the authority to create the new rule and passed it properly, I don’t see why it would be invalid. It isn’t enforceable until it is properly incorporated into the governing documents and unit owners are notified, so it is basically unenforceable until that is done. And, like any rule, the current Board can rescind or modify or remove it. It really comes down to the practicality of implementing the rule after all this time. The current Board should decide to either adopt it and incorporate it or repeal it and let it go away. All the best!

Board Dragging Heels on Simple Repair Project

K.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo association has accepted responsibility to fix a pipe in a carport roof that freezes in low temperatures. It paid an engineer to recommend a fix. However, it has failed for 2 years to initiate a repair and will not give me the engineer’s report. My attorney has demanded action but has received no response. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

K.W., I think you are already doing all you can do. You have hired an attorney who will look out for your best interest in this matter. Since the association has acknowledged ownership of the problem, there really isn’t too much else you can do. Any idea what the delay is? Is it an expensive repair? My guess is they are just going to wrap the pipe in insulation and try not to make it too unsightly. Unless there is more to this story, I am not sure why it is taking them two years to handle this simple matter. Keep on top of your attorney and the Board to make sure the project gets done. Other than that, follow your attorney’s advice. Good luck!

Condo Board Passes Along Leak Inspection Fee to Unit Owner

J.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The unit below our condo reported a ceiling leak to the HOA maintenance. The maintenance personnel looked at the leak, performed a moisture test, then asked to go into our unit. He identified our kitchen faucet as leaking and told us to fix it. We replaced the leaking faucet. The HOA then sent us a $90 bill for his “investigation services”. Are we responsible for his service?

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., most likely, yes. Your unit was found liable. It is not uncommon for the association to pass along expenses they incur that are attributable to a particular unit. On the upside, $90 isn’t very much money compared to the thousands of dollars that such a leak could have caused. I would pay the $90 and be thankful the leak didn’t cause more damage. Good luck!

Condo Owner Flooded Twice by Vacant Unit Above

D.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our 2-level condo was flooded last week for the second time in 17 months by a bank-owned unit above ours. The first time the above unit was unfinished and not winterized; a pipe burst, flooded us below and we were out 47 days for repair. This time the bank owner’s subcontractor broke a sprinkler head, resulting in more damage than last time. What is our legal status with owner and with subcontractor? Settlement? Lawsuit? Other remedies? It will be repaired but we will be out an indefinite time.

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., I am so sorry for the double whammy you have experienced. I can’t even imagine the heartache and inconvenience these back-to-back disasters have caused you. Unfortunately, the nature of having units stacked on top of each other creates the possibility for exactly the types of problems you have experienced. The good news is that insurance covers most of the loss. The bad news is that lawsuits are typically only used for your “out-of-pocket” expense. They rarely cover paying you back for your inconvenience and time. I don’t think I see the basis for a lawsuit or settlement based on what you have shared with me. However, I am not an attorney so I offer no legal advice in this column. If you think you are entitled to damages above and beyond what has been offered, you should seek the advice of a local attorney who can best guide you. I wish you dryness and a comfortable living space moving forward. Good luck!

Board Attempts to Reassign Limited Common Element Responsibility to Unit Owners

A.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

On the limited common area behind my home, a tall retaining wall runs behind 4 of the 48 cottages in our condo development. The Board of our POA wants to reassign responsibility for a portion of that wall to each of us. Two problems: it is a retaining wall, which is a structural support for our homes, plus my insurance agent says that homeowners and liability policies sold to condo owns do NOT cover any thing in or on limited common or common areas. Can the board assign responsibility for something that homeowners cannot insure for?

Mister Condo replies:

A.F., the Board can try and you can fight back with a lawsuit if necessary. While I have no particular knowledge of your governing documents or your state’s laws on common interest real estate, I sincerely doubt the Board can legally reassign any common element, limited or otherwise, to an individual or group of individual unit owners. Such a change, if possible, would likely require a supermajority of unit owners to agree and would basically require a rewriting of the incorporation and governing documents. Neither of these is easy and would involve the services of an attorney specialized in common interest communities. I offer no legal advice in this column but I would strongly suggest you speak with a locally qualified attorney to seek legal advice should the Board decide to push through this measure. All the best!

Rats in the Condo Attic; Rats on the Condo Board!

J.S. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 100+ unit condominium development in California. My question is whether the current board is under any obligation to correct mistakes made by a past board? Specifically, a past board denied my request to do work clearly in the common area as defined in our CC & R’s. That area is the attic above our unit where there was significant rat infestation. The board authorized the pest control company that we have on annual contract to close out all the openings allowing the rats into the attic and to remove all dead rats and rat traps. The board refused to remove the fouled attic insulation, clean the attic and replace the insulation. The local county Vector Control District recommended the clean-up and insulation replacement to protect us and our downstairs neighbor (there is a fresh air make-up duct to her unit from our attic) from possible contamination of virus, etc.. Our general contractor (we were having a lot of remodeling done including plumbing, electric and HVAC all of which required workers in the attic space) refused to begin the remodeling until the attic was properly cleaned to protect his workers. After finding out much more about the past boards’ and current boards’ position on repairing damage in units (they have been paying to restore, repair, replace damaged items from water leaks even if those items are in the “unit” and not contained in the common area, an act specifically against rules in our CC & R’s) I resubmitted a request reimbursement for the cost to clean out the attic and replace the insulation which I had done at my cost after the past board had denied the request to pay for the work. The current board is waffling on whether to reimburse me or not fearing that they should not open a can of worms and reverse a previous board. Doesn’t the fact that we are a California corporation require the current board to correct a past board’s mistake when that mistake is brought to their attention? Doesn’t the corporate responsibility to act in accordance with the CC & R’s continue regardless of which board is in place? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry for all of your problems. Rat infestations and the resulting potential for hazardous conditions is no laughing matter and the failure of the previous boards to take corrective action is appalling. However, the sins of the father are not necessarily vested upon the son in the form of the current Board. You should have sued the association for not taking the proper action back when the infestation and resulting damage was going on. You were not authorized by the Board to pay for the attic cleaning and insulation replacement. In fact, since you do not own that space, you really shouldn’t have done that. That being said, I would have done the same thing under those conditions rather than risk my own health due to an incompetent Board. So where does that leave you now? Obviously, the good news is that you have remediated the damage and are living in a healthy environment. You have asked the Board to reimburse you for the work and while I agree with you that they should, they are correct in that it sets a dangerous precedent of having unit owners handle repairs that the Board is responsible for and then obligating the Board to reimburse the unit owner for the work. Quite simply, that is not how things work in a condo. When common elements are damaged, the association needs to make the repair, putting them in control of hiring the contractor, negotiating terms, etc. You usurped that process when you took care of the problem on your own. Had a previous Board authorized your action, then it would be as simple as you submitting your receipts for reimbursement. Instead of asking permission, you now need to beg forgiveness. The Board is under no obligation that I am aware of to pay you back so ask politely. If the dollar amount is large enough, you might wish to speak to an attorney to see if it is worth pursuing. Otherwise, see what the Board does, hope for the best, and be happy that you have a rodent and disease-free living space. All the best!