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Condo Documents Offer Confusing Description of Window Ownership

R.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The boundary of the windows says: the plane of the interior face of the glass and the frames mullions and muttons. So, who is responsible for window replacement?

Mister Condo replies:

R.H., without knowing more about your governing documents, I would be guessing who is responsible for your replacement windows. The legalese used to describe your window ownership is the stuff that makes community association attorneys busy for years and years! Sounds like common sense could cause you to argue the case for the ownership to be the association or the unit owner, depending on how the wind is blowing. My first question is what has been done in the past? Has the association paid in the past? If not, they aren’t likely to start paying for them now. If this is the first time through the window replacement project for the association, I would recommend an attorney offer a qualified opinion on the matter. The good news is it sounds like you are going to get some new windows. I hope you enjoy them!

Condo Owner Seeks Association Employee Salary Info

D.U. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo owner demand or file freedom of information form to see how much the maintenance people are paid, that work for the management company? Their salaries are set by the condo association in their budget. I know they are paid well and receiving hefty bonus payments twice a year.

Mister Condo replies:

D.U., This is a question I get quite often. You can see some of my previous replies here: http://askmistercondo.com/?s=salaries I can understand your curiosity about how much employees of the association are making, especially since their salaries are paid by you and your fellow unit owner through your common fee contributions. However, I would liken it to the same way your tax dollars pay for municipal employees. Just as municipal employees are employed by the city, association employees are employed by the association and under the purview of the Board. You do have access to the budget, which details certain expenses of the association, including salaries and benefits. Your democratically elected Board of Directors is keeping an eye on the details for you and they do know what the employees are making, including bonuses. They most likely have their reasons for doing so (competitive pay, rewards for work done, etc). You can ask for these records but unless your documents specifically give you the power to review individual salaries, I doubt you will get it. May I ask what you will do with that information? As a unit owner, you have no power to pay employees less or alter their bonuses. If you have an issue with how the Board is handling the salaries and bonuses, you should take it up with them. Ask them how they decide when to offer bonuses. If you are satisfied with their answers, you’re all set. If you don’t like their answers, you are free to vote for other candidates for the Board or run for the Board yourself. I hope that helps.

Must I Reveal Possible Special Assessment to a Condo Buyer?

R.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently was advised that our Board has started to address and extremely large repair required by the state. It has been mentioned in the Condo Minutes but no formal acknowledgment or assessment has been determined. I would like to run for the hills without telling the buyer and sell my unit before the news if official. Can I do that?

Mister Condo replies:

R.R., special assessments are very official and legal levies placed against the unit owner of record once ratified by the Board and the association. Once levied, they are the responsibility of the unit owner of record at the lime the assessment was levied. As a unit owner, you would receive notice and a payment date or payment schedule depending on how the assessment was levied. A “mention” in the Condo Minutes about an upcoming assessment is not the same as a levy of assessment. You would need to reveal (and pay off) an assessment as a term of your sale. You are not bound to reveal the possibility of an assessment. However, if the assessment has been announced and ratified and is not revealed to a potential buyer, you would very likely be sued for the assessment by the new buyer. If you are using an attorney for the sale, you would do well to explain what is going on and make sure you don’t set yourself up for that to happen. Good luck

Pre-Sale Special Assessment Assigned to Current Condo Owner

K.K. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When I purchased my condo in 2014, I was told no upcoming assessments. Surprise! Last August, I was told assessments for work done will cost me $15k or $155/month for 10 years. Now, I am selling my condo, can the remaining monthly 155 be transferred to buyer?

Mister Condo replies:

K.K., I am sorry you got hit with a “surprise” Special Assessment. In my opinion, there are no “surprise” Special Assessments unless the community experienced an unexpected and/or uninsured loss or a lawsuit that requires an unforeseen infusion of cash. If the assessment were for something as common as a replacement of a roof or to repair old decks or sidewalks, it was no surprise. That being said, the assessment is made against the unit owner at the time of the assessment. That was you. The association has an interest in you making the payments, not the new owner. You will very likely have to pay off the assessment before you can sell the property. It seems unfair but that is how it works. I hope your new home has no surprises like this for you. Good luck!

