Category Archives: Legal

Plumbing Contractor Soaks Condo Unit Owner with Surprise Bill

J.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently had a slow leak from a pipe in my ceiling. I own a lower unit and asked the condo association to send someone out to determine the source of the leak. It was determined that the leak came from the pipe coming off my hot water heater. I opted to have the repairs done by a private contractor. I later received an invoice from the contractor who investigated the leak for $1700 listing mold remediation as the cause for up charge. I am currently disputing the charges as I did not request remediation and I was not notified of the increased charge prior to the work being completed. I received a letter from the condo association demanding that I pay within 10 days as the master policy says that I am responsible for repairs of non-common areas up to $5k. My state’s home improvement commission suggested I file civil suit. Am I wrong in disputing the charge? Should I just pay the $1700?

Mister Condo replies:

J.C., I am sorry for your situation. I am not an attorney so I cannot offer legal advice here but I will offer you some friendly advice. If my state’s home improvement commission suggested that I file a civil suit, I would seek out the advice of a locally qualified attorney to investigate the practicality of such a suit. $1700 is a significant chuck of change and a lawsuit might make sense. On the flipside, if the money isn’t so precious to you, simply paying the balance due will make this problem go away. My other advice is that should you find yourself in a situation where you need to hire a contractor for any other work, get a full estimate in advance. You should never get a $1700 surprise at the end of the job. You hired this contractor (which assumes a contract was in place). If unauthorized work was performed, a lawsuit might just get you out of the extra money. However, protecting your home against mold is a great idea and proper procedure. You may have agreed to have the work done without explicitly getting a price. As they say, burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. Enjoy your mold-free dry home!

Falling Tree Damages Condo Visitor’s Car

C.B. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I was visiting a friend in the Condo and a tree (huge part of it) fell on my car, cause many damages. Can I have the right to sue the Condo for pay the deductible of my insurance? The general manager didn’t go there to see the damage and, on the phone, he just said that the homeowner’s association does not have insurance so he’s not going to pay for it. The deductible is $500 and my car is 2016.

Mister Condo replies:

C.B., I am sorry that your car got damaged. The right to sue another individual or business is yours if you choose to pursue it. However, the cost of suing this condo association for the $500 deductible on your insurance policy will most likely outweigh the potential of collecting the $500 from the association. This is part of the risk of having deductibles on our insurance. Clearly, this was not your fault but your insurance policy is only going to pay for the amount of damage that exceeds your deductible. The rest is on you. You can speak with an attorney if you would want to see if there is any other avenue open to you but my advice would be to simply pay your deductible. Otherwise, you are likely throwing good money after bad. All the best!

Condo Association Increases Late Fees and Adds Interest Penalties

C.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My Condo Association just sent notification that they are planning to increase late fees on HOA fees to $30 (25 to the association and 5 to the management company). They also plan to assess18% interest rate.

Can I apply both a late fee and an interest rate? Is that legal?

Mister Condo replies:

C.C., as long as the Board followed the rules for changing the assessment schedule and the interest on late fees, I don’t see why they can’t have both late fees and interest on late fees. The bottom line is that timely payment of common fees and assessments is critical to the association’s ability to pay its bills on behalf of all owners. Late fees and interest penalties are really the only tool available to the Board to encourage all unit owners to make their payments on time. Best of all, late fees and interest penalties are easy to avoid. Just make sure every unit owner pays their fees and assessments on time, which is exactly what they agreed to do when they purchased into the association. All the best!

Condo Insurance Won’t Cover Plumber’s Damage to Unit

M.C. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our plumber installed a dishwasher improperly and water leaked under the floor, destroying the laminate and ceiling tiles in lower room. Asbestos was found in vinyl under laminate and must be removed. The plumber is taking responsibility. Our insurer insists that this damage, restricted to inside our walls, and not caused by condo-owned components (such as a roof leak would be) is the condo association responsibility by law and we can’t go to plumber’s insurance (nor to our own). Our condo association denies this and has refused to file a claim. The only law I can find does not seem to say this, but only seems to make a condo association responsible for horizontal surfaces between stacked units. This is a 2010 law. Can condo insurance be held responsible for my dishwasher leak?

Mister Condo replies:

M.C., I am sorry you find yourself in this situation. When insurers deny claims it is the homeowner who gets hurt. Asbestos abatement only adds to the problem. I can see where the association is denying your request as the damage is restricted to the interior of your unit. Until the plumber damaged the flooring, there was no liability. I am not quite sure why the plumber’s insurance would deny a claim of damage caused by his workmanship (isn’t that what his insurance is for?) but it still puts the cost of making the repair on you. Depending on how much the repair will cost, I would advise you one of two ways. If it is expensive (say more than $500), it may be worth speaking with an attorney to see if you can sue the plumber or the association. If the dollar amount is less than that (or if you were thinking of replacing the laminate floor) I would advise you to simply pay for the repair/upgrade and be done with it. I think it stinks that the insurance isn’t paying for this damage but unless the dollar amount is significant, I don’t think it is worth the time to try to sue for damages. All the best!

