Category Archives: Rules Enforcement

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!

Condo Bylaws Call for All Cars to be in “Good Working Order” but According to Who?

J.Z. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a condo and two deeded outdoor parking spots. My car was in an accident and the condo board is telling me I’m not allowed parking my car in my own spot because it is not in good working condition. Apparently, this is in the building’s bylaws. The car is not severely damaged and is not leaking fluids. It does not pose a security risk to other owners. They gave me 48 hours to comply or they have threatened to tow it. Can they do that? What are my rights?

Mister Condo replies:

J.Z., I am sorry your car was in an accident. Unless your documents spell out what “good working order” is, you have plenty of wiggle room here. That being said, you do need to be mindful of the condo documents and ask yourself if you would want to see other damaged cars allowed on the property. It is a sticky wicket for the Board, at best. If you are going to have the car repaired, why not take it to the shop sooner rather than later? That way you’ll get your car back and the Board will have nothing to complain about. Even though it is your parking space, the lot is owned by the association and under the authority of the Board. It is up to them to enforce the rules. If they do tow your car and you end up taking them to court, you are going to get into an argument over what “good working order” means. Your definition of “not leaking fluids” or “posing a security risk” may not be enough. If the car is visible damaged, that may be all that is needed for the Board to prevail. Best to get the car off of association-owned grounds as soon as you can. Good luck!

Noisy Condo Neighbor Ruining Renter’s Peace and Quiet

P.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am dealing with a neighbor at condo. I am a renter; she is not. She is loud and noise every night until at least 1:00 a.m. The owner I’m renting from is lazy. I can’t wait until May to leave next year. I tried talking to this neighbor and had to call police twice. The manager of the association says they will send a letter but the problem still persists. Recently, a picture fell of my wall and broke. She stomps on her floor on purpose and intentionally drop loud objects. I am so angry I can’t sleep. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

C.J., lazy or not, your landlord has a responsibility to provide you with a rental unit as outlined in your rental agreement. Most likely, that agreement included a copy of the rules and regulation for the condo association where you reside. Inside those rules, there are the steps for complaining about another unit owner or resident that isn’t following the rules. Typically, a report is made to either a Property Manager or directly to the Board. There are usually rules about acceptable noise levels, quiet hours, and peaceable enjoyment for unit owners. As a renter, you may or may not have the ability to directly lodge such a complaint, meaning it may need to come through your landlord. If your landlord refuses to support you in this effort, he may be breaking terms of your lease which may leave you the opportunity to end the lease early. However, if you decide to break your lease early you may be out of your deposit or create a legal battle between you and your landlord. My practical advice is for you to motivate your landlord or have him give you the power to work directly with the Property Manager or Board to bring about a resolution. Understand that it may take time and as the months go by towards the end of your lease, the simplest solution may be to not renew your lease. If you decide to break your lease, speak with an attorney to see what legal and financial consequences you may be incurring. It is an unfortunate circumstance to say the least. However, in tight living spaces as many condos offer, an unruly neighbor can make living there unpleasant. Good luck!

Ill Condo Renter Has Car Towed

L.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I rent a condo in a complex that has an Association and also a building management company. My car was recently towed without any prior notification to me – no phone call, no email, no letter, no knock on the door. I have not been driving my car since September of 2015 for medical reasons, and in October of 2015, someone from the Association put a note on my car because it hadn’t been moved for a month. I called the building management company and informed them about my medical issue. I never heard back from building management. So yesterday without notice the car was towed. I haven’t yet been told where the car is, who towed it, or what I might need to do to get it back. BTW, I’ve rented this unit for 10 years now, and have NEVER been introduced to ANYONE on the Association and none of the members have ever made it their business to get to know me. What are my legal rights in this issue? Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

