Category Archives: Communications

Questionable Dialogue Deleted from Condo Association Board Meeting Recording

J.J. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I serve on the Board of Directors as Vice President of a Florida condominium. Recently, the Secretary of the Board relayed via email that she had deliberately removed from tape dialogue between the President and Property Manager during a board meeting. Is this an illegal or actionable matter?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., since I am not an attorney, I cannot offer you legal advice in this column. You should speak with a qualified community association attorney in your state (there are many!) for a legal answer. Let me offer some friendly advice instead. Do you know what kind of statements were deleted? For instance, “How about that Marlins game last night?” and the associated banter that accompanies such a statement is hardly scandalous or of interest to the association. Even off the cuff remarks about anything other than association business are hardly of interest to unit owners or other Board Members. If the dialogue was specifically about association business and you suspect foul play is going on, you should certainly speak to an attorney and describe what you know to have happened. Presumably, you were at the Board Meeting and know what was said. Minutes of Board meetings are the official record of what happened. Motions, votes, and so on. If it isn’t in the Minutes, it never happened. If you suspect foul play, take action. If not, let it go, and keep an eye on the situation. If this is an ongoing problem, there may be more to it than meets the eye. All the best!

Condo Owner Seeks Access to Reserve Study

G.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is the most recent Reserve Study that the BOD uses to determine owner’s monthly contribution to the HOA reserve fund one of the business documents that any owner has the right to review and/or have a copy of?

Mister Condo replies:

G.H., as a shareholder in the corporation, you have the right to review any and all official records of the association. The Reserve Study is prepared for the association at the Board’s request. Unlike Minutes of a meeting, it is not created by the association but, rather, for the Board to be used as a guide to make sure the proper level of Reserves is being collected to keep the association fiscally sound as the years go by and the common elements deteriorate. It can be argued that since it is a tool for the Board and not an actual record of the Board, it may not be freely available to association members. However, if you request a copy (at your expense), I would think most Boards would allow it. There may be a record inspection fee and there might also be a “per page” copy fee. Reserve studies can be lengthy so it could get a little pricy. Do you know what firm performed the study? You might be able to request an electronic copy of the document which would save you both time and money. If you are fully denied access to the document, you might want to speak with an attorney and see if there is any other way to compel the document from the association. I might also ask you why you need it. If you trust the sitting Board members to properly care for the association’s fiscal needs, the Reserve study is simply a tool to help them do so. Your annual budget, which you most certainly have a right to inspect, will show you what they are doing with that information. I would guess a healthy Reserve Fund contribution would be somewhere around 30% of common fees. If the Board is simply using a 10% number, then it is likely they are following FHA guidelines and not the Reserve Study. Kudos to you for paying attention. Most condo owners simply submit their common fees and hope for the best. Good luck!

Condo Developer Transition Turmoil

S.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Board does nothing. No communication, they don’t respond to our questions very well, they are not transparent when they communicate among each other (which is not too often) and my biggest beef, they refuse to fix our crumbling infrastructure (roads, outside siding, fascia boards, etc.). It’s one delay, one excuse after another and this has been going on for almost 3 years. Money is tight, they do not properly fund our community yet they are raising the dues and still operating with a negative balance. No one on the board lives here full-time and the president and one other member work for the developer. Clearly, their priorities are not in sync with the homeowners. Most residents will not say a word for fear of being the bad one or simply a case of extreme apathy. I want to round up the troops and have all the board members (well, 3 out of 4) removed. Having been the president of the association and property manager, I have plenty of experience.  I do not know what kind of reaction I will get but I do know there will be some support. Any response from you would be great and I look forward to it. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

S.C., I am sorry that your condo Board is not performing to your expectations. However, from what you have told me, the association is still under developer control so the Board truly has limited power during this time period. Once control is handed over to the association, things will change because no one will be beholden to the developer. The association governs itself and many of the items you discuss can be addressed through democratic elections of interested and able volunteers. Now, if the developer has broken covenants with the owners and you think a lawsuit is in order, you might want to discuss your situation with an attorney. However, new owners like you describe may not go along with spending money to sue the developer so you may just need to wait until the developer transition period is complete. If I have misread your letter and the developer transition is already complete, you simply need to elect new leaders for your community. You will need volunteers ready, able, and willing to serve. They will need training and support. You should also consider hiring a community association attorney verse in developer transition, and accountant, and a property manager if needed. The developer’s team was there to support the developer, not the community association. Getting the right folks in place is vitally important to your association’s success. Your local CAI Chapter can help you find the resources you need. Visit http://caict.org to learn more. Good luck!

Condo Reserve Study Reveals Major Shortage

B.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our new condo management company did a projection study. Unit owners received a letter stating that each unit will be assessed $50,000 payable over a 30-year period unless we vote to take over inside and outside of our units. Is this legal?

