Monthly Archives: February 2019

Condo Unit Owner Removes Load Bearing Wall; Disaster Ensues

N.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a condo on the fourth floor. An owner of a unit below moved a load bearing wall and now I have cracks on my walls and my floor sags. Who’s responsible; the owner that did the work or the association?

Mister Condo replies:

N.G., Yikes! I always shake my head in disbelief when I hear these stories. A unit owner took it upon themselves to move a load bearing wall and caused great damage. You are lucky that the building didn’t collapse. I hope that you can have your unit repaired to the way it was before this unit owner caused all this problem. The unit owner who modified the building is at fault here and should repair the wall and your unit and any other damage to neighboring units. If the association granted permission for the unit owner to do the work (unlikely) they may bear some of the burden to repair units and/or common areas. There is a reason for architectural compliance and approval before unit owners take on the kind of project your neighbor did. Your example is a worst-case scenario fo what can happen when they don’t do it right. Good luck!

Identical Square Footage But Higher Monthly Condo Common Fees

K.G. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently found out that a same size condo as mine is being charged less per month in monthly fees. HOA indicated they charge by the square footage which are on the original plans. I reviewed the plans and the square footage is the same. I have requested in writing, why I am paying a higher price. HOA has not responded. I don’t know where to go from here. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

K.G., while square footage is often taken into consideration when determining common fee schedules, it is not necessarily the only factor. When the common fee schedule was created by the developer, other factors such as view, preferred location within the community, end-unit, first-floor unit, and many other items may have been taken into consideration. Whatever the reason, a common fee schedule was developed and a fee percentage was assigned to each unit. Those fees are the gospel of how expenses are divvied up within the association and each unit has an obligation to pay their fees based on that schedule. To simply state that square footage is the only determining factor when common fees were adopted is very unlikely true. You should review the condo governing documents to review how the fees are determined. You will likely find out that your unit was assigned a higher percentage than your similarly sized neighbor’s unit. Perhaps your unit is on a higher floor or has a better view? Whatever the reason, unless you find that you have been charged incorrectly, the common fee schedule stands. All the best!

Condo Voting Ballot Signature Law

P.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I hope you can provide some assistance for me. I am a board member of a 50-unit condo complex. We are having our yearly meeting and will be electing board members. Is it CT law that the unit owner MUST sign their ballot?? I have lived here for 20 years and this was never done before. In other words, an owner’s vote is no longer anonymous. Our new manager insists, but I and others disagree.

Mister Condo replies:

P.D., while I see no harm in having unit owners sign their ballots, I am not aware of any law that requires them to do so. However, the act of signing the ballots would certainly go a long way in preventing voter fraud and authentication of the vote in the event of a contested election. Your documents may detail a particular method of voting that requires signatures but I do not think that is very common. I really don’t see the need or desire to protect the anonymity of a voter. Proxy votes, on the other hand, would most certainly need to be signed in order to be valid. You can ask your new manager to cite the “law” that requires ballots to be signed just for your edification. In the meantime, I wouldn’t hold up any vote in the interests of protecting voter anonymity. Votes are legal records of the association. The more documentation you can provide, the less risk there is for any unit owner to contest the outcome. All the best!

One Building; Two Different Condo Management Firms

C.K. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can one condo building have two different management firms? One third of the condos are owned by one person. Can there be two different managers?

Mister Condo replies:

C.K., I don’t see why not. The obvious question is how many associations are there in each building? If the entire building is just one big association, there may be no need for multiple management firms. If there are different associations occupying various floors (i.e. – Floors 1-20 make up the Huntington Association while Floors 21-40 make up the Manhattan Association), it would not be uncommon for each association to have its own management company. The ownership of 1/3 of the condos by one person shouldn’t have any effect on the management although it would indicate a large number of rental units, again not uncommon in large city associations. It is possible that a unit owner with that many units also employs a management firm to keep an eye on his investment. That firm would only have duties relating to the tenancy of the investor-owned units. Hope that helps. All the best!

How Many Month’s Common Fees Can Be Collected in Foreclosure?

