Category Archives: Construction Defects

Board Sides with Condo Glass Door Installer Who Did a Poor Job!

S.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My complex is in the process of installing new windows and sliding glass doors. Mine were installed last Friday. Since then, I have a humming in my bedroom that is loud enough to keep me awake at night. I’ve contacted the installers; they insist nothing is wrong. I’ve contacted the complex and they are siding with the installers. I’ve spoken to an independent contractor who says this noise is caused by either the window not seated correctly or the panes not fitted properly. It is the installers responsibility to correct the problem. The complex and installers won’t budge. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

S.L., I am glad you got new sliders but I am sorry for your problem. Ideally, the Board would do the right thing and take your side in the matter and get the contractor to correct the faulty installation. If it were me, I would threaten the Board with a lawsuit to get their attention. If that doesn’t motivate them to pressure the contractor to correct the problem, I don’t know what else will. If the threat of suit doesn’t do the job, go ahead and hire an attorney and file suit. Be sure to sue for your expenses of needing to sue them as well. The Board is comprised of your elected representatives. They have no reason to not believe you when you tell them the installation was defective. Get the opinion of the independent contractor in writing and present that to the Board as well. Board members are human; they make mistakes. It is now your job to correct their mistake. All the best!

Condo Construction Defect Loan Cannot be Paid Off Early

W.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Initial construction had problems – BOD suit – went on $2.7M legal fees – won but he filed bankruptcy – urgently needed work done – BOD/Association took loan against common property – $10M – doubled condo fee – was to be provision for buyer pre-pay – never done – demand they do it. Questions: 1) Propriety of binding all condo owners to overall loan – do not allow a owner pre- pay – 2) Isn’t this unusual – As expected, large condo fee has deterred sales.

Mister Condo replies:

W.M., I am sorry for all of your new association’s problems. Construction defects can be quite expensive as can the lawsuits to chase down the developer. In this case, it looks like good money was spent chasing bad to try and recover the funds for the association. As is the case, the unit owners are left footing the bill. You would need to check your association’s governing documents to determine what authority the Board had to negotiate a loan on the part of the association and their ability to limit unit owners’ ability to pay off their portion of the loan at their discretion. You asked if it was unusual and my answer is that it is not. Most newer associations have the ability to enter into a loan agreement on behalf of the association. Depending on how they negotiated the loan, they may not have the ability to pay off the loan early, which would limit the unit owners’ ability to pay off their portion early. In my experience, that particular term of the loan would be unusual but not unheard of. You might ask the Board to refinance the loan with a lender that would allow the association to pay back the loan early if unit owners wanted to do so, However, that is easier said than done as a new loan would carry additional closing fees and costs. My advice would be to simply make your increased common fee payments until the loan is retired or ask the Board to look into refinancing the loan in a year or two, especially if loan rates stay low. Good luck!

Rattling in Ceiling Likely to be Association Responsibility

L.S. from Tolland County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo has these metal strips above my ceiling sheetrock. When the tenant above me walks around, the squeaking noise is so bad – it is unbearable. The condo association is not taking responsibility for this – it is in many of the units at the complex. Being that it is above my ceiling – wouldn’t that be considered structural? I am being told that I have to remove my ceilings – HELP

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., I am sorry for your noisy ceiling problems. Seeing as the condo association did not actually build your unit (a developer did that a long time ago in all likelihood) your squeaking was very likely a pre-existing condition to your unit before you purchased. That doesn’t make it right or better but it may explain your association’s attitude towards your noise complaint. The way I see it, you have a few options here. First off, I am not an attorney and you should very likely speak to one to see if you have a case for a structural defect that would put the association on the hook for the remediation. Since you know of several other unit owners having the same problem, you might be able to join forces and sue the association and force them to take action. They may have a lawsuit against the developer or they may have insurance that would help them pay for it. Or, they may have to issue a Special Assessment to pay for the repairs if they are found liable. Keep in mind that you and your fellow unit owners will be the ones paying for these repairs in that situation but the expense will be equally shared by all unit owners, even those unaffected by the problem. Have you looked into the cost of removing your ceilings? Will your insurance help mitigate the cost? While I am in agreement with you that this is an association problem, if it is a cheap fix, you might want to tackle it yourself just to get some peace and quiet. This isn’t ideal but may prove more practical than the cost and time of a lawsuit. Finally, your other solution would be to simply sell and move. Again, not ideal, but it gets rid of your problem. However you finally solve this this noisy problem, I wish you all the best. Good luck!