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., I’ve never heard of such a thing but that doesn’t make it illegal. The whole idea of a condominium association is that the association is responsible for all common elements, which includes the exterior of the buildings. Individual unit owners do not own the building exteriors so they are not directly responsible for the care and upkeep of them. I say “not directly” because unit owners do have to do two things to make sure their properties are well maintained. The first is to pay their common fees on time. Common fees are the lifeblood of the association and include a contribution to the Reserve Fund, which is where the money to maintain the common elements should eventually come from. Second, and equally important is that unit owners need to elect responsible folks to govern their association. The Board is directly responsible for overseeing the upkeep of the association. They typically do so by hiring outside contractors and management companies to implement this duty but they are the ones representing the association in all matters regarding maintenance and preservation of the association’s common elements. Your governance documents clearly spell out the duties of the association with regards to common elements. If I had to guess, I would say that the communication you received is not properly communicating the message of a Reserve Fund contribution. $50K contribution over 30 years is a little less than $140 per month. Without knowing the amount of assets your association needs to maintain, I would say that is not an unreasonable number for monthly Reserve Fund contributions. I would hope that your association is already collecting these Reserves as part of your monthly common fees. If not, this letter may have been meant to serve as a warning that there is going to be an increase to your common fees to cover the necessary Reserve Fund contribution needed to maintain the community. The “projection study” conducted by the management company may have actually been a “Reserve Study” and they are simply conveying the results of the study. Either way, your association needs to build a healthy Reserve Fund so future repairs can be afforded. Every single common element is aging as we speak. Money needs to be collected today for those replacement projects tomorrow. All the best!

HOA Bills Unit Owner for Repair Team’s Lack of Unit Access

J.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The unit above me leaked into my garage. The owner happens to be on the Board of Directors. He is having the HOA pay for it. Now, I got a bill from HOA that my tenant was not home for them to do the work.

Mister Condo replies:

J.C., well this is certainly a series of unfortunate events. I am sorry for your troubles. Typically, the association carries insurance for damage caused by your fellow unit owners. The fact that this unit owner serves on the Board of Directors is irrelevant unless you are alleging wrongdoing on the part of the Director. From what you have told me, I do not see any wrongdoing here. The Director is also a unit owner and protected by the same association insurance that you are. The HOA dispatched a repair operation to your unit, which is what they are supposed to do. Was their communication between the HOA, the repair firm, and you or your tenant? If so, and your tenant agreed to be home when the repair team was dispatched yet failed to be there, I can see where the HOA would assess a fee to you for the cost of the repair team not being allowed access to your unit. If there was no communication that a repair team was coming and they are still charging you, I would challenge that fee and maybe even speak to an attorney about the fee to see if it is something you could sue over. Chances are the amount in question is too small to sue over. The bottom line is that you want the repairs to your unit made so work with your HOA to make sure that happens. If your tenant can’t be there, you may have to be there yourself to make sure the repair team has access. All the best!

Condo Board Should Perform Property Manager Review

J.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am new to our condominium board. The previous board never reviewed our property management company. I would like to do that on an annual basis – to assess their work and performance for the year. Do you have any suggestions as to how to do that (quantitative, qualitative) and who should do it (Board only, homeowners)? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., reviewing the work and services of every vendor employed by the association is a great idea. The Property Management Company is just that – another vendor. However, unlike other vendors who perform work and leave, the Property Manager is with the association 24/7, 365 days per year. Generally speaking, if the Board is unhappy with the work or the price paid for the service, it is known immediately. Also, Property Managers have contracts, usually for multiple years. These are not easily broken unless clauses have been violated. If you were to review a management company at Year 2 of a 5-year contract and determine you were unhappy, you couldn’t simply break the contract without consequences. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t review the work, just understand that you have limited options to remedy any dissatisfaction until the contract is up for renewal. The best review I know of is to pull out the management contract and assign a grade system for each of the functions that the Property Management firm is responsible for. Typically, that would include accounting and bookkeeping, customer service, and service to the Board. Additionally, many property management firms also handle interactions with vendors and contractors, and may even provide certain other property management services such as landscaping, snow and trash removal, handyman work, etc. While you may seek feedback from homeowners, the Property Manager works for the Board. The Board would be the appropriate group to review the work. Good luck!

Providing a Copy of Condo Lease Agreement is S.O.P.

