Category Archives: Legal

Amended Condo Deed Trumps Board’s Forgetfulness

K.F. from New Jersey writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m a New Jersey Real Estate salesperson representing a seller of a Penthouse unit in a 5 story walk up in a 6-unit Condo. When my client purchased her unit in 2009 she was also given an amended deed that included the exclusive right to build an approved deck on the roof. The board met last week and in their Minutes decided to retain the roof rights (now that my client wants to sell). They don’t seem to be aware/remember that the roof rights were gifted and deeded and has been filed with the city/county. What rights do they have to take back roof rights if any at all?

Mister Condo replies:

K.F., Boards have no more rights than you or I when it comes to taking back anything that has been filed on a deed. In fact, this is a classic example of where an attorney can likely solve this for you with a few letters or phone calls showing the deed. The Board’s “memory” of the event is irrelevant, regardless of what they have put in their Minutes. If they take action against your client, the attorney will simply counter with the Deed. One caveat: is there any stipulation on the deed that would indicate that the approved deck had to be installed by a certain date? If that date has come and gone then your client is out of luck. Other than that, this sounds like a fairly simple case to me but I am not an attorney. Have your client speak with an attorney who specializes in real estate, get a legal opinion, and good luck selling this Penthouse condo unit. It sounds gorgeous!

Former Condo Board Member Maligned by Fellow Board Member

T.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I was on a condominium board for several years, sometimes having to do two positions. At one point, I was the President and Treasurer. My question is that I wasn’t very good at keeping receipts. I would occasionally give them to the manager. but when a check was written I put a memo where that check went and to whom.
Now I have an ex-board member that thinks I took money. How can I defend myself if I do not have the receipts to prove all of the transactions? He said he has the bank statement. What can that prove?

Mister Condo replies:

T.S., thank you for your service to your community. Seems that no good deed goes unpunished here. If you are being accused of a crime, you should speak with an attorney in order to defend yourself. If you are being slandered by an ex-board member, you might want to speak to an attorney about what rights you have to stop this slandering. Bank statements are nothing more than a record of checks, deposits, and transfers. If you didn’t write any checks to yourself or transfer any money into your private account, you likely have nothing to worry about. Someone “thinking” you took money is far different from someone claiming you took money and filing a criminal report against you. If you have nothing to hide, you can confront this person and ask them to either prove their allegations or stop slandering you or you will sue them. That will usually quiet a contentious accuser who cannot prove his/her case. Remember that in this country you are innocent until proven guilty. From what you have shared with me, you did nothing wrong and there is no proof that you did. That really is the end of the story. Good luck!

Mishandled Condo Elevator Maintenance Contracts Causes Special Assessment

M.C. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in Florida, so I will take your advice in good faith, but: we are being charged a special assessment of almost $2000 to repair the elevators of the condo complex. Normally I would have no complaint, but the reason the Special Assessment has become necessary is because of poor management of the repair contracts of the original repair work that was in budget.

Basically, the elevators were to be fixed and brought up to Florida building code nearly a year ago. However, the Board did not sign any labor contract and paid for the work up front. At some point, the work was abandoned and the elevators have stayed in disrepair and out of inspection compliance (which they were fined for) until a few weeks ago. The Special Assessment of almost $2000 per unit owner has arisen as a result of not signing those original labor contracts and the abandoned work being paid for with maintenance budget funds.

Bottom line, I want the elevators fixed, so I will pay the assessment. But, do we have any legal recourse against the board to recover those funds as a “breach of fiduciary responsibility”?

Mister Condo replies:

M.C., in my non-legal opinion, you do not have recourse against the Board. From what you have described there was no premeditated malfeasance or crime, just some poor business decisions that caused an increase in the overall expense of the association-owned asset. It may have managed less than ideally but I don’t see any breach of duty here. Hopefully, there has been a lesson learned and there will be better stewardship of the elevator maintenance program moving forward. Of course, Board Members are democratically elected volunteers from within your association and they do need to run for reelection at some point. If you feel there are better candidates for the position, you and your fellow unit owners will have opportunity to replace them with different volunteers at some point. All the best!