B.O. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the maximum months of common fees an association can collect in a bank foreclosure? What is the maximum an association can collect when they foreclose?

Mister Condo replies:

B.O., the answer is not as clear as you might expect. The actions taken by the association in advance of the foreclosure can have an effect on the outcome. For that reason alone, many associations turn to either a collections expert or an attorney for assistance in collecting as much as they possibly can. The other variable is the ability of the owner being foreclosed upon to pay. If they file a bankruptcy at the right time, the debt to the association may also be included in the discharge of debt, leaving the association with a claim for which they cannot collect. In Connecticut, there are various liens and lien procedure that seem to have the best yield. There is an evergreen lien that, in theory, ensures the association will collect ALL of the past due fees when the unit is finally sold or auctioned off at foreclosure. This type of lien is filed repeatedly until the unit is liquidated. A more common lien is a 6-month lien. Filed once, the association collects up to 6 months of owed fees and reasonable collection costs. This is quite common when a mortgage holder is involved in initiating the foreclosure action and the association “goes along” with the bank. The bottom line is that banks typically initiate foreclosure far more often than associations do. However, that is not always the case and in a soft real estate market, the bank has little incentive to take over the unit (and the common fee payments and liability of owning the unit) and the association needs to think creatively before foreclosing and finding there is little or no money left for them when the foreclosure is over. I think the best policy is to work with a collection professional or association attorney to make sure the association is doing all that it can to protect itself from the loss of income. The good news is that the vast majority of unit owners pay their fees on time and that the drastic measure of foreclosure only surfaces when all else has failed. All the best!

Board and Fellow Unit Owners Making Condo Life Uncomfortable

M.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo is 40% Fundamentalist Christian. They have a weekly Bible study and control the Board. We had a ten-year standing water issue which was finally resolved when we took steps looking into a lawyer. They are so judgmental and repeatedly report us to the board over trivial matters. We moved out and now are moving back in after our home failed to sell. They kept bombing me with “nice” nosy questions and now I refuse contact and have taken steps to insure my privacy. Is there anything I can do to get them from approaching me every time I go on my deck or outside? And is there anything we can do about the favoritism they show such as forgetting repeatedly to cut the weeds behind my condo.

Mister Condo replies:

M.K., I am sorry that you are feeling uncomfortable in your own condo association. Freedom of speech pretty much guarantees all of us the ability to say what we want within reason. You have already taken steps to distance yourself from their expression of speech. As for governance issues, the Board has legal responsibilities to enforce the covenants of the association. One of those covenants is peaceable enjoyment of your unit. The attorney who assisted you with the water problem can likely offer you the best legal advice for your state. If the Board is taking actions that deny you peaceable enjoyment of your unit, you may be able to sue them. Whether you agree with their Fundamentalist values or not, you should not be subjected to harassment of any sort. As for issues of favoritism, that is unfortunate and you should complain, in writing, to the Board when services that are provided to others are not provided to you. I know that selling your unit didn’t work last time but I would strongly urge you to consider trying again. There is no reason for anyone to remain living in a condo that is not to their liking. Lower your price, do whatever you have to do to make your unit more appealing. Perhaps a current unit owner could find a friend or family member more attuned to the community’s nuances? I wish you better success down the road.

Ineligible Volunteer Wishes to Serve as Condo Treasurer

B.E. from Chicago writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hello! I am a Condo President in Chicago and our Treasurer sold and left recently. The wife of a unit owner wants to be Treasurer; however, she is not a unit owner as she is not on the title and refuses to be added to it. I am not comfortable with this, and the IL Condo Property Act agrees that only unit owners can be elected. What do you think? Need an answer soon!

Mister Condo replies:

B.E., I don’t blame you for being skeptical of a non-unit owner wishing to serve as Treasurer of your association and, unless the association’s own by-laws indicate that a non-owner can serve as a director of the association, your hands are tied. Even if your by-laws do allow for a non-unit owner to serve, the Illinois law supersedes your by-laws and should be taken into full consideration when applying the decision-making process for your association. I would say that unless this volunteer has her name placed on the deed to the unit, she is ineligible to serve. You can check with your association attorney for a legal interpretation that I cannot offer as I am not an attorney but I would think you and your association would be better served by finding an eligible unit owner to serve on the Board and as Treasurer. Good luck!

