Category Archives: Architectural Compliance

What’s the Law on Allowing Solar Panels in the HOA?

R.G. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are there any laws regarding solar panels in CT regarding HOA from not allowing installation of same?

Mister Condo replies:

R.G., there are no laws in Connecticut that require an HOA to allow solar panels. Generally speaking, HOAs are autonomous on this matter and the folks running the HOA make the decisions on whether or not the solar panels are architecturally correct for the community. That being said, if enough home owners within the HOA want them, solar panels are generally approved within the HOA but with certain governance restriction such as where exactly they may be placed, the responsibility of maintenance of the panels by the home owner and so on. Some states do have laws that prohibit an HOA from banning solar panels. As I write this column, Connecticut is not one of those states. I gave a similar reply last September. You can read that answer here if you would like: http://askmistercondo.com/shedding-some-light-on-condo-solar-panels/ Good luck!

Little Pink Condos for You and Me!

S.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought my condo about five years ago and since then they’ve decided to renovate it. I didn’t find out about the plans until the last annual meeting when the paint colors and all the details were rolled out. The condo board member who’s in charge of the redecoration had a meeting with other unit owners to decide on the decoration details and didn’t include me. Each floor of the building is going to be a different color and the color chosen for mine is bright pink. I objected to the color at the last meeting and asked if I could change it. I was told no. The decision had been made. I decided to just stick with it but, honestly, it’s bugged me since then. Is there anything I can do?

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., John Cougar Mellencamp sang about “Pink Houses” but he never mentioned who chose the color! I think your association needs to get their act together about proper notice when they hold meetings. There should never be a meeting of the association that “didn’t include you”. Proper notice needs to be mailed (or emailed if you agree and your bylaws allow it) so that you never miss a meeting because you didn’t know about it. If you decide not to attend, that is your business. If you are not properly noticed, you can contest any decisions that are made in the meeting and even sue the association for not serving proper notice of their meetings. While it is unlikely that your attendance at this meeting would have changed anything, you did have the right to be there, to speak in opposition to the painting choice and even vote on the measure if that is what was done. Your question is about what can you do now. That really depends on how much it is bugging you and how much you are willing to do about it. If the color is something you can live with, I would likely do nothing. If you were truly incensed or this is part of a larger problem, you might wish to consult with an attorney to review your rights under your state’s laws and your governing documents. You might want to run for the Board to volunteer your time to help make decisions that are in the best interest of the community. After all, your Board is comprised of volunteers from your association who have done just that. Sometimes, it is better to join them than to fight them. Other than that, I might suggest putting on some John Cougar Mellencamp music and smiling about the Pink House? Your only other option may be to “fight authority” but as John Cougar will tell you, “Authority always wins”… Good luck!

How To Enforce Condo Building Renovation Requirements

S.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When a new owner renovates – without any discussion with the board/management and does things that should not have been done – what can board do? Can they make them halt, and make them put it back to the way it was, and if so how?

Mister Condo replies:

S.O., the short answer to your question is “yes” but it depends on the condo’s governing documents. Typically, interior renovations are subject to less scrutiny than exterior renovations but there are still rules that need to be observed. Common problems include replacing carpeted floors with hardwood or laminate flooring, creating an undue noise burden to unit owners above, below, or on either side of the unit. Regardless of the type of violation, the Board needs to issue a letter to the unit owner and explain which rules they are violating. If the unit owner complies, there is no problem. When they don’t comply, it is usually lawsuit time so get the association attorney involved. If/When the association prevails on court, a court order to return the unit to its previous condition is issued. If the homeowner still refuses to comply, the association attorney can then take further action to enforce the court order. It can be a quite a bit of ugliness but that is the nature of enforcing the rules at a condo. You can’t have unit owners deciding on building modification for their personal unit that effects the uniformity of the community and the enjoyment of neighboring units by their owners. Good luck!

Do All Buildings in a Condo Have to Match?

M.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are replacing siding, roofs and doing repairs to buildings with structural problems in our condo. In our association, we have condos that face a busy street and others that face a forested area. We all have walls on our deck that will be removed. We were originally told that we would have frosted glass used to replace the walls. We have now been told we will have only metal railing. Those of facing the street are going to lose most of their privacy.

