Category Archives: Architectural Compliance

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!

Shedding Some Light on Condo Solar Panels

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L.S. from Tolland County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the legality on solar panels for condominiums and their by-laws?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., as you know, I am not an attorney so I cannot offer any legal advice in this column. For a legal opinion, kindly consult with a qualified attorney in your area. As far as I know, condominiums in our state are free to adopt their own policies on solar panels and whether or not to allow or disallow their installation by individual unit owners within the association. The real issue here is architectural conformity and the long-term maintenance of the solar panels. If Unit Owner A get them and Unit Owner B doesn’t get them, their condo roof starts looking irregular and can become a real eyesore. If a unit owner who has installed solar panels sells his unit and the new unit owner doesn’t properly maintain the panels, you have a whole other problem. Also, there can be issues with metering and submetering of individual units with regards to their personal consumption of electricity. For these and other reasons, it is not uncommon for a condo association Board to simply disallow solar panel installation. That being said, states like California, Colorado, and Hawaii have laws that actually prevent an association from banning solar panels. Can Connecticut be far behind? Only time will tell, L.S. Thanks for the question!

Condo Board Requests Removal of 40-Year-Old Decorative Gates

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B.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have had decorative gates on my front door for 40 years. Does the condo board now have the right to force me to remove them?

Mister Condo replies:

B.S., the decorative front gates that have adorned your condo for the past 40 years fall under the guidelines for architectural compliance for your association. Enforcement of the architectural compliance guidelines falls under the jurisdiction of the Board so, technically, the Board has the right to “force” you to comply with guidelines that you agreed to abide by when you purchased a unit within the condo association. However, since these guidelines have not been enforced for 40 years, you may have protections outside the condominium’s rules and regulations. In California, for instance, the courts have held that associations have 5 years from the date the violation was discovered or should have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence to enforce the rules. If you live in California, I would think you could successfully argue your decorative gate has been in clear sight for more than 5 years! You should speak with an attorney knowledgeable of community association laws in your state to see what rights you have to keep your gates. If you have no additional protections, you may have to succumb to the rules of the association if the Board chooses to enforce them. Good luck!

Claws Out Over HOA Cat Enclosure!

 

mc_horrifiedJ.M. from North Carolina writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We wanted to allow our HOA-legal indoor cats onto the porch. I scoured the governing docs for regulations. Nothing. I put up nylon deer netting, almost invisible, to contain the cats. All was well until an election installed a new HOA President. He made people remove chicken wire from porches, citing an “unsightly” clause in our docs. Now, I’ve received a violation letter for the netting. It says it is a health hazard and unsightly. There is no definition of “unsightly” in the docs. There is no clause that the Board has the right to define it. The violation letter also doesn’t meet the criteria that is clearly spelled out in the docs for what must be contained in a violation letter. The HOA President has given me a 4-day timeframe to remove the netting, also against what it says in the docs. When the HOA contacts me again, I plan to tell them they are not empowered to do anything until they present a violation letter that meets the criteria set forth in the governing docs, then I have “not less than 10 days” to contest in writing, then a hearing date must be set. In the mean time, I’ve gotten statements from the Town Fire Chief and County Health Department stating that the netting does not present a health risk. At my eventual hearing, I plan to debunk the “unhealthy” part of the complaint with the letters and ask for records of complaints by other owners, names expunged, against my unit porch for being “unsightly.” (There aren’t any.) I have asked the HOA for a solution that allows my cats on the porch, without assaulting their sensibilities. Crickets. What else can I do? Who gets to decide the definition of “unsightly” when one isn’t in the governing docs and the HOA is not specifically empowered to define it?

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., it sounds like you took a reasonable approach in setting up a suitable area for you and your cats to enjoy some outdoor time for you and your cats. However, the netting is being attached to a building exterior and, as such, may be subject to compliance with your HOAs rules on architectural modifications. That being said, your letter states that the Board is choosing to go with a questionable “unsightly” clause in your documents that you say doesn’t even exist. Further, the Board is not observing due process and appears to be making it up as they go. This is unfortunate for all involved.

Needless to say, you have rights as defined in your HOA documents and further in state law. Should it come to a civil suit where you bring charges against your Board, you would likely win. However, that doesn’t prevent the Board from coming back at you with a violation of architectural compliance, which they would likely prevail. The bottom line is that the Board is the ultimate authority for enforcement of the HOA’s rules and regulations but they do need to play by the rules when it comes to enforcing violations. I do not believe in this instance they have done so but that doesn’t mean things will be easy for you. If they persist in their line of attack, you may need to seek counsel and bring a suit against the Board to simply enjoy some outdoor time with your cats. At some point, the cost of remedy may outweigh the reward of winning. All the best!

PUD Owner Denied Solar Power Access

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B.N. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a Planned Unit Development (PUD). We have electric heat which is very expensive. Solar panels were brought up to the board members months back. They said that they would check into it. We never heard anything back. Nothing in writing. So I place a call and I am told that one attorney approved the panels and one didn’t. This was not disclosed to us in writing, nor have the bylaws been amended. There is one homeowner that has them supposedly illegal. My question is if I have any recourse. I really need a less expensive way to heat my home!

Mister Condo replies:

B.N., PUDs are no different than condominiums or other HOAs when it comes to the Board’s governance of the association and its adherence to architectural compliance, which is where the solar panel discussion usually goes. The Board argues that the governing documents call for no exterior modification to the common elements while the unit owners inquire about their “right” to install solar panels. The reality is that the association has the ability to modify their architectural guidelines to allow solar panels but many choose not to because they are concerned about the potential eyesore of solar panels and their potential neglect over time. I am not sure why or how the attorneys were involved in this process but it appears that they did not reach a consensus on whether or not the association could even approve their use, let alone modify the governance documents that would allow their installation. Until or unless the state law changes that would supersede your governance documents, the Board has every right to prevent their installation. Also, the Board has every right to go after any individual unit owner for installing them and force their removal at the unit owner’s expense. The units were constructed with electric heating in place. Unit owners, including you, knew that when you purchased your unit. Your need for a less expensive way to heat your home is very likely to go unfulfilled at this PUD. If the cost of electric heat is that burdensome, you may wish to consider moving to a community that allows solar panels. All the best!