Condo Management Company Influencing Board and Unit Owners

L.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a management company interfere with the board? Specifically, by asking to have a member resign or complain to only a few of the 5-member board about another member? And allow statements to be used and passed to unit owners in an effort to get the required signatures for special meeting to remove said board member?

Mister Condo replies:

L.B., the function of the management company is to assist the Board as outlined in the management company contract. This is typically handling all things financial and accounting such as collection of dues and assessments, payment of vendors, and collection efforts, budget preparation and so on. Governance of the association is strictly the duty of the Board. However, due to the nature of Boards being served by volunteers, it is not uncommon for a Board to rely upon the knowledge and expertise of a management company to help them make good decisions and keep the community association and Board on track. That being said, you have described a campaign to remove a Board member led by the management company. This is not a common practice although I am not sure it is illegal. You would need to review the laws for your state to see if that is the case. Other than that, the management company can only suggest things to the Board that the Board can either ignore or take action upon. In this case, it would appear that the Board is in agreement with the management company. The Board can always select another management company if the existing management company isn’t serving their best interests. If the Board is pleased with the performance, that isn’t likely to happen. Regardless of the source of information, if a Board member is recalled by the unit owners, there isn’t too much the Board Member can do. After all, this is an elected, volunteer position. It is not like they are being fired from a paying job. It is politics and being voted out is always a possibility. Good luck!

Deeded Condo Parking Swap Sought

M.C. from San Diego, CA writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How do we change our parking deed with our neighbor? We live in a high-rise condo complex in San Diego, CA with assigned underground parking. Thank You.

Mister Condo replies:

M.C., deeded parking, as its name implies, is linked directly to the deed for your unit. While you can simply verbally agree to park in each other’s spaces, the change to the deed will require a bit of work and likely the assistance of an attorney. Depending on mortgages or other third-party interests to the deed, it may require a lot of finagling and be far more trouble than it is worth. Unless your Board is keeping a watchful eye on who parks where, you might be able to work this out with your neighbor as a gentleman’s agreement. That agreement wouldn’t be legally enforceable in my opinion but it might be the simplest solution to your quandary. Good luck!

Condo Has to Purchase its Own Clubhouse!

L.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When many of the first purchasers bought from the condo developer they were told that one condo unit on the first floor would be the owners’ clubhouse/fitness center. At some point (I’m unsure of when since I’m a new owner) the documents given to purchasers said that the clubhouse condo was owned by the developer and could, at some future time be sold. Now the building is nearly sold out and being turned over to the owners. The board is asking the current condo owners as to our interest in purchasing the “clubhouse” condo to ensure that the building continues to have this amenity. All of this is very early; we have an attorney who would negotiate the best price for us. However, I’m wondering what questions the owners should ask the board before they go further. Obviously, the price, how we would be assessed and for how long are questions but are there other considerations?

Mister Condo replies:

L.P., while it is unfortunate that the clubhouse/fitness center was not included as part and parcel of the development, I cannot say this is an uncommon practice. It sounds like the developer used a “bait” tactic of enticing early owners into thinking that there would be an amenity of a clubhouse/fitness center as part of their purchase but I am guessing no one has anything like that in writing. Again, this is not uncommon from stories I have been told from around the country. The unit owners will likely have to vote to add this common amenity to the association. Since it is almost certain that the unit owners will want this amenity, it is wise to work with the attorney to handle the negotiation. Aside from the purchase itself, you might want to ask about staffing requirements (if any) and insurance repercussions to the association from adding the amenity. There is also the issue of purchase and maintenance of fitness equipment, hours of operation, open to the public or just unit owners (or guests). Will it be rented out and to whom? The Reserve Study should be updated to reflect the new building and all costs should be considered. Like I said, it is likely to go through any way but I think it would be helpful for unit owners to know exactly what they are buying and what the real costs of owning it are going to be. Enjoy your new clubhouse!