It was suggested we install the metal railings on the units facing the forested area and frosted glass on the units facing the busy street. All the buildings facing the street would be uniform in appearance and all the units facing the forested area would be uniform in appearance. We are now told that cannot be done because all buildings in the association have to match each other.

We have the funds to use the frosted glass but the board thinks we should install a security gate instead. There has never been a security gate here. I’m all for a security gate, but do not want to lose my privacy.

Do all buildings in a condo association have to match exactly?

Mister Condo replies:

M.K., the term architectural compliance is the standard that most associations use to determine what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to any modifications within the association. Most association simply rebuild whatever they had when the time comes for replacement. Your association is contemplating a change and with that change comes more questions than answers as you are seeing first-hand. I doubt that there is anything in your condo governing documents that states “all buildings have to match each other”. However, that doesn’t mean that they should be altered too much from how they were originally built either. In fact, making some changes will require a consenting vote from wither a majority or supermajority of unit owners depending on how your governing documents allow. There is also the question of common, limited common, or unit owner responsibility for the new railings and frosted glass. My guess is that all will be common elements owned and maintained by the association. When the Board struggles with issues like this, it is my experience that a legal opinion can be quite invaluable so no costly mistakes are made. The community association attorney can advise you of the right way to go about making these changes so that no single unit owner can come back and challenge the decisions made. This is going to be an expensive project so why not dot your I’s and cross you T’s? My guess is you will get the finished product the association members are expecting and desiring. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owner Seeks Approval for New Air Conditioning Unit

C.L. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in on the top floor of a 30-unit Condo just outside of Boston. The building is actually two, 3-story 15-unit buildings facing each other across a nicely landscaped courtyard. There is a paved back alley behind each building separating the building from other single and multi-family homes. The alleys are used for trash and recycling, as well as a couple bike racks.

I’m looking to install a mini-split a/c unit and am having difficulty getting my condo board to approve the installation of the outdoor compressor unit. I’ve suggested placing the unit on our flat roof, working with our roofing contractor to ensure that the installation would not harm the roof, nor void the roof’s warranty. Our Condo board rejected that because they claim that historically the board has not allowed for the use of the roof and did not want to set a precedent for other requests to the use of the roof.

I also suggested installing in the back alley (used for trash, recycling, bike racks and a couple outdoor grills). They rejected that idea because of a noise concerns and the setting a precedent for future requests for a/c compressors (and tripping over it, but that seems so laughable it’s hard to even retype it).

Any ideas how other condo associations deal with mini-split a/c compressors either on the roof or in non-landscaped, back alley space? Suggestions on how to present the value of mini-split a/c (more efficient, cheaper, better functioning and quieter than window units) to our board? Thanks for your advice!

Mister Condo replies:

C.L., “we’ve always done it that way” is a very common response to proposals from unit owners as to why their request is denied. Additionally, the Board has to deal with future requests that will cite your variance as an example of why they need to approve further modifications. It is a sticky wicket at best and the Board is well within its rights to refuse any building modification that wasn’t part of the original specification of the property, meaning technologically advanced and advantageous upgrades such as your mini-split A/C compressor will very likely be rejected by the Board. Not because it isn’t useful or chock full of benefits but because it causes a change to the architectural look and feel of the association. That is a Pandora’s Box the Board is wise to avoid unless they want to deal with other such requests in the future. I have no data to share regarding how other Boards handle similar requests but I will say that it does depend on the mood and composition of the Board. In other words, if you have tried and true Board members who are used to saying “No” to requests that modify the look of the association, I wouldn’t expect them to suddenly start singing a different tune. If there are enough owners who agree with your proposal, it may mean getting them on to the Board where they can do something about it. Understand this, though, while your proposal seems harmless enough and will yield cost saving and other benefits, that is not the duty of the Board. There charge is to protect and maintain the association. Enhancements are often the hardest thing to sell to the Board. Enhancements that change the look or use of common elements are often defeated. Good luck!

Homeschooling Condo Unit Owner Seeks to Add Garage Window

A.R. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I want to add a window in the garage because I homeschool my kids and is too hot inside for them.