L.H., despite your status as a long-term renter in this condo, you are still bound to follow all of the rules of the association as is every other unit owner, renter, and any other resident. That includes the parking rules, which can be quite challenging to enforce. I agree with you that this is an unfortunate situation that could have been handled better but if your car was parked in violation of association rules, the association has the right and the responsibility to enforce the parking rules so that all community members may enjoy the parking area. I am not an attorney so I do not offer legal advice in this column. I do not personally believe you have legal rights in this situation as you violated the parking rules by leaving your vehicle parked on the association-owned parking grounds for far too long a period of time. I am not sure why you would have any expectation to be introduced to anyone on the Board of the association. They represent the unit owners and are elected by the unit owners at unit owner meetings. As a renter, you aren’t a unit owner. Your relationship is with the owner of your unit; not the association. If you feel your legal rights have been violated, by all means, contact an attorney who could better advise you of your options. In the meanwhile, the management company should be able to tell you where your car has been towed. You will likely need to pay for the towing and/or storage fees to get your car back. Once you do, you should make alternate arrangements for the long-term storage of your car. Otherwise, it will likely be towed again in accordance with the rules of parking in your condo. Good luck!

Hardship Case Causing Condo Rental Cap Chaos

H.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our association passed an amendment to the CC&R’s capping the rental of units at 17. We have 66 units. This was done in 2006 to help us keep FHA funding. Our last management company let it slide, so our new management company has gone through the hoops and we are now FHA approved again. We have a clause that allows a temporary hardship case which allows renting of a unit out for 1 year and 2nd extension of 6 months. Someone has married and his wife has 3 kids and lives in a house. He bought the condo just before the big collapse in prices. Now he cannot sell it for what it is worth. His wife was laid off. He wants to claim hardship to rent for a year. He said we had until a certain date to give him an answer for a court filing. Well we finally decided to let him do it after conferring with our lawyer. But we waited past his deadline. We have a rental list that he could get on. He has not signed up. If the current person who is number 17 on rental list and cannot get his unit rented within 60 days, he falls to bottom of the rental list. The next person on the rental list moves up to rental position. This person with the hardship case, if he signed up, would now be able to rent the 1 bedroom unit as a regular rental now, if the other 4 folks on the list allowed him to skip over them to be 1st on the rental list. Then we would be back to 17 units rented and no hardship case. This way we won’t lose FHA funding. Some folks are saying FHA is now allowing up to 50%. We are considered the old school rule of condos. I don’t want to take a chance of going over 17 units if I can help it. Will we be in trouble being over the 17 units with this hardship case?

 

Mister Condo replies:

H.S., your adherence to FHA rules while trying to accommodate a unit owner who has fallen on hard times is admirable. However, since you have already involved the association attorney in these proceedings, my best advice is to continue to seek legal advice to guide you through these murky waters. While hardship cases tug at my heartstrings, condo associations are businesses and do not have the luxury of caring about individual unit owner’s unique situations. It sounds to me like you have some very reasonable rules in place about rental restrictions. They have been in place since 2006 and, I am assuming, are in compliance with your state laws on rental caps within community associations. The unit owner’s lack of ability to sell the unit for what it was purchased for is not the business of the association. The collection of common fees from that unit owner and the enforcement of the rental restrictions and other rules of the association are the concern of the Board. If your true concern is FHA funding eligibility, you would be wise to speak with an expert in that area. I am not an expert but I would agree that the current standard of 50% is accurate as of the time of this writing. As your question so easily points out, the FHA changes the rules so today’s answer may not be true tomorrow. There are other reasons for maintaining rental caps, including quality of life for unit owners. Additionally, if you do wish to change the rental cap restrictions, you will need to hold another vote on the matter.

Condo Garden Greens Causing the Blues!

