Category Archives: Legal

Condo Board Installs Fence; Damages Unit Owner Patio

G.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo board just put in all new fencing in the back of the units & between our attached neighbors. In doing so, they removed the retainer wall for my patio pavers. When asked why, they said that it was going to be too close to the new fencing. Fencing is done and there is now a big gap between my patio & the fence (so they were wrong). The pavers are now separating because of the rain and they are refusing to put it back. The President of the Board is my direct neighbor. He “volunteered” to help us put it back. We refused on principal. Why should we have to do anything? They caused the damage they should repair it. Am I correct in my thinking? I have spoken to a lawyer, who agrees with us. But I would like for this to be resolved without having to go that route. I don’t understand WHY they won’t just do the repairs. What are your thoughts?

Mister Condo replies:

G.M., I am sorry for your patio problem although I cannot say it is too surprising to learn that the removal of a retainer wall has made for a problem. That is exactly what retainer walls are for. The real question here is who owned the retaining wall? Unless it was actually a part of your unit, it is likely the property of the association. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should have removed it or left if removed once the fencing project was complete but it may make for an interesting case if you decide to take your attorney’s advice to go after the association to make the repair. Keep in mind that you aren’t going to be the only one with an attorney and the association’s attorney will likely argue that the retaining wall was owned by the association and they had every right to remove it. Your attorney will counter with the fact that the removal damaged your patio (again, built on association property). My opinion is that you very likely should have taken the President up on his offer to help you rebuild the retaining wall. At the very least, you might have offered to pay for the contractor to do the job if keeping your patio intact is important to you. If you prefer to stand on the ground that you are right and the association is wrong, you have every right to do so but I foresee a long and protracted battle while your patio crumbles. Always look for a “win/win” situation. Legal solutions are costly and can take a very long time. The time and money would be better spent hiring a contractor to repair the wall, especially since the Board President seems to be on your side. All the best!

Disaster Floods Condo; Association Refuses to Remediate Resultant Mold

C.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My niece owns an upstairs condo unit.  Recently, the bottom unit was flooded by rain to the point of 6′ high.  The area has been declared a national disaster area and FEMA is processing claims.  My niece’s unit has mold growing up her walls and her floor is buckling due to the flood.  The owner of the downstairs unit started working to rid his unit of mold, mildew, etc. but stopped for some unknown reason.  FEMA has told my niece that her unit is a health hazard and needs to be vacated immediately. Here’s the kicker:  They tell her they cannot help her as had the downstairs owner took care of his condo, her condo wouldn’t have felt any effects of the flood.  What say you?

Mister Condo replies:

C.D., I am truly sorry your niece’s condo unit was flooded and damaged. Unfortunately, it would appear we live in a time of escalating natural disasters and many condos around the country have been impacted this past year. How a community association or HOA responds to these disasters can be just as damaging as the disasters themselves. Clearly, your niece has suffered a catastrophic loss here and it sounds like the HOA isn’t doing right by her. This could be because they aren’t familiar with how they should handle this disaster or they may not know where to turn to get the money to make the repairs or there may just be confusion caused by insurance companies or poorly written condo docs. It may be that the downstairs neighbor is also to blame and may be sued as well as part of the money recovery efforts. Whatever the reason, my next call would be to my attorney as this doesn’t look like it will be settled by simply asking the association to make the repairs. Also, if your niece has adequate homeowners’ insurance, she might be eligible for housing costs while the repairs are made. Clearly, she should not reside in a mold-infested unit. This is going to take a while to sort out but I am sure she will get the problem addressed once legal action is taken. Good luck!

Condo Board Denies Unit Owner Driveway Widening Request; Owner Proceeds Anyway!

J.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One of our condo owners asked the Board if they could widen their driveway to accommodate 2 cars. We, as a board, had to deny the request due to the bylaws regulating common areas. We have discovered they are making plans to proceed without our permission. What can we do to prevent this from occurring?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., this is the second day in a row I have received questions about unit owners feeling they have the right to do whatever they want in their condo, regardless of the rules of the association. Quite simply, the Board is the enforcer of the association rules and it is up to the Board to make all unit owners comply with the regulations of the community. If a unit owner attempts to modify a common element, in any way, the Board needs to cite them for the violation, ask them to return the common element to the way it was before they violated the governing documents. Further, contentious unit owners who show little regard for the rules of the association often need further “encouragement” in the form of a lawsuit, that not only forces them to comply with the rules but also costs them a good deal of money because they are often charged the cost of the association’s attorney to take action against them. It is unfortunate that it often comes to this but I find it is the best way for the association to protect itself from unit owners who probably don’t belong living in a condominium in the first place due to their lack of consideration of following the rules which make the community a desirable place to live. Good luck!

