New Condo Water Meters Leaves Owner Feeling Hosed

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A.G. from Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m hoping you can help me determine if I have a legitimate fight ahead of me or if I am doomed to the abused powers of our HOA. I received a letter informing me that water meters were going to be installed. When I signed our purchase agreement, it stated our dues will include water. Isn’t this an abuse of power to change the agreement?

If it is legal, are they allowed to keep our dues the same amount? If so I just don’t see this as being lawful.

Also in that same letter was an attachment that stated that our HOA was now incorporated? What does this mean?  There was never any posting of this beforehand asking the homeowners to vote on this.

I’m losing sleep wondering how we are going to afford to pay these new fees on top of our already very high monthly dues. Do I not have any legal right to fight this?

I should add that our board has left our Jacuzzi in non-operating status for over 6 months. They removed our grills from our pool common area and they have a pavement project planned for our complex. We were built in 2006!!  Something feels very wrong here. I’m thinking this new “Incorporated” status will give me less access to fight the goings on with this board and management company.

I’m hoping you can help me with understanding some of this. Thank you

Mister Condo replies:

A.G., sounds like your community has a lot on its plate right now. Let’s see if we can break down a few of these issues and make the situation more palatable. I asked one of my community association attorney friends for an opinion on the more legal portions of your question as I am not an attorney. Think of the following advice as friendly and not legal. If you need specific legal advice, kindly consult with an attorney.

Whether and how the Board can make the change to water meters depends on what your community’s declaration and bylaws say. Even if they say water usage won’t be separately charged, they can probably be amended as long as the proper procedures are followed. As for the grills and pavement project, the Board has the right to change common areas as long as any restrictions in the documents are followed – for example, some bylaws require the unit owners to approve improvements over a certain price. The law doesn’t dictate outcomes in this context, just the procedures governing how the decisions are made. You’ll need to read your community’s declaration and bylaws carefully or ask a lawyer to go over them to be sure. Finally, incorporating simply means the Board has registered the association as a non-stock corporation, like nearly all HOAs do. That won’t change your rights as an owner; it merely allows the corporation to sign contracts, open bank accounts, and otherwise conduct business for the whole community rather than by individuals. But to answer your question more directly: if you and your neighbors don’t like what the Board is proposing, you should speak out at the meetings, vote against the proposed budgets, vote out the board members at the next election, or petition to remove them from office. Of course, you also need to be ready to provide new community leaders. That means you and several of your other concerned neighbors need to be willing and able to volunteer your time to help provide the community leadership you seek. Best wishes!

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