A.V. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My husband and I moved this townhouse community that has a HOA. We have a small garden with our unit that other units don’t have. I have a legal survey that shows these green areas. My husband has spent a lot of time and money keeping a nice yard and we have some garden ornaments and statues and some furniture. We have received compliments about our garden. The garden is surrounded with bushes. Since we moved, we have received letters that these green areas are common areas. I sent the survey and other documents to the HOA and they did not bother us for a while. However, about a week ago, we received a letter from the lawyers representing the HOA that we need to keep the aesthetics of our garden with the rest of the units and this means to keep the vegetation not so more than 5 foot (I agree with this) but we need to remove all the garden ornaments, pot plants and even furniture. I checked most units and they have pot plants and ornaments in their little green areas, including the President of the Board. We are very upset at this and we think is so unfair. If we are violating the aesthetics of where we live, then everybody is doing the same. I just learned that the President of the HOA removed 2 Royal Palms from a neighbor’s backyard without a proper permit from the City and she only notified this neighbor. Is this illegal? As owners, are we entitled to have notification in writing about what is happening where we live. They said we are not following guidelines but she is not following permits either. Is there a way we can use this as an argument versus our garden? Maybe the Board will back off. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

A.V., you would think the Board has bigger fish to fry than taking on garden ornamentation. However, the Board is well within its rights and has a responsibility to enforce the architectural guideline of the association, which include gardening regulations. However, they cannot selectively enforce these guidelines only against you without opening themselves up to a discrimination lawsuit, should you choose to file one. In other words, if your garden gnomes must go, all gnomes must go! My advice to you is keeping pushing back. Cite other instances where the rules are not being followed and threaten with a discrimination lawsuit if the Board persists in targeting only you for these rules violations. Also, consider running for the Board or electing Board members that are friendlier to the lifestyle choices of the community. Rules and guidelines are important but it is also important to know when to take action and when to let things lie. It sounds like you have made some nice improvements that the community is enjoying. No need to take a wrecking ball to a celebration. Good luck!

Can the Condo Property Manager Sue Me?

M.Z. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Has the property manager the right to fine me or sue in court?

Mister Condo replies:

M.Z., I am sorry you find yourself at odds with your Property Manager and now need to inquire if you can be fined or sued. The answer to both questions is yes, but with a few caveats. Property Managers work for the association and are granted their powers to enforce the covenants of the association by virtue of their contract with the Board to do so. They cannot make up offenses that you can be fined for. If you are in violation of your community’s rules and regulations, the Property Manager can issue you fines as outlined in the governance documents and in accordance with local and state law. In many states, unit owners who have been cited for violating rules must first be summoned to appear before the Board and state their case before the fine is issued.

Suing you is a different matter entirely. As an individual, almost anyone can sue anyone in this country. The Property Manager can follow the Board’s instruction to bring suit against a unit owner for a couple of reasons. The most common is that the unit owner is in arrears with the association. Delinquency of common fees or special assessments are the most common reasons an association would sue a unit owner. An ongoing dispute over architectural compliance issues is another. In both of these instances, the Property Manager is acting on behalf of the Board. If you and the Property Manager got into an altercation (I hope not!) and the Property Manager decided to sue you personally, that is certainly their right.

The bottom line is that you should speak with an attorney if you are being sued. Personally, and professionally, the Property Manager can bring suit against you. You will want to defend yourself. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

Unit Owner’s Overgrown Shrubs Causes Condo Eyesore

C.L. from New York writes:

The Board of Directors self-manages (no community manager or management company) our very large condominium complex. A question/problem has come forward that I would like your opinion on. The Board inspects common areas around the entire complex. Our offering plan states no plantings are allowed on common ground without permission of the Board. The guidelines state you may plant in the 3′ area around your unit if you choose. Otherwise, the association simply plants grass and maintains the area. If we find a violation we send pictures and a letter stating the unit owner must conform with rules of community giving a certain time frame to correct or we will at a cost to owner.

We came across a unit that has a terribly overgrown shrub around the perimeter and other over grown shrubs all over the property adjoining the unit. We sent a letter with pictures of the violations to the owner requesting they remove the shrubs from the common area and trim in the 3′ area as the rules designate. The owner produced documentation that showed permission from the Board back in 1983 to plant small shrubs and claimed “it’s not her fault they grew so big”. The owner also stated she will not remove them.

