Category Archives: Financial

Condo Association Not Paying Bills!

H.F. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Help! My condo association is not paying its bills! What can be done?

Mister Condo replies:

H.F., that is shocking! If your condo association is unable to pay its bills, it is likely a sign of a very large problem. The annual budget should take into account all of the likely expenses for the year and offset that expense with common fees and assessments if needed. If many unit owners default on their common fee or assessment payments, the association could find itself out of money when the bills come due. That can lead to many problems for the association, especially if a vendor sues the association. A court of law could order the association into receivership, where a court-appointed receiver (usually an attorney) takes over the finances of the association and will issue assessments and take other actions to get the association back on solid financial footing. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Ask to see the books of the association and see if you can figure out what has gone wrong. Encourage the Board to raise the funds they need to pay their bills. The alternatives are dire. Good luck!

Condo Owner Seeks Association Employee Salary Info

D.U. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo owner demand or file freedom of information form to see how much the maintenance people are paid, that work for the management company? Their salaries are set by the condo association in their budget. I know they are paid well and receiving hefty bonus payments twice a year.

Mister Condo replies:

D.U., This is a question I get quite often. You can see some of my previous replies here: http://askmistercondo.com/?s=salaries I can understand your curiosity about how much employees of the association are making, especially since their salaries are paid by you and your fellow unit owner through your common fee contributions. However, I would liken it to the same way your tax dollars pay for municipal employees. Just as municipal employees are employed by the city, association employees are employed by the association and under the purview of the Board. You do have access to the budget, which details certain expenses of the association, including salaries and benefits. Your democratically elected Board of Directors is keeping an eye on the details for you and they do know what the employees are making, including bonuses. They most likely have their reasons for doing so (competitive pay, rewards for work done, etc). You can ask for these records but unless your documents specifically give you the power to review individual salaries, I doubt you will get it. May I ask what you will do with that information? As a unit owner, you have no power to pay employees less or alter their bonuses. If you have an issue with how the Board is handling the salaries and bonuses, you should take it up with them. Ask them how they decide when to offer bonuses. If you are satisfied with their answers, you’re all set. If you don’t like their answers, you are free to vote for other candidates for the Board or run for the Board yourself. I hope that helps.

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!

Who Owns the Carpeting on a Carpeted Condo Balcony?

L.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association installed carpeting on balconies many years prior to my purchasing my unit. The association is now requiring the carpet be removed at my expense. I claim that I did not install the carpet therefore I am not responsible for its removal.

Mister Condo replies:

L.B., that is an interesting quagmire you find yourself in. Are you certain of the carpet installation history? Balconies are typically limited common elements for the use of the unit owner who has exclusive use of the balcony. If that is the case, the Board may feel as though individual unit owners are responsible for the carpet maintenance as it is for the limited use of the unit owner, in this case, you. Your claim that you did not install the carpet may be true but you really need to find out who owns the carpet. If the association owns it, then they are responsible for the upkeep. If it was installed by a previous unit owner or by the association but at a previous unit owner’s request or expense, then it is quite possible that the Board is correct. However, it is worth your time in getting a straight answer. Ask to see the records from when the carpet was originally installed. See if you can’t find definitive proof of who owns the carpet. Good luck!

Apartment to Condo; Now Back to Apartment

N.P. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We bought a condo in 2010 in a large apartment complex that was going condo right when the recession hit. It was an investment and we rent it out. Not many condos were sold, the prices never dropped in the recession. Even now many (not sure how many) of the units are still rented out by the developer. Now we have received a letter saying that the developer wants to buy back our unit and NOT be a condo development. The letter is friendly, and says nothing about what happens if we don’t want to sell. We’ve had one tenant in there this entire time (with different roommates) and been very happy with this investment. Do you know what the laws are regarding this situation?