Service Animals at the Condo Pool!

A.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are a pet friendly condo. However, we do have common areas like our pool deck that does not allow pets. I like dogs but more and more residents are turning up on the pool deck with their ESA dogs, its turning into a dog park – the condo management don’t know if they can enforce the pool deck rules and ask the ESA dogs to leave?

Mister Condo replies:

A.F., this is an area where the association needs to tread lightly. Service animals are not pets and, unfortunately for the association, are not subject to the same restrictions that the association can place on pets. There are a lot of lawsuits based upon discrimination of people with ESAs. The association doesn’t want to become embroiled in such a lawsuit. I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice here. However, I would be remiss in my friendly advice duties if I didn’t tell you that you should speak with an attorney verse in both association law and service animal laws in your state to make sure the association doesn’t misstep. There may be reasonable accommodations that can be made that allow the folks with service animals to enjoy the common amenities while not imposing on the rights of the other users. I am not saying it will be a perfect solution but there may be a way to accommodate the desires of all. Get the advice of the association attorney and enjoy your amenities, without creating a lawsuit. Good luck!

Has the Property Management Company Breached Their Co-op Contract?

A.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I moved into a co-op recently. The board hired a new management company. After being unsatisfied with the property manager in place (3 months) the management company suggested we take the receptionist with limited skills and no license/certification as the new property manager. The board agreed for some insane reason and this girl has made it her mission to drive off all of our contractors and service providers to bring in the people the management company uses. There is talk of kickbacks. They have done this on other properties. Every memo, directive, repair or task this girl executes is wrong, mismanaged and just turns out badly. She has offended and outraged a dozen usually nice normal shareholders with her behavior, demands, and stop work orders. She is also the management company owner’s new girlfriend and he obviously wants her on some property. Can she act as property manager with only 1 ten-hour online class and zero experience in construction, property management, facilities, etc.? The contract between the co-op and the management company states we have a property manager, a receptionist and an Acct Exec. They are in default of their contract, correct? Please let us know.

Mister Condo replies:

A.S., you have made a lot of accusations here and, if true, are certainly worth contacting the association’s attorney to discuss. Breaking a management company contract for an association of your size is no simple matter. Just because you claim the management company is in default does not mean that they are. You would need to be prepared to prove it, very likely in court, as the management company would be likely to sue for breaking of the contract. My best advice to you is to speak with the association attorney. As for the Board’s “insane reason” to agree with the management’s company proposal to use a secretary as the property manager, it is time to call them to task for making such a decision. The Board is comprised of elected members. They can be recalled or voted out of office at the next election cycle. People that use “insane reasoning” have no business representing the financial interests of co-op owners. This is very real money of the co-op owners they are spending and protecting. They need to behave like the Board of any business and make decisions that are in the best interest of all shareholders. It would appear to me that they have shown exceptionally poor judgment in this matter. Of course, that also means you need to be ready with a slate of new volunteers to serve on the Board. Without that, this Board may continue to serve the association poorly. In that case, putting the blame on the management company is only half correct. Good luck!

New Condo Owner Asks to See Association Records

J.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Does a new owner, 7 days, have the right to see minutes and running balance sheets from previous years? She did not ask for any of this before she bought. If so, is there a time limit to which I have to get her this information? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., all unit owners, regardless of how long they have owned, have a right to inspect association records. That certainly includes bank statements and Minutes of meetings as these are official records of the association. Unless the association has something to hide, this should be a request that is simply honored. Failure to do so, on the other hand, could lead to a lawsuit from this new owner as you would be violating the unit owner’s rights by withholding this information. There may or may not be a time limit on honoring this request depending on your by-laws and your state law. My advice is to offer it forthwith. All the best!

Condo Board Refuses to Hold Annual Meeting!

J.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association elects board members at the annual association meeting. The current board will not schedule the annual election. The current board just keeps making decisions. How can a non-board member force the board to schedule an annual meeting so that new board members can be elected? The By-Laws call for the annual meeting to be held in April and they must give a minimum of 21 days’ notice.

Mister Condo replies:

J.W., if your Board is operating outside of the governing documents (it sure sounds like they are), you can do a few things to correct the situation. First, you can speak with other unit owners and call a Special Meeting of the unit owners following the method to do so outlined in your governing documents. This requires some organizational skills on your part and you do need to follow the proper procedures to do so. Your goal in this meeting would be to recall the current Board (essentially remove them from office) and replace them with better volunteer leaders who will follow the rules of governance for the association. This is serious business and I would even recommend that you speak with an attorney who specializes in community association law to guide you. This will cost money but is worth every penny, in my opinion. Your second option is to sue the Board for not following the governance rules of the association. This option may force the annual meeting but will do little to remove the Board members who are not following the rules. Your third option is to leave this community. That is a drastic measure but if you can’t find better volunteer leaders to run this association, you can either live with the out of rule-breaking Board or sell your unit. Communities get the Boards they deserve. If your fellow unit owners aren’t outraged that this Board isn’t operating by the rules, it is time to leave. It is only a matter of time before more than missed meetings are unearthed. Boards that operate in this renegade fashion are usually breaking multiple rules. This can cost every member of the association dearly in their pocketbook if left unchecked. You have your work carved out for you. Good luck!