We informed the owner that the rules require removal of the shrubs and as managers of the property we are enforcing the rules as per the offering plan guidelines. Either the unit owner removes and trims or the association will at a cost to the unit owner. The unit owner said she will get an attorney since she purchased it this way and “likes her privacy”. That is why she “bought that unit since no others are like it with plantings like that.” We have contacted our attorney as well. I would like your opinion on this.

Mister Condo replies:

C.L., thanks for writing. Since the unit owner has already claimed to be heading down the attorney path, the Board will have little choice but to involve the association attorney as well. I am hopeful that this unit owner’s attorney will instruct her that she would likely not prevail in a lawsuit but that is for the lawyers to decide. Keep in mind that I am not an attorney and I offer no legal advice.

My friendly advice for the association is that the condo documents likely spell out the role of the Board in enforcing guidelines and that the Board is likely well within its rights to enforce the standard. However, the Board does need to take care that it is unilaterally applying such enforcement measures, meaning to say that if the Board is enforcing this standard for ONE unit owner, it has to enforce this standard for ALL unit owners. Otherwise, the Board could be accused of discrimination and that could be a very expensive lawsuit, indeed.

From what you have told me, the owner’s argument of having “purchased it this way” and “liking her privacy” are not valid arguments. She would need to cite in the by-laws where she has the right to disregard the standards. I highly doubt she will be able to do that and her attorney will likely advise her of the same.

One other item to consider is any local or state laws regarding the matter. I doubt there are any that apply but there are some states (Florida, for instance) where by-laws that are unenforced for several years cannot be restated years later. In other words, if this violation has been in plain sight for a certain number of years (these shrubs didn’t grow so large overnight) and no action was taken, it may be too late to take action now. That doesn’t appear to be the case here but it is something to ask your attorney about if there are any questions.

Good luck. I am fairly certain you will prevail if it goes to court. However, my experience tells me this is likely to be settled well before then.

Condo Board Cites Unknown Parking Rules

S.V. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a deeded parking spot within our garage. I was cited because I was “supposedly” parked in my deeded spot for 96 hours without moving my vehicle. The violation states ” vehicle has been parked in your spot for over 96 hours. Please move it on a regular basis” Nowhere in our Parking Rules/bylaws is this indicated. Can a board regulate how often my vehicle is moved? Its registered, insured and properly maintained.

Mister Condo replies:

S.V., the Board is the ultimate authority on use of the common areas which may include your parking garage. Even though you have a deeded right to park in your space, you still need to follow the rules of the garage which is under the Board’s control. Of course, their rules need to be voted into the rules of the association, properly noticed to unit owners, and made part of the condo docs to be enforceable. Ask for a copy of the rule and ask when it was added. Also, if you and enough of your fellow unit owners feel the rule is unnecessary, propose the rule be removed. If the Board refuses to remove the rule, consider electing Board members that are friendlier to your cause. Board members are simply volunteers who have been democratically elected from within the association to perform the work of the association. You get what you vote for. S.V.. Good luck!

Consequences for Parking in Someone Else’s Condo Parking Space

T.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What consequences can an HOA do to people who park in spot that is assigned to someone else?

Mister Condo replies:

T.H., the consequences to a unit owner or guest for parking in an assigned parking spot that isn’t their own can be as severe as the governing documents and local and state law permit. For most associations, the first offense is a warning, followed by a fine, followed by towing of the vehicle at the owner’s expense. Some associations waive the first two procedures and proceed directly to towing. Seeing as most condominiums and HOAs are private property, vehicles are only allowed to be parked where the association says so with the exception of deeded parking spaces which are owned by the individual unit owners. Either way, it is commonly known that parking in HOAs is tightly controlled. Unit owners and residents have the responsibility of informing their guests of where to park when visiting. If they don’t, a warning letter, fine, or vehicle towing usually gets their attention and help them avoid future offenses. Good luck!