Condo Association Responsible for Pipes but not Ducts

G.C. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently had a service man at my house to clean the dryer vent ducts and he discovered that the ducts in the ceiling between the two floors of my condo were disconnected. Unfortunately, the only way to repair them is to break into the ceiling on the first floor, reconnect the ducts, and then repair/paint the ceiling. When I brought this issue before the condo board, I was informed that it was my responsibility. According to the exhibit they provided, it states that “all vents, wiring, ducts, & system components serving one unit” are the unit owner’s responsibility. My argument is that this problem occurred due to faulty construction and not due to my neglect or normal wear & tear. Coincidentally, I had a pipe burst in my coat closet in the winter of 2015, and the association assumed full responsibility in making the repairs which were quite extensive. If you review this same document under plumbing/related systems, it seems to contradict their actions in that they assumed responsibility for the repairs even though this exhibit states otherwise. Therefore, I’m perplexed as to why they’re are unwilling to do so in this situation.

Mister Condo replies:

G.C., I am not an attorney so I can only offer you a friendly opinion here. From what you have stated of your documents, you own the ductwork and, therefore, the repair of the ductwork is on you. Pipes were not listed in the statement and, typically, service multiple units and are, therefore, in common and the responsibility of the association. I do not see anything wrong in their interpretation of the documents or their handling of this repair. You may wish to consult with an attorney for a legal opinion but I think this is your issue, not the association’s. As far as the problem being a construction defect issue, you may be right but this doesn’t sound like a very expensive repair. It would be far less expensive to simply make the repair than to chase down a construction defect claim against the builder or the association. If this happened in a majority of units, I might have different advice but from what you have told me, I would simply advise you to make the repair at your cost and move on. Good luck!

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!

Condo Developer Transition Litigation Nightmare

N.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am in a large condo association that was in litigation with the developer when I purchased many years ago. We were never told of the litigation, and strangely enough had no problem getting our mortgage, which was not the case with many potential buyers from what I have been told. Over the years, the board, which is a veiled one, never fully disclosed the extent of the deficiencies until 6 years after the litigation ended. Now every member has been told we will be assessed potentially over $60,000! (They have not done bids yet for the work.) The board will not allow us to see a cost breakdown as to how the engineering company got to this amount. The property manager has also said that in times of litigation open meetings are not required even to ratify any binding action. The minutes of open meetings cannot be accessed because this management company has said anything before their time (3 management companies in 7 years) is missing. To top it off, there was a recent election in which the property manager was bad mouthing certain people running as write-ins to people just turning in their proxies. Faced with this huge looming bill, I am feel like this community is in huge trouble. I fear numerous foreclosures and the association going belly up! What can we do?!

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., I am truly sorry for your situation. The developer transition period is a unique time in an association’s history and it is a time that requires all unit owners to be wide-eyed, leery, and as well-represented as possible. I have written numerous columns on the subject which you can read by following this link: http://askmistercondo.com/?s=developer+transition

I would love to say that your situation is unique but that is hardly the case. The dollar amount in question is unusually high but I have heard of worse, especially when the transparency is lacking between the developer and unit owners. It is not too late to take corrective actions but the underlying financial damage is likely to remain and perhaps intensify if the association needs to take legal action against the developer. Here is what I would recommend you and your fellow unit owners do to protect yourselves.

First and foremost, speak with a qualified community association attorney (NOT the Developer’s Attorney!). You need legal guidance here and each state has its own version of condominium and incorporation acts that will likely come into play. Construction defect lawsuits are not uncommon, can be very expensive, and tricky to pursue. However, money invested in a construction defect lawsuit that may yield millions for the association is money well spent, in my opinion.

You need to understand which phase of developer transition your community is in. Has the developer relinquished governance of the association to the Board or is the Board only functioning as outlined in the development stage, meaning the developer still has large control of the Board? If the developer is no longer in control, different rules apply. This is another discussion to have with your community association attorney. If the Board is in full charge of governing the community, it is also likely time for a new management company as the one originally in place had the best interests of the developer in mind and not necessarily the unit owners. From what you have described, this management company is working for the developer, not the association. 3 management companies in 7 years is not a good thing. Be sure to thoroughly interview thoroughly to make sure the next management company is a better fit for the association.