Mister Condo replies:

A.R., I appreciate your desire to provide a window for your children as you feel it would help cool your garage, which I gather you are using as a classroom for homeschooling purposes. However, adding items like windows falls squarely under the governance authority of the Board who has to consider the architectural compliance issues that allowing you to do so may create. If you are allowed to add a window to a garage, theoretically all unit owners who asked for the same modification would have to be allowed. That creates a potential nightmare for the Board, who has a duty to keep the community looking in a uniform fashion. You can certainly ask but please respect the decision of the Board in this matter. It isn’t as simple granting your request to assist with your homeschooling efforts; the decision has far-reaching consequences. All the best!

Blowback from Adding an External Vent to a Condo Unit

K.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am on the second floor of a two-story condominium. I am in the process of planning a kitchen renovation, and as part of the project I would like to have an externally-vented exhaust fan. The range hood that I currently have simply blows the air back into the room, but I had assumed that I could connect it externally if I wanted to. I have been informed that to vent it to the roof I will need the Board’s permission and I may also need to file an “obligation to maintain” with the County so that I would be responsible for any future issues (eg. leaks).  Also, I currently have an externally-vented bathroom exhaust fan, so I don’t see why this would be treated any differently. My questions: Aren’t externally-vented kitchen exhaust fans required by code? Wouldn’t a non-externally vented fan create health & safety concerns? Are there any legal considerations if they deny my request?

Mister Condo replies:

K.R., generally speaking, all modifications to your unit are subject to Board approval. Anything that you are doing that modifies any common element is strictly under the Board’s control and installing an externally-vented exhaust fam for your kitchen will most certainly require their approval. Be sure to get all the approvals needed BEFORE starting your project because the Board can force you to remove the installation if they do not approve which can cost you dearly. I am not an expert on HVAC or ventilation issues but I do know that exhaust fans that vent internally and clean the air via filter are fairly common in many condos. That doesn’t help with your odor issue if you are cooking but the filtration system does help. My guess is that the condo unit was built to the code at the time for exhaust fans. If that code did not call for external ventilation, there was no foul on the part of the developer. If current code does call for that kind of ventilation, that could be used in your argument to persuade the Board to allow it now. That being said, ask politely and hope for a good outcome. Don’t be surprised if the request is denied. If they approve your installation, they are opening themselves up to others and then there becomes a whole new issue of external vent conformity and maintenance. Good luck!

Condo Exterior Modification Sought

J.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I serve on the Board of our Condo Association. Recently, an owner has requested approval for exterior remodeling. Our condos are townhouses that are attached. The request entails adding a window to a basement that must provide legal egress. We, as an association, desire to approve the remodel but do not want the resulting remodel to create expenses, now or future, for the Association. We desire a generic form that provides ease of defining who is responsible for what. We desire as well to be able to provide documentation of the definition of who is responsible for what to a future owner. Does such a form exist? Thank you for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

J.A., I do not know of any such form in my library but I have seen some at Property Management companies that deal with such issues. Have you asked your own property manager? I found one you might wish to look at here: http://quality1propertymanagement.com/Bishops%20Bequest%20Architectural%20Change%20Form.pdf I commend your Board for trying to accommodate the request but you are also correct in stating the concern about future expenses being passed to the association because of this modification. Even if the Board likes the proposal from the homeowner and there are no concerns from neighbors, the future impact on the association must be considered and is a valid reason to deny the request. For the most part, condo buyers know what they are getting when they purchase. In fact, the uniformity of exterior appearance is usually a strong selling point for condo buyers. They are buying a good-looking unit within a community of similar, if not identical, units. When the Board starts approving exterior changes, that uniformity can be compromised. If new materials are introduced (fiberglass instead of wood, stone instead of brick, etc.) that uniformity can be lost. Also, new building materials may not age the same as previous materials, creating an issue when future maintenance is needed. I am not saying that the modification cannot occur or that it should be denied because of these issues, I am only saying that the Board needs to fully understand that it has an important role in maintaining architectural compliance standards. If it approved any exterior building changes, it should do so judiciously. All the best!

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.

Condo Owner Makes Deposit on Unapproved Replacement Windows

mc_horrified

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.