Condo Move In Fees Create Budget Excess!

J.G. from Illinois writes:

I’ve tried submitting this blog question online, but I keep getting an error message saying I didn’t enter the “recaptcha” correctly.  It’s just a check box, so I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  I hope you’ll consider this question for your blog. We’re trying to determine the proper treatment of fees collected that are outside the normal monthly assessments.  We have a move-in fee and occasionally collect late fees for monthly assessments.

Our condo rules state:

“There is a $500.00 fee for moving in that is non-refundable to cover cleaning and future rekeying of the building. ”

Our condo declaration states:

“…the Board shall supply to all unit owners an itemized accounting of the common expenses for the preceding year actually incurred and paid, together with a tabulation of the amounts collected pursuant to the budget or assessments, and showing the net excess or deficit of income over expenditures plus reserves.  Any amount accumulated in excess of the amount required for actual expenses and reserves shall be credited … to the next monthly installments due…”

The IL Condo Act gives the Board the right to determine how to distribute excess as long as it’s not prescribed in the condo documents.

We’re expecting an excess this year due to a large number of unit turnovers.   Are we obligated to credit this to the owners?  Or, can we move any excess to reserves since it wasn’t “collected pursuant to the budget” (i.e. not part of the budget that all owners paid assessments for)? Thanks for any advice, opinions, or references!

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., I am sorry if the “recaptcha” tripped you up and I am glad that you emailed me instead. The “recaptcha” is needed due to deter the large amount of attempted SPAM that used to flood the website. Thank you for your vigilance. I am neither and attorney nor an expert in Illinois condo law so please accept my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, you should contact a local attorney who specializes in community association law. At face value, I would say that you should return any monies that were over-collected before simply depositing them to the Reserve Fund. This would be in keeping with the spirit and intention of the law which is to protect homeowners from paying more than needed or agreed to in their vote to approve the budget at the Annual Meeting. At the very least, I would offer the unit owners a vote on how to use those funds at next year’s Annual Meeting. Chances are, it isn’t such a large amount that you would get much pushback to moving the funds to the Reserve Fund where it can be used to protect all unit owners. I salute your thinking and commend you for increasing your Reserve Fund but my advice is to follow the spirit and intention of the law and even your own governing documents so that no init owner can cry foul and demand their money back. All the best!

Condo Neighbor’s Leaking Air Conditioning Causes Moldy Nightmare!

B.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi Mr. Condo! I hope you can help me. I’m an owner of a condo in an apartment style building. Last week, I discovered a leak from above into my AC closet which shares a wall with my linen closet. My AC is non-operable (since 2012) so I know it isn’t mine. I checked my linen closet and found the back wall covered in mold. I contacted the property management company right away. They said they would contact the above tenant/owner to stop the leak so I can begin repairs. I’ve since sent several emails and called twice. For the past 5 days I have not received any response. I even went so far as to call the tenant myself. No response there either. What are my options?

Mister Condo replies:

B.L., I am sorry for your problems. Leaks caused by neighbors are bad enough but mold problems are quite serious. You did the right thing by contacting the Property Manager. You should also document the mold intrusion with lots of photos in case they are needed down the road. The association is responsible for getting involved and making the repairs. Unfortunately, it sounds like the manager is off to a slow and ineffective start. You need to be persistent and write to the Board along with your documentation showing what is going on and demanding they make the repairs. The other unit owner’s lack of cooperation may be a problem for you but the Board can take legal action against them to make them comply. You should not need to contact them at all, email, in person, or otherwise. If they are responsive to you, you can certainly speak with them to ask them to be more helpful but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Board needs some time to get this situation remedied and you may wish to be patient for a few months while they get this straightened out. However, you may also wish to speak to an attorney if things are moving too slow for you. Mold can be deadly and you need to have it removed quickly. You may even need to vacate your unit if it is found to be toxic. In that case, you would turn to your own homeowner’s insurance to see if you have coverage that would pay for your temporary relocation while the mold is abated. Ultimately, you want the neighbor’s A/C unit repaired so it stops leaking. You want your unit dry and you want the mold removed. Once all that is done, you’ll be back in business. Be persistent and apply the right amount of pressure to make sure you aren’t forgotten. Your problem is there problem and it needs to be taken seriously by all involved. Good luck!