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., dissolution of condominiums varies from state to state. Just as when the project filed to become a condo, a new filing will be made to dissolve it. I am not familiar with the specifics of Illinois law regarding the dissolution of a condo but I imagine it is similar to other states. Typically, unless court ordered (which happens when an association fails or defaults), a petitioner sends in the required paperwork to dissolve the association. There is usually a majority or full 100% agreement required by all with an interest in the association. That can include mortgage holders as well as unit owners. This is a very legal action and you will most certainly wish to hire an attorney to guide you.

I found this link on dissolution of non-profit corporations in your state to be of use: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?DocName=080501050HArt%2E+12&ActID=2280&ChapterID=65&SeqStart=10900000&SeqEnd=12900000

I can see where the developer wants to stop the bleeding and the polite letter was likely an opening attempt to gauge your interest. The reality is that if there are many unsold units in the condo, it may fail due to lack of funds from common fees to pay expenses. If that happens, you could see a creditor sue the association and have a judge dissolve the association or put it in receivership. You don’t want that as that could be quite costly for all involved. If the developer wants to convert back to apartments, you should look into how best to protect your investment. It is likely that a smooth transition could actually help you out in the long run. Good luck!

HOA Board Ain’t Fixin’ Nuttin!

R.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

4 months ago, I purchased a duplex which has 3 buildings and 6 owners. I had a hard time getting documents during the sale and did not understand the dynamics involved. The first email I got from the treasurer was on the day the fees were due. Our first meeting when I met the other owners was a nightmare. The president has been in position for 20 years and has Alzheimer’s so her daughter had appointed herself to the position. The treasurer was appointed by her, not vote, and the secretary had been behind 6 months in fees which they were trying to cover up. When I brought up concerns about the outside of our building, I was yelled at by the President’s son-in-law and told “we ain’t fixing nuttin, we got no money!” Then my neighbor brought up a repair not done properly and he stood up screaming and swearing at her and everyone started fighting. I asked for the bylaws and I was told by the president to find them myself. She doesn’t have them.

A few weeks ago, the fascia that needed repair was hanging off of my roof. I called the president and son in law started screaming and threatening me and said we have no money to fix it. I mentioned the Reserves that we should have had when I moved in, and both him and the treasurer admitted it was fudged to make the sale happen and accused my realtor of fraud. I had her call them and the next day the son-in-law apologized and paid out of pocket to have the fascia repaired.

They had previously called a special meeting to discuss the budget so I told them I did not want the son-in-law there as he has no business there; they agreed. The meeting started off ok until we brought up questions about missing payments from a couple of owners. We started getting bullied again. When the argument was brought up about the fascia I defended myself telling what the son-in-law said to me. He came running down the stairs screaming and swearing and threatening me again and threw me out of his mother-in-law’s house. I called the police.

I want to have the President, Treasurer, and Secretary removed by law for keeping false books, hostile environment, favoritism, harassment and negligence. If I have solid proof (which I do), will I be able to charge the association for the attorney since it’s in the best interest of the owners? It’s the board who caused all of these problems.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., your tale of woe reads like a comedy of errors. I am glad you got your fascia replaced but the rest of this tale is a nightmare! This is a small homeowner’s association (6 units if I understood your opening statement). Small associations face the same challenges as larger associations but have far fewer resources to handle the issues. A functioning Board is a good start but there are legal remedies available to you. I want to ask you about your own purchase into this association. Did you use an attorney? Did the attorney review the governance documents? They can’t go missing as they are part of the closing process. Of course, if you somehow waived your right to these critical documents in an eagerness to make the purchase, you are experiencing a major case of “Buyer Beware!” It sounds to me like there is awful lot of impropriety going on here. You need to speak with an attorney, which I am not. I offer friendly advice; an attorney will offer you legal advice. You may end up suing the association, individual officers, anyone else associated with these misdeeds in an attempt to get the association back on sound footing. By the way, 6 owners don’t guarantee deep enough pockets to do that. In fact, you may be throwing good money after bad in an attempt to correct this problem. Your attorney can better advise you if you can include your own legal fees in any litigation but winning the litigation is just the beginning. You need to collect from these folks, who clearly don’t have the money from what you have told me. If it were me, I think I would try to sell and cut my losses. Otherwise, be ready to deal with an ongoing problem for months and even years to come. Keep the police on speed dial because these folks clearly have no idea what they are supposed to be doing and will likely continue doing what they have always done. Good luck!