G.D. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My question is “Are we, as owners, required to give a copy of our lease agreement with a tenant and her Social Services information to the board?” It’s not a co-op. We own our unit and I feel her information is not their business. Am I right? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

G.D., I do not think that you are correct in this matter. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in New York community association law. For a legal opinion, kindly consult with a locally qualified attorney. As a general rule, the Board of any common interest community has a right and a need to know who is living in their buildings. There are generally rules on leasing that require a unit owner who is leasing their unit(s) to provide a copy of the lease with all parties named to the Board or managing agent so that there is a record of who does and doesn’t belong on the property. There are sometimes restrictions on the use of common amenities on leased units as well and the lease is the legal document that may allow a tenant to use things like a workout room or community pool or clubhouse. The lease may also restrict the owner of the unit from using these same amenities during the time that the lease is in effect. There are also insurance issues, emergency contact issues, and more that require copy of the lease to be in the Board or managing agent’s possession. There are also restrictions on short-term rentals or AirBnB type arrangements. Providing a copy of the lease also shows that you are not in violation of the covenants you agreed to when you purchased. Finally, there are many common interest communities that place a cap or limit on the number of units available for lease at any given time. By providing a copy of the lease, you are demonstrating that you are not in violation of these provisions as well. If you find that the Board or managing agent has used any of the information in the lease in an inappropriate manner, you may have recourse. Other than that, providing a copy of the lease is really in the best interest of you, your tenant, and the association. Good luck!

Condo Sale Hampered by Board President

J.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently entered a contract to sell my condo. After a week of being under contract, the president of the board has mentioned something about blocking my sale due to my partially finished basement. The basement was finished much like others in my building, but I don’t have a second form of egress. I spoke to the town building inspector about this when I did the work and he mentioned that as long as I did not deem this livable space, or make it a bedroom, or damage the structural integrity of the building, it was not an issue. The president mentioned to my real estate agent that I may be forced to tear it out. Can the association legally block a sale due to this or make me demo the work I did?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., it doesn’t sound to me that the Board has actually blocked the sale as much as cast a doubt as to whether or not the sale should proceed by giving the realtor a heads up about a potential problem. What the realtor does with that information is out of the control of the Board. You mentioned speaking to a town Building Inspector at the time you made the installation. I don’t suppose you got something in writing from him, did you? That would make this “problem” magically go away. Without a certificate of some sort, it would appear there is a grey area surrounding your basement make over. If a different building inspector came out and inspected your property, what would the outcome be? Can you be certain that the lack of egress wouldn’t halt a sale? I agree with you that the Board may be overstepping by alerting the realtor to the potential problem. However, once the sale is complete and you are out of the picture, the new homeowner may have a problem. Problems for owners often become problems for the Board. I don’t agree with the tactic but I understand the sentiment. You may be able to solve this issue by asking the Building Inspector to come to your unit now and issue a letter that states that your basement makeover is, in fact, acceptable as is. That will give you and your realtor the confidence to sell your unit knowing the new owner (and the Board) will not have a problem. 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!

Small Condo Governance Issues

R.G. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We live in a three-unit condo. One unit is held in a Trust and the President resides in this unit along with his adult son. Our governing documents dictate that one person from each unit is the “director” and is allowed one vote. My spouse is the secretary and we are told by the President that, therefore, I am not allowed to vote, only my spouse is. My first question is does this right to vote change from meeting to meeting? Or does the same person always vote? The son, who is a resident only, conducts the meetings, directs the contractors, is rude at meetings and also makes impromptu decisions that everyone is afraid to challenge. My second question is what rights does he have as a resident? Can he speak up at meetings? Can he tell other unit owners what to do? How would one go about this situation without hiring an attorney? Our personal situation does not allow us to move, although it is an obvious solution.

Mister Condo replies:

R.G., smaller associations like yours have all of the same rules and regulations found inside their governing documents as larger associations have. Without hiring an attorney, you should give a good read to your documents and pay particular attention to rules on voting and representation at meetings. One vote per unit is common but many times any owner of a unit can speak, just not vote. If your wife is acting as Secretary and therefore a voting Board member, you may be limited to attendance only at these meetings as she is the voting party for your unit. Whatever the documents dictate is what should be followed. It shouldn’t change meeting to meeting although there may be times when a souse cannot attend so the other spouse would have the duty and ability to vote. The same is true for your directors. Do the governing documents dictate who can serve on the Board? Unit owners only? If so, the son cannot run the meetings or serve as President. If not, no harm, no foul. If you don’t challenge any of his decisions, guess what? He will keep making those decisions. Rudeness says more about him than you but that can be pretty annoying. If his momma didn’t teach him to be polite, there isn’t too much you or I can do to help him. I realize that hiring an attorney may seem too expensive and I don’t think that you will need to if you study your documents and arm yourself with information. Sometimes the threat of a lawsuit is as powerful as a lawsuit. If he does anything too outrageous, let him know you are consulting with an attorney to question his decisions. If that doesn’t get his attention, then it may be time to actually hire the attorney. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!