NY Condo Board Not Following Condo Bylaws

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L.L. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo bylaws state that beneficial or necessary “alterations or improvements” over 5% (~$13,000) of the annual budget must be approved by 2/3 of unit owners. Because of abuse complaints, there is also a bill being considered in New York that would make it a state law that association contracts over a predetermined cost must be approved by owners. The current board, with the support of property managers and committee members (including one with local political and board experience) have chosen to ignore the bylaws, despite reminders from unit owners.

In the past year they have, without presenting contracts to owners or holding a vote,: replaced a ~6,000 SF silver slate roof with brown asphalt, and “saved money” by leaving a worn out and unrepaired copper ice shield and gutter system in place. Dozens of new shingles blew off 2 months later, valley flashing has gaps and daylight visible from inside the attic, and the roof and gutters leak (costing unit owners almost $48,000.00); constructed an underground storm system and connected roof drains that will “save money” by skipping routine gutter system and grading repairs. The project had no effect on targeted black ice and swampy lawns because these are also due to neglected grading and pavement maintenance unrelated to roof drainage (~$30,000.00); completely demolished an intact 16′ x 18′ porch structure with timber trellis, slate roof, metal lath and plaster ceiling rather than repair a header and damaged gutter, and replaced it with a vinyl and asphalt covered roof they believe will “save money” because it will never need painting, and failed to get a required building permit before starting the work (~$23,000.00); and, unit roofing improvements they were informed by engineering professionals will not mitigate severe ice dams and do not even meet minimum requirements of the current building code but “save money” because the work cost less than the recommended work estimate (~$20,000.00 spent and ~$20,000.00 planned).

Unbelievably, unit owners say they trust the board who trust the property managers and the contractors, and all claim they have done quality work and saved the association money. The unit owners don’t understand, don’t want to know details or care if they vote on contracts! So, the real answer is, a board can spend and do whatever they can delude unit owners and themselves into believing what should be done. Until there are laws requiring a higher level of skill, training and ethics among property managers, perhaps even requirements for board volunteers, and channels other than expensive litigation to protect unit owners who see the system being abused, state laws and condo bylaws mean nothing. Boards can and will continue to do whatever they want, no matter how wrong, illegal or just plain stupid. What do you think?

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., greetings from your Nutmeg State neighbors in Connecticut. It would appear that your fellow unit owners do not share your concerns over the proper governance of your condominium by your current Board. It would also appear that the Board has made a few mistakes, innocent or other, that have cost the community money. However, unless the Board is called on their actions, there really is no other remedy for you. Regardless of how other unit owners respond, you do have the right to have the bylaws enforced. However, exercising that right will require you to take legal action against the Board which you can do on your own but you may find it is just simpler to hire an attorney who would then file suit against the Board for acting outside of their contract. Keep in mind that the Board will likely hire its own attorney to defend itself but that is just the nature of how the Board functions. You may not be able to rectify what has already been done but you can show this Board that you are serious about protecting your rights as a unit owner within this condo. Also, since your fellow unit owners appear to be perfectly content with how things are and see no fault with how the Board is handling the association’s governance you might also consider selling when the market conditions are right. A Board with unchecked power can make some decisions that could cost you much more than they already have. All the best!

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