Snow Removal Responsibility for Condo Limited Common Elements

B.P. from Pennsylvania writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condominium HOA. Our documents state that the association is responsible for snow removal in common areas. It specifically excludes driveways, but what about limited common areas such as porches and steps? About half of the units are townhouse types. Do these owners need coverage for accidents that may occur on areas that are not association responsibility?

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., just as your documents define the responsibility of the association with regards to snow removal from the common areas, they likely pass the responsibility of limited common areas to either the owners or the association. If the documents are silent on the subject, the association might want to think about adding clarification for lots of reasons. First and foremost is safety. Regardless of who owns the porches and steps, they need to be kept clear so no injuries occur. As bad as the injuries may be, the resultant lawsuits that will likely follow can be devastating to the association. In my opinion, it makes sense for the association to take on the additional responsibility (and cost) of snow removal. That may cause a slight increase to common fees to cover the increased snow removal expense but it will assure that all was done to keep the porches and steps clear, this reducing the risk of injury and lawsuit to the association. As for the potential liability to homeowners, it is the same risk any homeowner has. If someone gets hurt on your property, you should have insurance to protect yourself. All the best!

Condo Dryer Vent Aimed at Neighbor’s Window and Deck

A.G. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My neighbor’s dryer vent blows onto my deck, heating my personal outside area. My dog can’t go outside, my kids can’t play, and I can’t even open my bedroom window or leave my sliding glass doors open, because the hot air from their dryer blows inside. Other condos have their dryers venting into the alley, but my neighbor won’t do it. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

A.G., I am sorry for your problem and I am sorry that your neighbor doesn’t seem to want to work with you to solve the problem. The first question I have for you is if the neighbor’s dryer vent was designed that way or if it was modified over the years? Since others have vents that blow into an alley, it seems strange that this vent is aimed at your “space”. You do have the right to enjoyment of your unit and that should include having your windows open and use of your deck. I would complain to the Board about the dryer vent invading your space and preventing you from enjoying your unit and see if they won’t intervene on your behalf. If they won’t help and your neighbor is unwilling to modify the direction of the vent, you might just want to speak with an attorney to see what, if any, legal options you have. I would think you could sue the association for not protecting your right to peaceable enjoyment of your unit. I hope it doesn’t come to that but you should make sure you and your family can enjoy your unit. Good luck!

Condo Owner Getting Water Damage from Outside of Unit

E.A. from Texas writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a water problem that is coming from inside the wall. The condo association, not the management company, will send someone out to fix it. I notified the management company maintenance man and he came out and tore out the wall. Another service person came out at the request of the president of the association’s request the next day and did not know what was causing the problem. My inside insurance company had a master plumber come out two days later and identify the likely source of the problem. He also wanted to test the water line pressure but the water lines are to 4 or 6 units so could not do it on the inside insurance person’s “say so” in case damage was done to other units. I have paid a large assessment, the first in 10 years this year, and paid all my dues on time. They are even ahead by one-two months. What gives?

Mister Condo replies:

E.A., keep paying those dues and assessments on time. Unfortunately, being a timely dues and assessments payer isn’t going to help this problem. You have done all of the right things so far and you may be on the path to resolution. The problem is clearly not your fault nor in your unit. That means the issue is either coming from a neighboring unit or from common water lines owned by the association. Either way, you need a repair and a solution pronto. Now that your plumber has identified the likely culprit, you need to pressure the Board and/or the management company to come and address the problem and provide a solution. These things can be frustrating because they take time, especially if access to neighboring units is involved in the repair. Ask for a plan and keep being a thorn in the side of anyone who will listen. In my experience, this type of problem is generally resolved quickly but being a squeaky wheel might just help you get some grease quicker. Good luck!

Condo Association Door Threshold Replacement Creates Unit Owner Leak

A.M. from Philadelphia writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The condo association had a project to repair balcony supports and to do water-proofing around balcony doors. My doors opened and closed and had no evidence of leaking prior to the condo’s project (you know where this is going!) After the project, my condo had a leak in door frame and one of the doors no longer opens. The condo responded by saying, “The existing doors have to be removed in order for the contractor to install their balcony waterproofing membrane. Once the doors were removed by the contractor, most if not all of the door threshold frames collapse due to long term water rot. The Association Engineering Firm directed the contractor to reinstall the doors ‘as is’ condition, but most of the doors will not operate due to the water rot. Since the doors are the responsibility of the owners (part of the unit) the Owners will have to replace the doors. The Building mock-up contains composite trim around the doors that is removable and provides easy door replacement without damaging the new stucco sealants and coating.” 

How is it possible that the condo association has no responsibility? I don’t dispute that the doors are part of the unit, but how do I know if the door threshold frames are part of the doors or part of the common elements? Of course, the lion-share of the cost is not these threshold frames themselves, but the labor to remove and reinstall!

Mister Condo replies:

A.M., I am sorry for your predicament. You had doors that were working perfectly well and now they aren’t and all because the association was doing preventative maintenance. Yes, you are now out of pocket the additional money for the labor to repair the door seal. While that is unfortunate, you should be thankful that the association is handling the bigger project here, which is the maintenance of the commonly owned threshold frames. This may or may not be outlined in your governance documents but it would appear that the Board is most certainly under the impression that it is their duty to maintain the threshold frames. As the Board has stated, and I would agree, they returned to doors to “as is” condition, which is their prerogative. I might suggest that you ask them if there is an option for you to offer to pay the contractor to reseal your doors the next time they undertake such a project. My guess is that would be quite some time in the future. Good luck!

