Dear Mister Condo,
I live in a small, self-managed condo building of which I am the sole Trustee. We have a back stairwell that every unit has common access to, but spacious landings with street viewing windows and storage/closets that are exclusive use. When I bought my place, it was the height of summer and I did not realize how dreadful my landing window situation was. They are old storm windows that during the winter I needs to nail shut so they don’t fall open, when closed have horrendous gaps I’ve been filling with foam at the start of each winter, and have no screens. All the floors below me (I’m on the top) have new, modern windows. I saved up enough money so that I could replace the windows before the winter this year. I’m being told by a friend who works in property management (she doesn’t represent me or my HOA) that windows are common, so the HOA would have to pay for new windows and that I couldn’t just replace mine, we’d have to replace them all so that they “looked the same.” I don’t think I can take another winter with these windows and I can’t see the other units agreeing to foot the bill for windows they don’t have access to. I don’t want to do anything that would breach our condo docs, however the only thing I can find in our docs is that each unit has exclusive use of their landing; all the other units have relatively new windows; and who would contest me paying for a repair out of my own pocket for my windows vs levying an assessment for them all to pay for mine? We’re on a pretty tight budget as is and—after contentious discussions—finally agreed to monthly HOA fees for planned assessments through 2019.
Mister Condo replies:
J.L., your friend may or may not be right. Windows are sometimes considered common elements and sometimes they aren’t. You need to look at your condo docs to see which is the case for you. If you are the owner of the windows the repair and replacement is on you. If the association owns the windows, it is on them. Either way, the association is responsible for the architectural compliance guidelines for the condo and the Board will have to approve whatever windows are going to be installed. Here’s a clue: you said “all the windows below me have new, modern windows”. How did that happen? Who paid for their windows? That will tell you who is responsible and then you will have your course of action. You should also be concerned that there is no money saved up for capital improvements. Without a healthy Reserve Fund, you may find yourself asking this same question when it comes time for a new roof, new parking lot, new siding, etc.. As the sole trustee, these are now your responsibilities. I hope you take on this duty seriously and lead your condo down the path to financial stability. All the best!