Condo Owner Modifies Condo Interior Without Board Approval

H.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Small condominium, AKA condex, has one and two bedroom units. A new Unit owner has made changes to their unit without seeking the required permission from the board. The seller notified the association of a new rug to be put in. This was approved. Unfortunately, the new owner took out the old carpeting and put in hardwood floors and added additional rooms to a one bedroom unit. They are currently occupying the space as a non-approved three-bedroom unit. They are also paying the condo fee at a one bedroom rate. What is the most effective way to restore the unit to a carpeted one bedroom?

Mister Condo replies:

H.R., while it would be nice for the unit owner who has broken the rules of the association to simply restore the unit to its previous condition and live in the unit as was agreed to in the by-laws of the association, it is very likely time for the association to hire an attorney and sue the owner to make the necessary changes. Clearly, this unit owner has neither read nor lived up to the expectation and requirements as set out in the governing documents. Fortunately for the association, this is a legal document that gives the association fairly broad powers in forcing compliance. Obviously, the first step is to ask nicely that the new owner adhere to the by-laws and restore the unit to its previous condition. However, if nice doesn’t work, there is always the legal option of suing the owner and forcing compliance. I hope it goes smoothly for the association. This could be a long and costly legal battle if it doesn’t. Good luck!

Michigan Condo Owner Seeks to Replace Board Members and Access Association Records

J.T. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

This is in the state of Michigan: What percentage of signed owners (in agreement) are needed to release the current board members? And, replace? How does an owner or owners (#) demand to receive current and past (3 years) bills (invoices) for services, including the property management company and accounting?

Mister Condo replies:

J.T., since I am neither an expert in Michigan condo law nor an attorney, I posed your question to a group of friends who do practice community association law in your state. This is not to be construed as legal advice. It is just some friendly advice to guide you on your way. You may wish to seek your own legal opinion and/or hire an attorney to guide you on your path. Here is what my friend had to offer:

In Michigan, the ability to remove a director(s) is typically governed by the association bylaws a/k/a the corporate bylaws. Depending on the age of the governing documents, the condominium bylaws and the association bylaws may be merged into one document. Therefore, the first place to look would be in the association bylaws, which usually has a procedure to remove a director. In addition, most condominium associations are nonprofit corporations and the Michigan Nonprofit Corporation Act also has provisions regarding removing a director. See MCL 450.2511 and MCL 450.2514.

In order to demand current and past bills, the individual would need to send a demand for inspection of records letter. The letter can be sent under the 1) Nonprofit Corporation Act, 2) the Michigan Condominium Act and/or 3) the Condominium Bylaws. As an attorney, my firm routinely handles such requests.

That sounds like solid advice to me, J.T.! All the best!

Condo Board Commandeers Unit Owner’s Deeded Parking

E.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our water system needs to be fixed. The Board of the Directors makes a construction project in the garage area. The Management just simply posted that all the vehicles needed to be removed before the starting date of the construction without any meeting. After that certain date, all the materials on the deeded garage would be disposal. Do the Board of the Directors have the right to “order” the garage owners to move away from their deeded parking? Can the garage owners ask for the reimbursement of the maintenance fee during the unused period on the parking space?

Mister Condo replies:

E.M., that is a most unfortunate occurrence of events. It sounds like the Board did not do an adequate job of communicating the needs of the association before the project got underway. Deeded parking is owned by the unit owner, not the association. The association has no more right to simply commandeer your deeded parking than they do to take over neighboring land that they do not own. Compensating you for the use of your parking space may be one remedy available to you. However, suing the Board after the fact may hardly be worth your time or effort. I would make a point of finding out what the Board can and cannot do moving forward so this doesn’t happen again. If all of this work was done to update or maintain the community’s water system, I would think most residents would have willingly given up their parking for the duration of the project as the need for clean water trumps the need for a parking space. However, just as you must observe association rules, the Board must observe unit owner’s rights. I hope you can enter into a meaningful conversation with the Board to make sure they do not traipse all over the rights of unit owners like you when the next project comes up where they may need to store equipment or supplies in privately owned parking spaces. If they continue, a lawsuit may be in order. All the best!

Condo Board D&O Dos and Don’ts

C.V. from Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can board members be sued along with the management company? Should board members carry extra insurance other than the standard policy already in force by association? Thank You!

Mister Condo replies:

C.V., that is a great question! I am not an attorney, so please accept my reply as friendly advice. You may wish to pose the same question to your association attorney for a proper legal answer. In today’s litigious society it is quite possible for Board Members as well as the Property Management company and even the Association as a whole to be sued. The association typically holds insurance policies that cover them for a wide range of possible lawsuits. Directors and Officers (D&O) is one of those policies and it covers Board Members for most typical lawsuits they might face in the performance of their duties. For most Board Members, that is enough coverage for peace of mind while serving as a volunteer member of Board of Directors. However, there have been cases where Board Members have made exceptionally poor decisions that can lead to criminal and/or personal lawsuits that are outside the scope of this coverage.  I am not sure if any additional insurance coverage would have helped them but it may be worth a conversation with your personal agent, especially if you are quite well off and concerned that a personal lawsuit would be a burden worth insuring against. I have personally served on Boards for most of my adult condo life and I have never sought additional coverage. Then again, I have never been sued performing my duties as a Board Member and I can’t imagine any of my actions as a Board Member not being covered by the association’s D & O policy. That being said, I wouldn’t consider serving on a Board where the D & O policy wasn’t in place and kept current. All the best!