Finally, consider selling before it gets any worse. This is going to be an expensive and drawn out process. If you don’t have the constitution for it, get out while you can and consider moving into another condo without these problems. Even if you talk a loss to sell your unit, you may be coming out ahead of a $60K special assessment and who knows what else if a legal battle ensues. When money is needed from a community association there is only one source: the unit owners. You might just do better to cut your losses and move on. Good luck!

Complacent Condo Owners Liable for Board’s Poor Performance

F.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I joined the board a year ago. The other board members are there for decades, not by vote but because we never reached the minimum quorum to carry out an election. After investigation, I found several flubs in the past decisions that led us to severe loss to our condominium. One of them, amounts to almost $300,000 in losses with the cost of irrigation water. The association has been paying the local utility company by the highest water rate when it should be 70% lower if they had applied with the utility company for a lower rate based on the size of our property. The lower rate was available since 2008 and it was very easy to learn about. Another issue is the roofs of our buildings. The wooden shakes were replaced in 2004 after damages caused by a hurricane. However, as I learned, the wooden shakes replacement was not done by Standard Building Code. The association did not hire an architect or engineer to guide them in the reconstruction process. As a consequence, the roofs were replaced by local contractors and are now in very bad shape, will not last much longer and the overall aspect is detrimental to our property values. Another issue is the most recent, and involves the resurfacing of our tennis court that had been in bad shape and useless for years. The association knew that the ground soil was sinking and that the soil needed to be addressed beforehand. Instead, they approved a cheap painting for $7,000. The tennis court is visibly off level. Considering the way decisions are made by the board, I am afraid that our condominium will suffer further downgrades if action is not taken to remove and replace the board members. Because of the last recession, more than 50% of our units are now rental units. It will not be an easy task to obtain signatures of 75% of all property owners to remove the board members. My question is whether a legal action to compel them to leave is a valid option.

Mister Condo replies:

F.M., I am sorry for the situation you find yourself in. I am not an attorney so I cannot offer you legal advice as to whether a legal action to compel the Board to vacate their office is a valid option. However, I will tell you that, in my opinion, it is not a valid option for the following reasons. Your association is a privately held, not for profit, corporation. The corporation was founded to govern the association and unless you can cite an explicitly illegal activity, the Board has done nothing legally incorrect. In fact, for decades, the unit owners of your association have returned them to office at Annual Meetings, where democratic elections have been held. Lack of quorum only shows that unit owners didn’t care enough to participate in the governance of their association. Shame on them for doing so as all unit owners have paid the price over and over again for their lack of attendance. If it were me, I would sell my unit and get out before any further financial damage occurred. That is an option available to you. If you wish to remain and try to effect change, you will need to seek other like-minded unit owners to run for election to the Board and get enough votes to win. If you think you have the votes/signatures to force a recall election prior to the Annual Meeting, you can certainly follow the steps on your governing documents to do so. However, with so many absentee owners, I agree with you that would be unlikely. Annual Meetings are typically your best bet for a changing of the guard. You will need to campaign for new Board Members and be sure they are ready to serve. You should reach out to resident unit owners ahead of time and write to absentee unit owners to encourage them to support these new candidates with a proxy vote. Change to association governance comes from within the association. Simply doing an inadequate job of managing the association resources isn’t enough to have Board members removed. It takes a fresh batch of candidates to unseat incumbent Board Members. And guess what? If your fellow unit owners don’t support that change, it isn’t going to happen. Good Luck!

Responsibility for Condo Construction Defect 30 Years After Developer Control

P.Z. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

During window and door replacement in my condo, built in 1988, it was discovered that there was about 18″ of insulation missing from the walls directly above the windows. It was corrected during the install of the windows. Is the association responsible to compensate me for the expense of properly insulating the space above the doors and windows? The property manager says no, but I think otherwise. What’s your take, please?

