Poorly Maintained Condo Grounds Becoming a Swamp!

J.M. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condo managed by a professional management company. The grass is not being cut and the property is turning into a swamp. What are my rights?

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., the management company works for the association, governed by the Board of Directors or Trustees. If the management company is underperforming, it is incumbent upon the Board to pressure them to perform properly or be fired. If your Board isn’t doing their job, it is time for a new Board. Have you been attending Board meetings to hear what is going on? Have you complained directly to the Board about the poor property maintenance? You need to be vocal to have your issues heard. This isn’t an issue of your rights, this is a simple issue of property maintenance being performed as outlined in your governance documents and the management company agreement with the Board. All the best!

Condo Unit Owner Doesn’t Want to Pay Assessment to Cover Lawsuit Costs

C.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One owner is suing the condo so now the condo wants each owner to pay $500 to pay the legal fees to defend against the suit. I have no problem if it was for something to improve the condo that the budget couldn’t cover but not legal fees. They have also threatened us with a collection agency if we do not pay. We live pay check to pay check as it is and do not have this extra money. What is your opinion?

Mister Condo replies:

C.O., I am sorry for your financial worries. Lawsuits against the association are serious business and the Board is right to hire an attorney to defend against the lawsuit. As a unit owner, you are a member of the corporation and have a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. If the association decided to not defend itself and the plaintiff won the suit, the association could find itself owing a great deal of money to the unit owner bringing the suit. The end result of that would be an assessment to unit owners equal to the amount of the award. You could end up paying much more by not paying to defend against the suit. The bottom line is that you are the association and you are being sued. You want to defend yourself and the legal fees incurred are part of being in the association. You must pay them or the association will act against you with full legal authority to do so. My opinion is that you should pay these fees and keep a close eye on the lawsuit. Hopefully, the money invested in the defense fees saves you from having to pay far more. Good luck!

Single Condo Unit Owner Prevents Maintenance for Other Owners

W.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 4-unit condo, where the unit owners are the 4 trustees. We are dysfunctional and have hired a Property Manager to do our bookkeeping and such. The Property Manager has recommended several maintenance issues be addressed since he was hired in 2013, but since 1 condo has >25% beneficiary interest and at least 75% beneficiary interest is needed to make repairs, we cannot make any maintenance repairs on the (historic) building. The deed and bylaws are generic and since the market where I live is going up, none of the repairs adversely affect the value of the property but are sorely needed to maintain the property and its safety (railings on steps, repairing loose brickwork, repointing the exterior brick; cleaning the gutters so the rain doesn’t rot out the window sills; replacing the roof). What do we do?

Mister Condo replies:

W.W., small condos like yours face problems like this far too often. The governing documents have placed the other three owners, including yourself, at the mercy of a single unit owner. Short of buying the recalcitrant unit owner out of the building, you can’t do anything. You say the market is good. Sounds like a good time to sell and buy into a building where all of these modification and maintenance items have been addressed. Unless this hold-out is heading out, nothing is likely to change. Good luck!

Condo Board Executive Session Advance Agenda

E.B. from Tolland County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Does the agenda of condo board executive sessions have to be published prior to the meeting and are they available to unit owners?

Mister Condo replies:

E.B., “executive sessions” are typically just that, executive, and are for the eyes and ears of the “executives” of the association, that being the members of the Board of Directors. That being said, they are also to be used for very select and sensitive pieces of business. They are not typically on the agenda other than as “Executive Session”. However, any actions taken during an Executive Session are public records of the association and, as such, are available to unit owners for inspection once the minutes of the meeting where the Executive Session was held are voted into the record. Hope that helps.

Condo Landlord Reluctant to Pay for Damage to Neighboring Unit

D.J. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a condo. A little over 1 month ago, water was pouring out of my linen closet. I immediately ran to my neighbors, thinking they must not be home or left water running. They were and I advised water is pouring out of my linen closet. They came down to take a look. They are renters. I’m an owner. I notified the HOA that night, by phone and email. Eventually, after 2 days the HOA sent out professional to dry vac my carpeting and to detect the problem. Once the bathroom ceiling was opened up, linen closet ripped out the problem was located, and it was & has been determined the renter’s condo owner is responsible for basically getting my bathroom back together/carpeting replaced/drywalls repaired: I have no linen closet, because it was ripped out.

The owner of the other unit and the HOA are going back and forth as to who is responsible. The HOA has brought in an attorney to confirm they, meaning the other condo owner, are totally responsible. The owner feels as though the HOA is responsible, because it’s a common area. This is so bad, the owner has asked for the bylaws, which was provided. No one is doing anything, and I’m caught in the middle, totally. I can’t see this being resolved any time soon. The owner will not provide his insurance information, so a claim can be started. I’ve already asked the HOA for information & was told, the owner will not provide that information.

I’ve been very patient and understanding, but nothing is being done. I’m at the point I need to contact an attorney and sue the HOA, as well as the Owner, for my insolvencies, as well as repairs/replacement of items.

Mister Condo replies:

D.J., I am sorry for your worries and problems. Water damage at condos is far too common and, as you are seeing first-hand, it isn’t always a simple case of pointing to the cause and assessing the cost of repairs. Your closing comments are my best advice to you. It is long past the time of being patient and understanding. The other parties have hired attorneys, so should you. If the damage came from a common area, the other owner may have a point. If not, he may be responsible and have to pay or have his insurance company pay. Either way, your best interests will be protected by having your own attorney look out for them. Have you read the by-laws yourself? Sometimes it helps to have your own understanding of what is being contested. It doesn’t necessarily help resolve the matter any sooner but it might help you understand what the legal bickering is about. All the best!

