Devil is in the Details of this Condo Deck Addition

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P.E. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently added a deck to my condo. There are no rules in our by-laws regarding decks. Apparently they were all put on by the builder with no permits. Permits were only approved for patios. I had to go before the town to apply and pay for a special land use permit (on my own) in addition to the building permit, because the board would not get approval for the whole complex at the same time for fear the town would make them bring existing decks up to code or fine them. The board approved my deck, but did have me sign a paper that said I would build my deck in a similar design to the existing decks (approx. 15 years old) and the decking and supporting structures should be a similar color to the existing decks as well. Nothing was stated about the railing or post colors. Originally there was a patio on my condo with a white picket fence around it which I had planned on removing until another neighbor (a past president) informed me that the fences were put there for safety reasons (due to steep embankment in the back). So a section of the fence is going to have to remain because of this. Again the fence is white, all the door, window trim, and accent colors on the condo are also white. I decided to put white posts on my deck to help coordinate the fence and condo with the deck. The deck is made of Trex decking, original decks are wood (builder’s special) decks. It clearly looks so much better (even some board members agree) with the white posts, but they are taking a stance saying I must remove the white posts within 30 days or they will begin fining me $25.00 a day. Now the kicker is that 2 other people have white railings in our complex. One is a railing along a patio and the other is a railing and posts on a handicap ramp with a landing on the top made of a combination of Trex decking with a wood rail. I assumed that since 2 other units had white railings some mild white accents on my rail would not be an issue. The board says that one is a fence not a rail and that the other is a handicap ramp, so the rules are different than for decks.

The Board is very difficult and not very friendly. All 70 + years old and they don’t like it when they are questioned. They clearly make up the rules as they go and make it difficult for everyone in the complex. Most of the owners don’t go to the meetings because of the Board. The Board says they don’t understand why no one goes to the meetings. They won’t let me be on the board, because I am not a resident, my mom lives in my unit and I am there at least 3 times a week. Yet the vice president of the complex (who runs the show) lives 6 months and a day in AZ.

Lastly this is far from a high end condo complex. There are many eye sores that this Board could spend more time on, as well as things that are different from one unit to the other. Someone told me I could override the Board’s decision if I petition and have 51% of the owners sign it supporting the color of my posts. Is this correct? I don’t have a lot of money to spend on a lawyer to fight this, but I do think the board is being ridiculous. This is a beautiful $10,000.00 + deck! Please Help!

Mister Condo replies:

P.E., there are so many things going on here I am not sure where to start. I am sorry for your situation although it sounds like you have a lovely new deck for you and your mother to enjoy so there may be something to be said for that. From what you have told me there are some things that have likely been mishandled by both you and the Board. Let’s start with what went right and then talk about what went wrong and how you can remedy the issues.

I assume when you asked about installing the deck you submitted the request in writing and received a written response from the Board giving you approval. This will be very important as to what follows. As long as you have the Board’s written documentation offering you approval for your deck you have a paper trail that you can rely on to support your case. I would be looking for items like materials used, size of deck, and other items pertaining to the construction project. Without such a letter, I am not sure what the Board thought they were approving. The oversight of the post and rails is unfortunate but was not included in your proposed deck request from what you have told me. I know that hindsight is “20/20” but if you find yourself undertaking a similar project in the future, be sure to include ALL aspects of the project. Better to seek approval than ask for forgiveness in a condominium where architectural compliance is largely decided by the Board. Had a proper project plan been submitted and agreed to by the Board, you would have none of these issues today.

Your assessment of the Board is a bit troubling. In fact, they are volunteer members elected by the unit owners to conduct the business of the association. If they are performing poorly, the community should find better volunteers to replace them. You are not a unit owner so I would not expect you to be allowed to serve on the Board.

The only real issue here that I see is the white color of the posts. You feel that white is the way to go and the Board does not. Since architectural compliance is the Board’s responsibility and you did not include the posts in your request for the deck improvement, I think you will have to yield to the Board’s decision or prepare to bring suit against them to defend your position. I am not familiar with a 51% petition to override the Board’s decision. If that is peculiar to your association’s by-laws that may be an option for you. A far better plan would be to invest a little more money in an attorney to get a legal opinion on your standing and to represent you and your mother in a suit against the Board if it comes to that. You’ve already invested $10,000 in the new deck. My guess is that for a few hundred dollars more you can hire an attorney to determine what your legal options are. Or you could spend the money on replacing the posts with something that the Board agrees to (in writing, before the work begins). Good luck!

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