Condo President Increases Number of Board Members

K.S. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our by-laws read 5 elected board members. Our president through the last few years has increased to 9 without approval of the membership. Can this be right?

Mister Condo replies:

K.S., appointing additional Board Members is not likely a “power” that the Board President has. At least, I am not familiar with condo governing documents that allow for the Board to increase in size beyond the stated number of directors. If your documents call for 5 Board members, then that is all there should be. If the by-laws have been revised through a vote of the unit owners to allow for more Board Members than the stated 5, that is a different matter altogether. You also didn’t mention how these new Board members were selected. Did the unit owners vote them all into office? Did the President simply appoint them? Board Members are meant to be democratically elected representatives of the association. They are not meant to be appointees of the President. If you suspect foul play at your association, you may wish to write to the Board and reference the documentation that states only 4 Board members and allow them to explain how 5 became 9. If you aren’t happy with their answer and you feel they are violating the rules of governance, your next step is a lawsuit to force them to comply. However, I would caution you to only do this if you suspect foul play. If the association is running fine and unit owners seem content, you may simply wish to keep an eye on the situation and make sure the 9 Board Members are being democratically elected. Good luck!

Legality of Condo Board Voting by Email

M.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo board vote by email when an issue needs resolving quickly?

Mister Condo replies:

M.H., without knowing exactly where you are from, it is impossible for me to give you a definitive answer. You need to refer to your condo governance documents (many were written before email was prevalent so they say nothing about it) and your state laws on community associations. Many have adopted email as a valid method of allowing votes provided the email records are kept as association records and the results of any votes held between Board meetings are properly documented in the Minutes of the next meeting, As long as that protocol is being followed and no laws are being broken, it is entirely likely that the Board can vote on issues via email between Board meetings. Thanks for the question!

Big Amenities Still Being Added to this Big Apple Condo!

L.L. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo! We are in a 90-unit newer (2009 built) condo in NYC with doorman, gym, roof/grill facilities. A bike storage was originally promised by the sponsor. However, they have not been cooperative in fulfilling that promise. Currently the board presented a bike storage design that features another grill/kitchen, a still reflecting pool, fire pit and many seemingly excessive designs. Also, there is no budget or cap on this current project. Although we have an adequate Reserve Fund for the building, the board is planning on taking out a loan in addition to using cash to fund this project.

How much would a second grill/kitchen, small reflecting still water pool and fire pit add to the selling price of units in this building? Will the cost and maintenance/liability outweigh the positive? (To be honest I am failing to see any positives on these added features)

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., sounds like you live in a lovely condominium, despite the problems you are now facing with the sponsor fulfilling all of the promised amenities. Despite the potential for increased costs and maintenance liability, it is likely that these additional amenities will make the condo more desirable, which is what drives up market value as well as outside factors like real estate prices for competitive units. I am a bit confused about why the Board needs the loan if the sponsor is still in the picture but these amenities are likely part of the master plan that was approved and need to be either completed or, if possible, removed from the plan by a vote of the unit owners. You may also face pushback from the city as the project approved is the only one that can be built without going through the approval process again with no guarantee changes would be acceptable. In other words, in for a penny, in for a pound and the most likely course is for the original plans to be honored, regardless of the price and regardless of whether or not individual unit value will increase because of the amenities. I’ve never known property values to decrease because of increased amenities and my guess is that it will enhance the value of your existing units. All the best!

Who Owns the Carpeting on a Carpeted Condo Balcony?

L.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association installed carpeting on balconies many years prior to my purchasing my unit. The association is now requiring the carpet be removed at my expense. I claim that I did not install the carpet therefore I am not responsible for its removal.