Homeowner’s Insurance Should Cover Damage from Condo Neighbor’s Air Conditioner

A.B. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 100-unit condo in Cambridge, MA. My upstairs neighbor’s air conditioner leaked, causing water damage to my unit. Who is responsible and who files an insurance claim?

Mister Condo replies:

A.B., I am sorry you took damage from a neighbor’s air conditioner. Your own insurance is your first line of defense. Your insurance should cover any interior damage to your unit, less your deductible. Your neighbor may also have insurance that would come into play if your insurer goes after him/her for the damage caused. There are also times when the association insurance can come into play but this doesn’t sound like one of those times. File your own claim with your own insurance and get your damage repaired. Good luck!

Sliding Glass Doors Make Condos Easy Break-in Targets

D.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have mostly glass patio doors at my condo and a lot of break-ins because of this. Can the association prevent me from replacing this with a more solid, much safer door?

Mister Condo replies:

D.K., I am sorry that your condo suffers from a high crime rate. While I share your concern for safety and home protection, the style and design of an exterior door is part of the unit’s architectural compliance standards and is subject to the standards approved by the Board of Directors for your association. That being said, your Board should also be aware of the high level of break-ins and share your concern for the safety of residents. Explain your concerns to the Board and ask them for a solution to solve the problem. They may approve a new design standard for the glass doors but that is not common. Ideally, the underlying issue of too many break-ins would be addressed with a security solution such as video cameras or security patrols. All the best!

Condo Unit Owner’s Right to Association’s Financial Transparency

J.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What rights do I have for convenient financial transparency from our board of directors?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., financial transparency is typically outlined in the association’s governance documents. Additionally, in Connecticut, the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA) offers unit owners additional transparency if the governance documents don’t offer the same or better. Of course, your definition of financial transparency may not be exactly what you are looking for. Things like the Annual Budget are readily available and should be presented to all unit owners at the Annual Meeting. Detailed items, such as invoices, bids, etc. may require some additional work on your part to get and the association can charge you a fee for such requested documents. The transparency is still there but it is not necessarily free. Unit owners are part of a corporation. Corporations need to keep records and those records can be inspected by shareholders (unit owners). Those are your rights. If they are violated, you may have a case against your association. Good luck!

How Too Many Non-Resident Unit Owners in a Condo Association Changes Everything

E.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The same people who established the condominium in which I live still control it. Though units were first sold in 1990, one of the developers maintains 15 of the 130 units. This block of condo units represents 15 votes, which when added to condo units controlled by their friends on the board, leads to a lot of apparent financial shenanigans and bullying of owners who simply want a little transparency. About 70% of the owners currently rent out their units, mainly because they hate the way this place is run. Those of us who are left living here cannot seem to oust the trouble-making board, nor win the support of the non-resident owners who are generally apathetic, now that they’re gone and have a paying tenant to cover their costs. Many resident owners, however, are either angry, stressed, depressed, chronically ill, demoralized, etc. as a direct result of feeling powerless to do anything about their maltreatment by the current board, which has both directly and indirectly ruled the roost since the beginning. This is one miserable place. We have turned to lawyers and they say get a petition together to call a special meeting and vote the board out. This is not possible, given the apathy of so many non-resident owners — many of whom also fear retaliation by certain board members and their property management company, which has been with them from the very start. The resident owners who really care about reform — and who have been suffering physical and emotional harm — have already been burned by one attorney who proved incompetent, so we are wondering if a class action lawsuit might be a viable avenue for us. We would let the attorney have all the winnings. We just want to see some justice done after all these years.

Mister Condo replies:

E.C., I am sorry for your situation. Associations that are largely under developer control even after the developer transition period is over can be tricky. Associations with large percentages of rental units come with their own problems. You have a double whammy at your association. Your best bet is increasing the numbers of resident owners who are willing to volunteer and serve on the Board if elected. As long as the resident owners are the minority, nothing will change, in my opinion. At their core, condo associations are democracies. The people with the most votes are the ones who govern the association. As long as those people are not resident owners, I don’t see much motivation for them to change how they govern. You indicate that this behavior has been going on for years. If it were me, I would have sold my unit by now. Unless you see the pendulum swinging towards more resident owners, I would encourage you and anyone else who is unhappy there to consider moving out. You can contact an attorney to see if you have a case but I haven’t heard of anything you’ve mentioned as being a valid reason for a lawsuit. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney so my advice is strictly friendly. For a legal opinion, you will need to seek out the services of an attorney who could better guide you legally. Good luck!

Condo’s “Backyard” Cannot be Used to Walk Dogs

T.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our association has a rule that dogs are not allowed in our backyard near the River. Can they prevent me from using my backyard for my dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

T.B., they absolutely can restrict use of the common grounds as it applies to pets. Many condo unit owners are under the impression that the land that surrounds their units is theirs to use as they see fit. That is rarely the case. In fact, the association owns all of the common land within the association. That includes the land behind your unit which you refer to as your backyard. Since the association owns the land, they make the rules. If the rule is that you can’t use the common area for your dogs, then that is the rule. You can ask the Board for an exception but it is unlikely that they will agree. I hope you can find a suitable solution to your pet problem. Good luck!