Condo Owners Reluctant to Pay Proper Common Fees

K.I. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I serve as board president for a small association. The Treasurer and I are the only unit owners who have any interest in serving in more than name only. Despite our best efforts, we can only seem to get the unit reps together annually to discuss business. For the past few years he and I have been warning everyone that due to inflation, our expenses are surpassing our income. We have tried raising monthly dues, but according to our by-law, raising dues and levying of non-emergency assessments must be passed by majority, so we’ve been unsuccessful. Because of this, we have been unable to allocate funds to do upkeep. The unit that is the most vocal about status quo reported a water stain that will certainly lead to a leak. The treasurer and I would very much like to address this…but we don’t have the money because we’re being out-voted on raising dues and budgeting future assessments into them. Once there IS a leak we can say this is an emergency assessment and levy it, but the unit that reported it is threatening legal action against us for not maintaining the building unless we fix it post-haste. Because we are a small association, we have been unable to find a property manager that will take us on or that we can afford, so we don’t have access to a lawyer. We’ve called around, but have been unable to find a lawyer that will even see us for a consultation! Any advice?

Mister Condo replies:

K.I., I am sorry for your situation. Unfortunately, you are seeing the direct results of what happens when unit owners’ apathy reaches a dangerous level. There are some things you can do but you will likely get pushback from unit owners and even the uninterested Board Members. A lawsuit from an upset unit owner will get their attention despite your best efforts to avoid that scenario. The emergency repair will also cause the immediate problem to be fixed but will not solve the long-term issue of inadequate Reserve Funds and even general maintenance funds. The reality of the situation is that your common fees should probably be at least twice what they are right now but, as you know, unit owners will fight you tooth and nail if you raise the fees that much. Having money for a property manager and an attorney are all part of collecting adequate common fees. Until the fees are raised, the problems will persist. If it were me, I’d hit the road while the units still have some value. If you wish to stay and fight, you can cite governance and legal (Connecticut State Law) requirements to adequately collect Reserves as part of the monthly common fees. It will take years to correct but with diligence, I do believe you can turn the association around. The alternative is catastrophic financial failure, which will lead to the association going under and owner losing their homes. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

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