Small Condo; Big Governance Problem!

J.P. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small condo association in Florida. While being a new owner, I have noticed that the whole board and the running of the property is out of control. The President has been in place for several years as I can tell since no one else wanted to be on the board. It is a 55+ community. He also put himself as the property manager. The budget is less than $100K, so no property management company is required. He does not pay any HOA fees as he says that is in lieu of his property manager position. The association never voted for this, he just took this over on his own. He bullies the owners who are old and some do not speak good English. When he gets mad at you, he is very vindictive and knocks on people’s doors late at night. This guy is in his 70’s and a heavy drinker. I voted myself onto the board recently as Treasurer to have a voice and he has yet to hand over the books, check writing, etc. Many people believe he is hiding stuff and he now refuses to answer his door or calls from me. He feels threatened and believes I will expose what he has been doing the past 5 years or so. What do you recommend the best course of action to get control of the situation? I have spoken to the association’s lawyer who says to file a complaint with the state (Florida), I plan to do so in hopes of getting the ball rolling to have him removed. We also have cameras throughout the property which he installed but he is the only one who has control of them as it is set up in his unit. Many people feel uncomfortable as he watches all day and approaches people when they get home. I have to assume that is not legal as when we ask to see a clip he does not allow it. As you can see this place is a mess and would be happy to hear any suggestions you may have before I contact the state. Thank you for your advice.

Mister Condo replies:

J.P., there is very little that I can add before you contact the state, which I hope you have already done. The association attorney can only do as much as the association (the Board) instructs him or her to do. You do need to review your governance documents (or have the attorney review them for you) to see what steps will be necessary to remove the President from office and from the Board. If funds are missing or misappropriated, there may very well be criminal charges as well. Right off the bat, I can tell you that the association should go after the unpaid common fees. Board members are not exempt from common fees and unless there is some kind of formal agreement between the President and the Association for him to serve as a paid Property Manager, he will have to make good on those unpaid fees as well as any late fees. Shame on your fellow unit owners who took no action until now. From what you have said, this behavior has been going on for years. Who knows what financial perils this person has brought upon the association. What about other Board members? Are there none? This situation stinks to high heaven and you are correct to pursue a remedy for you and all of the other unit owners are at serious financial risk as long as this individual has the association checkbook. The time for action is now. Good luck!

HOA Wants to Sell Parking Space to Home Owner!

H.G. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a homeowners’ association buy little stubs that in the past 50+ years have not been used and simply allowed easy access to parking on either side of two beach property homes and were either owned by no one or owned by the association and force the owner of the home to purchase it ($7k) or risk that someone else will buy it and use for parking between your homes and make parking for us nearly impossible?

Mister Condo replies:

H.G., that is a loaded question if I ever heard one! It is a question that would best be answered by an attorney, which I am not. Who owns the parking spaces? If it is the association, they can very likely handle the access to those spaces however they see fit. Even if they haven’t invoked their right to charge a fee for the past 50+ years as you state, it is still their property. If you own the property, that is a different story. If they are selling you the space for $7,000 and it is then yours to use or sell as you see fit, I would think that is a good investment. Otherwise, as you say, who know who else could buy it and prevent easy parking for you and your guests. Good luck!

President Asking Daughter to Fill in Violates Condo Governing Documents

P.S. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The President of our association did not make it to the last meeting but sent a proxy regarding his daughter to vote AND stand in for president and run the meeting. Our governing documents state that if the president is unable to fulfill his duties as president, the secretary fills in. Who should have run the meeting? The daughter with the proxy or the secretary?

Mister Condo replies:

P.S., unless your documents allow the President to appoint a proxy (doubtful), the governing documents dictate your answer and from what you have told me, the Secretary should have run the meeting. Board members seldom have the right to give a proxy for their vote. If you miss a Board meeting, you miss your opportunity to vote. The real question here is what actions were taken at this meeting. Unit owners have the ability to question any actions taken at this meeting as it was held in violation of the governing documents. My advice would be to nullify the meeting and revote any items voted upon at the meeting so there is an official and legal accounting in the Association’s Minutes. And don’t allow anything like this to happen again. Education is available in our state for volunteer leaders through the local chapter of the Community Associations Institution. You can learn more at http://www.caict.org/. All the best!