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!

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