Property Manager Fails to Solve Condo Owners Water Leak

E.W. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Not sure if you can help me since I am in Florida but I’ll give it a try. I’ve been having difficulties finding any free advice and do not wish to contact an attorney at this point. A week ago, I noticed I have a leak in ceiling of my condo that has worked its way down into the wall pooling next to a bank of light switches. The condo property manager came over right away when I notified them of the leak. He took some pictures and that was it. I followed up today asking for an update and he basically stone-walled me stating that there was nothing he could do until the association finds a roofing contractor and he could not offer a time when one would be selected. I asked him to send me an email today explaining the situation. Unfortunately, we are in hurricane season now with one on the way. I’ve been documenting my interactions with dates, photos and comments but in the end, it really doesn’t solve my problem. Do you have any recommendations?

Mister Condo replies:

E.W., I am sorry for your unfortunate problems and your unfortunate timing. It would appear that while your condo manager was efficient in answering your complaint of a water leak, there is no mechanism to easily correct the leak. You do need to follow up with both the Property Manager and the Board as this is their problem, too, and they need to address the problem even if hurricane season is soon to follow. You don’t need to hire an attorney at this point but you do need to have your problem addressed. Water leaks near electrical switches are no laughing matter. Someone could get electrocuted or a fire could ensue. The Property Manager may be your first line but don’t rule out the Board’s responsibility to address the issue. Squeaky wheel tends to get the grease so make some squeaks in the right direction and see if you can’t get this issue addressed without having to hire an attorney. My guess is you can. All the best!

Unit Owner Questions Condo Board’s Mandated Water Heater Replacement

G.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The Condo Association Board wants to mandate having the Hot Water Heaters updated every 10 years. Is this common practice? We are a small Owners Association, 10 Buildings with 4 condos in a building. Each building has a basement, and each condo has its own Hot Water Heater in the common basement room, along with the 4 individual Hot Air GAS Furnace. Some hot water heaters have already been replaced, as the condos are 14 years old. Your comments please.

Mister Condo replies:

G.M., in my experience, it is quite common for associations to have maintenance standards in place for any appliances, water hoses, etc. which requires unit owners to replace these appliances within “X” amount of years, where “X” is the number of years of the manufacturer’s usable life expectancy of the product or when the association’s insurer will no longer cover any damage caused by the appliance after it exceeds its usable life. For instance, if you had a twenty-year-old hot water heater that failed and flooded your neighbor’s unit, the association would not be able to process a claim because the appliance that failed had not been replaced within the 10 years as required by your association’s maintenance standard. In other words, by not enforcing maintenance standards, the association puts itself at risk of denied insurance claims. That could be far more expensive than the cost of updating appliances, not to mention the reduced potential for damage to all units because of such a program. Hope that explanation helps. All the best!

Snow Removal Responsibility for Condo Limited Common Elements

B.P. from Pennsylvania writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condominium HOA. Our documents state that the association is responsible for snow removal in common areas. It specifically excludes driveways, but what about limited common areas such as porches and steps? About half of the units are townhouse types. Do these owners need coverage for accidents that may occur on areas that are not association responsibility?

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., just as your documents define the responsibility of the association with regards to snow removal from the common areas, they likely pass the responsibility of limited common areas to either the owners or the association. If the documents are silent on the subject, the association might want to think about adding clarification for lots of reasons. First and foremost is safety. Regardless of who owns the porches and steps, they need to be kept clear so no injuries occur. As bad as the injuries may be, the resultant lawsuits that will likely follow can be devastating to the association. In my opinion, it makes sense for the association to take on the additional responsibility (and cost) of snow removal. That may cause a slight increase to common fees to cover the increased snow removal expense but it will assure that all was done to keep the porches and steps clear, this reducing the risk of injury and lawsuit to the association. As for the potential liability to homeowners, it is the same risk any homeowner has. If someone gets hurt on your property, you should have insurance to protect yourself. All the best!