Mister Condo replies:

L.B., that is an interesting quagmire you find yourself in. Are you certain of the carpet installation history? Balconies are typically limited common elements for the use of the unit owner who has exclusive use of the balcony. If that is the case, the Board may feel as though individual unit owners are responsible for the carpet maintenance as it is for the limited use of the unit owner, in this case, you. Your claim that you did not install the carpet may be true but you really need to find out who owns the carpet. If the association owns it, then they are responsible for the upkeep. If it was installed by a previous unit owner or by the association but at a previous unit owner’s request or expense, then it is quite possible that the Board is correct. However, it is worth your time in getting a straight answer. Ask to see the records from when the carpet was originally installed. See if you can’t find definitive proof of who owns the carpet. Good luck!

HOA Sues Owner for Trying to Rescue a Stray Cat

J.H. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My neighbor accused me of feeding a feral cat. HOA is taking me to court. I was not feeding a feral cat! This female cat was tame, but pregnant. I was feeding the cat in order to catch her. If I had not, there would now be 3 females pregnant by the 2 tomcats roaming the condo complex. I did these people a favor! I bought the food, sat outside with the woman from a rescue organization and caught the mother and two kittens. Can a HOA have ordinances to override the County, City and State laws?

Mister Condo replies:

J.H., I salute your efforts to help but I hope you can understand how dangerous feeding any wild animals can be and the potential risk it puts on the HOA. Your neighbor had no way of knowing what you were up to and reported the behavior to the Board, who took the appropriate action for your rules and by-laws. I cannot imagine that any of their rules override local laws and the answer to that question is “no”, they cannot have rules that conflict with local ordinances. I have to believe that the correct solution to this problem would have been for you to report the stray but tame cat to the association and let them take whatever steps they deem appropriate to remedy the situation. After all, this wasn’t your cat. The person from the rescue organization would have been their likely contact and the same end result could have been achieved without your personal involvement in rescuing the animal. I am sure you meant well and I am guessing you are an animal lover, which I certainly admire. However, in most HOAs, feeding stray or ferial animals, regardless of your intention or their tameness, is prohibited due to the risk of pestilence and/or animal attacks on residents. All the best!

This Condo Repair Job is for the Birds!

L.W. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, I’ve had an issue with a bird nest outside on my soffit. My condo is refusing to pay for the removal even though it’s part of the building. This has been going on for several months. I’ve been calling the condo President constantly to no avail. We recently hired a Management company and the President is very rude. I had my cousin talk to both of them and they both told him the birds are gone. Due to this problem, I have copious amounts of bird feces on my balcony. I own a screened in balcony which is the problem. Since their handy man doesn’t know how to take the screen apart they told my cousin I refused service. I have rights as a home owner and not wanting it to be damaged. What recourse do I have?

Mister Condo replies:

L.W., I am sorry that you are facing such an ornery challenge enjoying your condo living experience. Birds, bats, raccoons, rats and other wildlife often find condo dwelling to their liking. You are correct in assuming that the Board is the responsible party for correcting the situation. However, calling the condo President constantly is not a good strategy to have the situation remedied. Since you have a Property Management company to deal with, they are likely going to be the ones who will dispatch the handyman to remove the nest. The complication of the screened porch adds a new wrinkle but it shouldn’t be the end of the process. It sounds like another repairman will be needed to remove the screen without damaging it. Who owns the screen? If it is you, you may have to arrange to have the screen removed at your expense so the association’s handyman can do his work to remove the bird nest. If the screen is association-owned, then they will need to have the screen removed before they can remove the nest and then return the screen to its original position. You asked about recourse. First, you need patience. Coordinating two different repair people may take some time and the Board is not technically under a time constraint. That being said, your only true recourse is to bring action against the Board for not dealing with the problem. That can be costly and time-consuming. My advice is to work with the Board, the Property Management company, and the workers dispatched to deal with the problem. It will take some time but it sounds like they are on the way to getting it done. Good luck!