Condo Cable Installation Costs Out of Control

C.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association just hired a new management property company. This property company has created rules for the cable company to follow in order to gain access to the electrical room where the cable hook ups are located. The cable tech can get access one of three ways 1) to drive to the management office to pick up the key (20 miles there and back, not to mention having to return the key) – the cable tech said they are not willing to do that 2) the cable tech can send an email to the management property with their employee id, but the techs say they are not allowed to send emails to anyone outside of the company 3) I can pay the management company $40 an hour to come and open the door. If the cable company gives me a 4-hour block and the management company stays until the cable tech is done, that could easily be 5 hours and close to $200 to get my cable fixed. I have tried to ask the board, but the management property states that the board wants everything to go through the management property company and they have not passed this issue to the board. Can the management company do this? The old management wouldn’t charge anything.

Mister Condo replies:

C.B., they absolutely can! The problem is with your Board, not your Management Company. If the Board doesn’t apply pressure to the management company to change their policy, the management company can pretty much do whatever it wants. The management company works for the Board, not you. Your displeasure at having to pay these extra fees is of no concern to the management company. In fact, it is quite profitable from what you describe. You need to complain to the Board and also speak with other unit owners who must be having the same issue as you. If enough you get fed up with the Board, it is time to elect new Board Members who will pressure the management company to change this policy or risk losing the management contract. If those things don’t happen, the policy is likely to remain in place. Enjoy your cable and good luck!

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!

When Do Monthly Condo Common Fees Begin?

G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Good Day, Mister Condo! Do I need to pay monthly dues even if I sign the certificate of acceptance but have complained (fixture of toilet bowl is not working)? I don’t have a key yet but I have signed an agreement. What will I do?

Mister Condo replies:

G., I am sorry for your situation. Quite honestly, your best bet would have been to not sign any contract until the unit was in good working order and to your liking. Once you have signed the agreement to purchase the unit, you are on the hook for the common fees that accrue from that day forward. So, even if the toilet bowl isn’t working properly, you still have to pay your common fees. If you don’t, the association will be forced to take collection actions against you which can be quite costly. You don’t want that to happen. Pay your fees and work with the association to get your toilet fixed. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy your new unit once that repair is made. All the best!

Who Sets the Condo’s Percentage of Rental Units?

J.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Supposedly, the percentage of renters in a Connecticut condo association has been changed to allow up to 50% of the units to be rented. If this is correct, where can I find a copy of the law, and who sponsored it? The more renters allowed will increase our insurance costs, change the demographics of the community and discourage most people from buying units in the complex.

Mister Condo replies:

J.H., I am not aware of any law in our state that allows up to 50% of units in any condo association to be rented. Rental restrictions or rental caps are usually outlined in the condominium’s governing documents, if at all. Many associations refer to FHA guidelines (set by the federal government, not the states) so they can maintain or obtain FHA qualification for mortgages to be obtained by unit owners. If associations allow more rentals than the FHA guidelines call for, it becomes unlikely that unit owners will be able to get mortgages within the association as the association as a whole becomes ineligible in the eyes of the FHA, and, therefore, those banks that offer FHA-backed mortgages. All that being said, you need to look at your governance documents to see what, if anything, they say about limiting the percentage of rental units. If the documents are silent on the subject (many are), you might like to see what restrictions may have been placed on the units over the years. Keep in mind that the entire body of unit owners needs to vote on such restrictions. I agree with your assessment of what happens when communities become dominated with rentals However, there are many community associations where investors have purchased a majority of units with the only intention is to rent them out and eventually sell the units at a profit. If you live in such an association, rental restrictions would be hard to implement. Good luck!