Condo Owner Excused from Paying Special Assessment

M.A. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When is an owner excused from paying their share of a special assessment?

Mister Condo replies:

M.A., as far as I know, an owner is NEVER excused from paying a Special Assessment once it is levied by the Board. The whole point of a Special Assessment is to collect monies needed by the association from ALL of the association members. As an example, think of a 100-unit association where every unit is assessed 1% as their percentage of unit ownership. If the Board needed to levy an assessment of $100,000 to pay for parking lot repairs, the Special Assessment would equate to all unit owners paying $1000. If the Board were to excuse one or more owners from paying their share of the Special Assessment, they would come up short of the $100,000 needed to repair the parking lot. And what about all of the unit owners who did pay their share of the Special Assessment? I know I wouldn’t be too happy to learn that one of my fellow unit owners didn’t have to pay. In fact, I would sue the association for making an improper assessment. Unless your governing documents specify a situation where a unit owner is excused from paying a Special Assessment (I have never heard of one), there is no excusing of payment of a Special Assessment. All the best!

V.P. Resignation Creates Big Vacancy on Small Board

D.G. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are a 23-unit self-managed complex, with a 3-member Board; President, Vice President and Treasurer. In September, the Vice President resigned from the Board. Can we run the Board with just the President and Treasurer until our next election?

Mister Condo replies:

D.G., you certainly can but you should look at what your governing documents say. Typically, the remaining Board members are free to appoint another unit owner to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the Board Member’s term. In a small association like yours, there is a very limited pool of resources to find the next Board Member. Chances are the two remaining members would pick someone who they would like to work with for the remainder of the term. Then, when the original term is over and the Board position is open, the appointed Board Member is free to seek election by running for the position. That would be how it is typically handled. Check your own governing documents for exact details. All the best!

Feral Cats Find Friendly Unit Owners; Association Board Not So Much!

R.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! We are currently feeding and maintaining a mama cat and her 3 kittens plus 2 other friendly feral cats on our front porch. Association putting pressure on us to “get rid” of our outdoor friends. We are good people and good home owners. We have done so much to be good neighbors and keep up our property on our own. We are trying to find shelter for these babies before winter and have taken 4 of them already at our own expense. What can we do to keep these babies from harm?

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., I applaud your love of animals and your desire to help these fuzzy fur-babies. However, in its duty to protect the association from the potential danger and liability of keeping and encouraging feral cats, the Board is exactly correct to insist that you stop this behavior. You can contact your local animal control (some, not all, are helpful) to see what can be done. Keeping these babies from harm is a noble goal. Keeping you and your neighbors free from the vermin, feces, and other potential risks of having feral animals on property is the job of the Board. Be a good neighbor and stop encouraging activity from feral cats. It may seem cruel and heartless to abandon these critters but if you continue to violate the association’s rules, you should expect to get summoned and fined for the behavior. Good luck!

What is Adequate Meeting Notice for an HOA?

B.H. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How much time should an HOA give residents that a meeting is scheduled?

Mister Condo replies:

B.H., HOAs should give as much notice as possible to owners before a meeting takes place. Some governing documents spell it out specifically; some just say adequate notice. The Common Interest Ownership Act spells it out as 5 business days (one week) which would be the minimum for those associations that need to be compliant with the CIOA law in Connecticut. The bottom line is that the HOA must give fair and adequate notice to all unit owners lest they wish to have an owner claim they received inadequate notice which could nullify any actions taken by the Board at an improperly noticed meeting. Hope that helps.

Board Wishes to Grant Exclusive Use of Handicapped Parking Space to Unit Owner

D.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The association installed a handicapped spot per owner’s request. He is upset since visitors are occasionally parking in it. Can we put the unit number on it?

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., the association is free to enforce the handicapped parking spaces in their association-owned parking lots as they see fit. If non-handicapped cars are parking in handicapped spaces, they can be towed at owner expense, especially if there are signs indicating that non-handicapped cars will be towed from handicapped designated spaces. However, just because there is a handicapped space that was set up by the Board at an owner’s request, that doesn’t make the spot his. Other handicapped unit owners (and/or guests depending on the parking policy) with properly marked handicapped placards may also use the space. Generally speaking, it is “first come/first served”. However, if the Board wishes to designate a space for the specific use of one resident, it could try. However, don’t be surprised of other unit owners balk at the idea. After all, if everyone else is fighting for the limited spaces available at the association, they would be right to call foul for any single unit owner getting special treatment. Shared association parking is at a premium; the Board has a duty to protect the rights of all unit owners to use the amenity. All the best!

New Condo Owner Needs to Remove Handicapped Parking Designation from Deeded Space

M.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are looking to buy a condo. It comes with two deeded spaces. However, one of the spaces has a handicapped designation. Will we be free to use the spaces (as we would be the owners) despite the designation? 

Mister Condo replies:

M.F., congratulations on the new condo! You should check with either the management company or the Board of the condo before you purchase just to make sure that the two deeded spaces are yours and not owned by the association. It is unusual for a unit owner to get a private space designated as handicapped. What would be the reason? The unit owner already has exclusive use of the space, handicapped or not. It is possible that this unit owner decided to designate one of his deeded spaces as handicapped for a personal reason or that the Board actually designated the space as handicapped at his request. You do need an actual answer before you simply assume that this is one of your deeded spaces. As long as you actually own the space, there should be no issue with you removing the handicapped designation or using it as you see fit. Good luck!