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!

How To Enforce Condo Building Renovation Requirements

S.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When a new owner renovates – without any discussion with the board/management and does things that should not have been done – what can board do? Can they make them halt, and make them put it back to the way it was, and if so how?

Mister Condo replies:

S.O., the short answer to your question is “yes” but it depends on the condo’s governing documents. Typically, interior renovations are subject to less scrutiny than exterior renovations but there are still rules that need to be observed. Common problems include replacing carpeted floors with hardwood or laminate flooring, creating an undue noise burden to unit owners above, below, or on either side of the unit. Regardless of the type of violation, the Board needs to issue a letter to the unit owner and explain which rules they are violating. If the unit owner complies, there is no problem. When they don’t comply, it is usually lawsuit time so get the association attorney involved. If/When the association prevails on court, a court order to return the unit to its previous condition is issued. If the homeowner still refuses to comply, the association attorney can then take further action to enforce the court order. It can be a quite a bit of ugliness but that is the nature of enforcing the rules at a condo. You can’t have unit owners deciding on building modification for their personal unit that effects the uniformity of the community and the enjoyment of neighboring units by their owners. Good luck!

Who Pays for New HOA Parking Area?

R.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have three towers in our development with three separate HOA’s. However, there are some common items shared such as parking and entry gates. Have you ever determined what causes most parking problems? Number of condos/owners? Number of bedrooms? Square footage? Our development does not allow rental for less than a year. Therefore, we have no short-term rental parking issues. However, with 66 total units, we only have 96 parking spaces/garages. The garages are deeded owned units, the other parking has been on a “first come first served” basis. Two of the towers have 25 units and our building only has 16 units. All our units have deeded garages, the other two buildings have unit owners without a garage. We are trying to establish the best manner to distribute the cost of adding additional parking for the three-unit complex. Should we assign cost based on number of units, number of bedrooms, square footage, or is there any reference you can provide for other distributions of cost of similar problems.

Mister Condo replies:

R.W., the only thing consistent about parking woes at condos and HOAs across the country are too many cars per unit. It is not uncommon for there to be only one parking space per unit. Combined with a garage or a reasonable amount of Guest Parking, that usually does the trick. But, wait, Unit 17’s son and his wife have just moved in with the owner of Unit 17 and now there are three cars instead of one assigned to that unit. And then another unit is rented to a family with three cars, and so on it goes until the parking lot is at capacity and residents have nowhere to park. This scenario plays out time and time again at condos and HOAs. The only real solution is to have a strong and enforceable parking program. As for the cost of any additional parking, the formula is typically to follow the percentage of unit ownership formula for all units. If the three-unit complex is its own HOA, then the cost is born by the unit owners according to the formula. However, if the parking lot is owned by the Master Association (you mentioned shared parking), then the cost may be split out using the Master Association formula. It really depends on how your governance documents read. If you haven’t already done so, this is a great time to get the opinion of the association attorney on the matter. All the best!

Condo Maintenance Standards vs. By-Laws

J.J. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have heard that maintenance standards overrides the bylaws. If so, what is stopping associations from just putting in what they want rather than changing the bylaws, which is very costly?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., maintenance standards are generally enacted to ensure the community association insurance policies will protect the unit owners. Maintenance standards, or rather lack of, makes the association particularly vulnerable to damage caused by items that commonly wear quickly. Water supply hoses and water heaters come to mind. When either fail, tremendous damage can ensue. Without maintenance standards in place, the association could find itself uninsured for the liability. That being said these standards are still introduced and voted upon by either the Board or the full membership of the association before they are put in place. By-laws cover so many other areas of association governance that it is hardly fair to put them in the same category as maintenance standards. You couldn’t simply make a rule about something like “use of the clubhouse” and call it a maintenance standard. That would be a by-law change. Other associations feel that maintenance standards are important enough to actually create a by-law change. Either way, unit owners are bound to these standards once they are properly adopted. It is in the best interest of all association members that these standards are in place and enforced. All the best!