Category Archives: Architectural Compliance

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

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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.

Informing Unit Owners of Air Conditioner Rule Violations

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R.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I need a suggestion for the wording of a letter to residents of my condominium to remove illegal installation of air conditioners.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., thanks for writing. I am assuming that your association has rules that either prohibit or restrict air conditioners and some unit owners have disobeyed the rules and you would like to send out a notice of some sort reminding them that they need to obey the rules and remove any air conditioners that are in violation of the association’s rules. Here goes:

Dear Unit Owner or Resident,

It has come to the attention of the Board at XYZ Condominium Association that several units are exhibiting air conditioners installations that are not allowed as per our association rules. In particular, Rule 16, Paragraph a, which reads, “no unit owner shall install any type of portable air conditioning unit in a window of any unit”. Quite simply window mounted air conditioners are not allowed here and the Board is requesting their immediate removal. Failure to remove these unapproved air conditioners will result in a summons to appear before the Board and a daily fine of $XX as outlined in our association rules.

If you are one of the majority of unit owners who do not have a window-mounted air conditioner is place, thank you for obeying the rules. If you do have one, kindly remove it immediately to avoid further action. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely Yours,

The Board of XYZ Condominium Association

Hope that helps, R.M.. Good luck!

Adding a Greenhouse to a Condo Unit

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D.W. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am requesting our condominium board’s permission to build a “greenhouse” type outdoor structure to be able to go outside in the winter. I am planning to get all necessary building permissions from my town. Are there any legal or other considerations I should be aware off before getting a board approval? Also, what could be board’s concerns debating to give me an approval for building this external structure? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

D.W., while I wish you well in your quest for an outdoor structure to improve your condo living space and add extra value to your unit, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Board denies your request based on architectural compliance guidelines that they need to enforce for each and every unit within your association. Variance from the original plan can create a myriad of problems for the association. My first question to you is are there other such modifications within the association? Has a style and type of such modification been previously approved? If either of these conditions are true, you might persuade the Board to allow your modification. If no such modifications have been previously approved, I would think yours will likely be denied. This issue for the Board is maintaining the property’s external looks as is. For instance, who will be responsible for the maintenance of your addition? What if you sell your unit and a new owner lets it fall into disrepair? How will having a “greenhouse” type addition on just one unit in the complex effect the overall appearance of the complex? If they approve your addition, how will it affect their ability to prevent another unit owner from adding the adobe hut to the back of their unit? That last one was a bit facetious but I think you catch my gist. Condominiums are built and presented “as is” and the governance documents usually have specific language prohibiting additions such as you are proposing without architectural approval from the Board. In my experience, most Boards are far-thinking enough to deny these requests as they often create more problems than they solve. As I opened, I wish you good luck but my expectations are that your request may be denied.

Condo Board Dictates Windows at Owner’s Expense

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J.E. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Why does the condo board dictate window type if the individual homeowner is responsible for windows but not their siding or roof?

Mister Condo replies:

J.E., the reason is architectural compliance and it is a bone of contention between unit owners and the Boards of Directors that govern condominium, coops, timeshares, and other common interest communities. Siding and roofing are generally common elements that are maintained by the association. You couldn’t maintain them on your own if you wanted to as you don’t own them. Windows are often another matter and are one of the few items that are visible from the building’s exterior that are owned and maintained by the unit owner. There are exceptions and some condominiums consider windows as common elements. Clearly, that is not the case where you live. The concept of architectural compliance is fairly straightforward. It is the tool of the association that keep all units uniform in appearance. This is important for aesthetics, curb appeal, and keeping the integrity of the property. If unit owners decided to change their window styles or colors and the Board did not have the power of architectural compliance to help them govern the association you can see where many problems could occur. Everything from deck stain to front door color to replacement windows need to be approved by the Board before the installation occurs. Otherwise, the Board would have little choice but to enforce the standard after the fact, which can get quite pricy for unit owners. Hope that helps!

Knock, Knock! HOA Says the Townhouse Door Needs to Go!

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M.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I purchased a townhouse in October of 2014. I got a letter in the mail today stating that my front door is not in compliance with the CC&Rs and that I need to purchase and install a door that meets specs. The door on the unit was in place when I purchased the it and likely here since the 1990’s given the dated style. Do I have a reasonable argument to keep the door or am I stuck paying for a new one?

Mister Condo replies:

M.W., it really depends on what type of a unit owner you wish to be. If your door is out of compliance with the rules and regulations of the association, then the association has every right to ask you to comply, regardless of what the door looked like when you took possession of the unit. Since the door may have been in place more than 20 years, you may have a case to claim the HOA took too long to enforce the code but that is dependent on which state you live in as not all states allow for this. Finally, if the door is 20 years old or older, it may be time for a new door any way. I always advise folks to choose their battles wisely. Would you rather spend your money fighting to keep the old door or simply paying for a brand new door that will look great, provide years of performance, and keep everyone happy. I know which one I would do. Good luck!