C.N. from outside of Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
7 years ago, the board claimed there was no money for window replacement. They further claimed that due to how the bylaws were written it was the owners responsibility. Now the time has passed I have spent $4000 of my money to replace windows and the siding to prevent leaking. The board announced a property undertaking of new siding and windows. Am I and others like me entitled to any reimbursement for the money we spent to improve and protect units?
Mister Condo replies:
C.N., the likely answer is “no” but you and your other unit owners who have already spent the money on windows and siding may be able to negotiate some type of agreement with the new Board by saving them the money of not having to address your units. It will depend on a few things and none of them are all that simple. Let me explain.
7 years ago, the association lacked a Reserve Fund adequate enough to handle needed repairs. The correct action for the Board at that time would have been to either levy a Special Assessment or seek an HOA loan to cover the repairs. For whatever reason, neither of those things happened. However, the Board apparently agreed that you and several other owners could make repairs to the association-owned portion of your own units at your own expense. That was improper and both you and the Board should have sought counsel at that time to guide you through the proper procedure. You basically gave yourself a Special Assessment for repairs that the Association was responsible to make.
I am assuming that in the seven years that have past, there has been turnover on your Board and there are new leaders at the helm. This Board is handling the repairs properly by having the Association pay for the repairs out of association money. While you can argue that you and others have already paid for these repairs to your individual units you will not likely find any documentation in your governing by-laws that allude to reimbursement for those repairs as, technically, you shouldn’t have made them in the first place. Like I said, a community association attorney would have advised against this practice 7 years ago for this very reason.
This is where some negotiation with your new Board may come into play. The reality is that you and your fellow unit owners took matters into your own hands when the association failed you by not keeping it covenant to maintain and protect the units. However, the reason they did this was for a lack of funds, which you and all other unit owners failed to contribute over time in the form of higher common fees and/or Special Assessments. It wasn’t your fault, mind you. It was just the Boards that preceded that Board didn’t do a good job preparing the annual budget and decided that keeping fees low was more important than keeping the Reserve Fund properly funded. Unfortunately, that is a common occurrence.
If your units are overlooked for new windows and siding, you might be able to ask for a “rebate” of your original investment, which was basically an undocumented loan to the association to make necessary repairs. I wouldn’t expect too much from this tactic and the current Board is under no obligation to offer any of that money back to you. It would basically be a peace offering for the money and effort you invested 7 years ago when the association was in dire financial times. If your units receive the same new windows and siding that all of the other units are now getting, you have no argument for any compensation, in my opinion. You will have enjoyed your previously new windows and siding for 7 years and you will now have the same new windows and siding as all other unit owners. Honestly, that is the ideal solution. Good luck!