Mister Condo replies:

P.Z., in a perfect world, the missing insulation would have been the responsibility of the builder and would have been considered a building defect if uncovered back in 1988. However, that is impractical, if not impossible. In theory, the association takes over after the developer is through (the developer transition period) and assumes full responsibility for all of the common elements. The question now is whether or not the insulation is considered a common element or part of the window. I agree with you and would argue it is a common element where a building defect has been found. However, the association is likely to argue that they are not under any obligation to pay for a hidden item like this because they had no way of knowing there was an underlying defect and they have no recourse with the developer at this late date. That brings us to the practical element of this repair. I can’t imagine it was very expensive. Do you really want to complicate matters by suing the association for the repair? If the dollars justify a lawsuit and/or you feel strongly on this matter, you should speak to a locally qualified attorney to see if you have a case, or you may bring the matter to Small Claims court depending on the dollar amount. If it was $500 or less to insulate the area around the window, I think I would just pay it and move on. The culprit was the developer back in 1988. He made a mistake and was never held accountable for it during the time when he could have been. All the best!

Developer Delivers New Condo Unit with Clogged Toilet Lines

F.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought my condo in a development which is still under construction. I closed on and occupied the unit in October 2015. I have had ongoing issues with the toilet in my unit (there are 2 bathrooms, the other toilet is in proper working order). The builder/seller has replaced the toilet, had a “camera guy” inspect (contractor of his choosing) and claims there are no visible issues. In the meantime, the toilet still clogs at least once a week and the flush is hardly ever smooth (lots of non-normal sounding water flow). My question is about what my options are other than continuing to work through the builder and the contractors of his choosing, if any, since the condo is still clearly under warranty. I do not want to pay for service/repair that is clearly some form of issue with the plumbing from the beginning. However, I also do not want to void any warranty. The builder is not wanting to take responsibility for this or other issues that have been raised since I moved in (paint and other accommodations). Because the development is still building new units, the condo association is still under his control. This is a new experience for me so I want to be sure I handle it properly.

Mister Condo replies:

F.M., the developer control period of a condominium is an exciting time as construction is ongoing and brand new units like yours appear and the association takes on new life, new common areas, and new amenities. The developer’s primary job is to get the units built and sold at a profit. That often means saving pennies wherever possible. In your case, that may be with the plumbing that is causing an ongoing toilet clogging issue. You are wise not to attempt any repair on your own because you would void any warranty between you and the builder. Unless you are willing to undergo the expense of hiring an attorney to possibly bring suit against the developer for a possible construction defect claim, there is little else you can do. There is no association to complain to and this would not typically fall under the association’s responsibility. You may be able to hire your own plumbing or building inspector to get a second opinion but, even if you do, you will likely need legal guidance to assist if a defect claim is warranted. Speaking with an attorney to determine your rights is my best advice. During that conversation, bring up any other construction defect issues you are experiencing. Good luck!

Crumbling Homes in a Crumbling HOA

mc_horrified

D.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Thank you for your article. I have a townhome that was built substandard, now have both foundation and structural damages. Old HOA Board was kicked out by new Board. Old HOA had committed fraud and embezzlement. New HOA has moved on. They hired an engineer but will not fix or file charges. I have now put close to $140,000 into home and been declined modifications due to damages. Now disabled, I am about to be homeless. I have reported all this to state and federal authorities since years ago. Answer has been it would take $25,000 up to hire attorney with no guarantee of satisfaction. I have prayed for help and have none. What can be done here for justice? I’m now with other owners with no answers and nowhere to turn. What can be done?

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., I am truly sorry for your problems. While I do not know all of the circumstances surrounding your HOA’s plight, your story is not unique. Purchasing into an HOA is an agreement to enter into a business. In addition to purchasing your living space, you are essentially becoming a stockholder in a corporation. In this case, it would appear to have been a poorly run corporation with many, many issues. I am not sure how many of these issues were apparent when you decided to purchase but now that they have surfaced, you are wise to seek legal help. I would not seek modifications for such a property if it were me because it would appear that between foundation and structural damages you have described you may very likely be putting money into a bad investment. You have mentioned a changing of the guard with regards to the HOA Board. However, you have also indicated that the new HOA Board isn’t doing enough to remedy the situation. You must find competent volunteers from within the ranks of the HOA members to guide the association through the turmoil. It may take lawyers, court cases and a lot of legal expense (passed down to homeowners like yourself) to get through this quagmire but it is necessary if the association is to get back on track. Support interested volunteers for the Board and do not reelect ineffective leaders. If the association does not get back on track, it is very likely to fold under its own weight. Unit owners can only bear so much expense before they become upside down in their homes and bank foreclosures loom. I can’t promise you a rosy future at this HOA but, form what you have told me, it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Good luck!