Condo Renters Threaten Lawsuit Over New Parking Arrangements

S.G. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m a board member of a 150-unit condo association. The property was built with only 120 parking spaces back then. We just reconstructed additional spaces on the property for the first time in over 50 years. We have unassigned spaces due to near 50/50 owner/renter ratio but have now given Priority parking for Resident Owners only and have designated spaces for renters on the other side of the property – a short walk. Prior to restructuring, renters parked closer to their units which also meant owners having no space at all. Our new lot however, now has about 10-12 unused preferred spaces every day where before restructuring, we never had a single open space.

A few renters have threatened to file a discrimination lawsuit based on 2 things: 1) they used to be able to park closer to the building and have now been assigned to the other side of the property/walking a longer distance, and 2) these 10-12 Preferred spaces which are sitting open every day magnifies the question: why can’t the Board make some of these spaces for renters?

We realize it’s the summer season with many vehicles off property/out of town and believe we may see a smaller number of empty spaces after Labor Day, but we really want to know if this would be a case of discrimination in NY or if a court would simply throw it out as the renters do have spaces, they just don’t like where they are now versus prior to the restructure.

Mister Condo replies:

S.G., unless the governing documents read otherwise, the association is free to do what they please with the association-owned parking lot. That being said, in a litigious society such as ours, you might want to run the scenario by the association attorney to see if any residents would have a case. In my opinion, they don’t but I am neither an attorney nor an expert in New York condo law. You will always have malcontents when you rearrange parking. There will be winners and losers but that doesn’t mean they have grounds for a lawsuit. Run it by your association attorney. My guess is you’re fine. All the best!

Condo Board Members Attribute Storm Damage to Unit Owner’s Son

S.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Today I received an email from our property manager company stating that I was going to be assessed fees for repairs to the siding on our building. Attached was a picture of my 19-year-old son standing outside with a lacrosse stick. The claim was that my son had damaged the siding. My son did not damage the siding and the claim is completely unwarranted.

Two years ago, we had storm damage to many of our units and the old property management sent out notices to co-owners that repairs were being made. At this time, our board decided to change management companies and the repairs to our unit were never made.

I was able to obtain the original incomplete work order from the old company as proof that my son did not damage the siding. My concern is will they be able to charge me for this and what is the best way to handle the inappropriateness of a board member taking pictures and claiming something that is not true.

Mister Condo replies:

S.J., I am sorry you find yourself having to do battle with your Board. Any unit owner, including a Board member, is allowed to make a claim of damage against another unit owner. They can even take photos when warranted. The Board is then charged with informing the unit owner (you) and offering you a chance to address the Board to present your defense, denial, or acceptance of the claim against you. Clearly, you are denying the claim and you have your own evidence to support your denial. After you make your counterclaim, the Board is free to do as it sees fit within the bounds of your governing documents. Can they deny your rebuttal and claim your son caused the damage? Yes. Can you then sue them for their actions? Yes, again. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and that cooler heads prevail. It seems only logical that since your building’s storm damage was never repaired that these repairs need to be made. The claim against your son is scurrilous at best but may be taken seriously be the Board. You may wish to speak to an attorney if they proceed to charge the repairs to you and you will likely prevail from what you have shared with me here. If there is a pattern of harassment from this one particular Board member that took the photo, you might just want to sue them as well. That should get their attention so they can focus on the more important job of repairing the storm damage to the building and not look to saddle individual homeowners with their responsibility. All the best!

Condo Revokes Renters Pet Ownership Privileges

K.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I rented a unit in a condo building with a lease that allows me to have a dog (under a certain weight limit). I waited months to adopt a dog and a week before the dog arrived the condo association posted a notice in the Common Area announcing that only OWNERS were allowed to have pets. I promptly talked to my landlord about this and he said he would talk to the Condo Association. Fast forward several weeks and I now have the dog. The landlord informed me days ago that the “condo association” won’t allow him to bring the matter to the Board. I’m frustrated and confused and ready to break my lease. What recourse do I have?

Mister Condo replies:

K.L., I am sorry you find yourself in this unfortunate situation. The association has the right to regulate who can and cannot have pets on the property. Of course, they need to follow the rules for passing the rules but let’s assume that they did everything right and the rule now stands. Your beef is with your landlord who contractually allowed you to have a pet as a provision of the lease. He can no longer fulfill that provision of the lease which may give you a valid reason for you to break your lease, provided that is what you want to do. Hopefully, your landlord will not challenge your breaking of the lease based on this provision but you may need to speak to an attorney to protect yourself from a suit from your landlord for breaking the lease. Your landlord may be in a position to sue the association or ask for a grandfathering of the pet clause but this will cost him more time and trouble than simply replacing you with another tenant. It is an unfortunate situation to say the least. I wish you and your landlord a happy parting of the ways and a fast turnaround in you finding a new apartment and him finding a new tenant. Good luck!

Condo Property Manager Offends Unit Owner

P.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If an owner contacts the PM regarding an issue and the PM’s response is that “I am a pain in the ass and a little prick” is there any formal rights I have to request his replacement with another agent from his Firm? Thank You!

Mister Condo replies:

P.J., I am most sorry to hear about such rude and unprofessional behavior from a Property Management professional or anyone for that matter. It reflects the general lack of civility that seems to be far too common in today’s society. As for “formal rights”, I don’t think you have any. The Property Manager is hired by the Board. You should most certainly complain to the Property Manager’s supervisor if he or she has one and you should complain in writing to the Board who can pressure the Property Manager to behave better or be replaced. But the reality is that you were insulted, not assaulted. Anyone who uses such terms when dealing with a client is saying far more about their own behavior and upbringing than yours. Take the high road, P.J.. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owners Sluggish to Return New CC&R Ballots

J.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We drafted new CC&Rs and mailed ballots to owners late last year, but we’ve only received 51% of the ballots, which the management company can’t even open until we reach 67%, and even then, we don’t want to open them because once we do, we can’t count ballots that continue to arrive, plus because we need 67% in favor to pass, it’d have to be unanimous if we started counting. So, we really need more like 85% or greater ballots. We’ve sent out additional letters and ballots using different wording, short and long, but only coaxed one more ballot back. Our management company said some other HOAs try enticements to vote, like a free $15 certificate at a store or ice cream, etc.  What enticements or wording have you seen work to get reluctant owners to vote?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., how sad is it that we have to entice unit owners to avail themselves of their right to vote on something as important as an amendment to their CC&Rs? I am not familiar with your provision that once you start opening any ballots that you cannot continue to collect and open more. I have never heard of that before. Kindly check with your association attorney to make sure you fully understand the ballot process. Typically, you can review and keep track of where you are as you go along. That should help speed up the process significantly and let the Board know exactly how many more ballots they need to achieve the acceptable 67% quorum needed to ratify the CC&R change. That being said, there really aren’t any reasons you couldn’t encourage unit owners to submit their ballots. I am not a fan of gift cards but community get-togethers can be quite effective and offer all community members a chance to socialize. You could bring in a local politician or celebrity to encourage attendance. You could certainly offer food or entertainment at the event. As long as you aren’t in violation of your governance documents, the sky is the limit. The good news is that you shouldn’t have to do this again any time soon. CC&Rs aren’t rewritten very often. Hopefully, this is a “one and done” event for the Board. All the best!

Florida Condo Owner Needs to be Home When Family Stays Overnight

G. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! After 13 years at my condo I was told that my family members could not stay at my condo for a few days unless I was there. Is this legal? I had people stay there several times throughout the years for a few days and was never told I couldn’t do it. Your answer would be appreciated. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

G., your answer lies in your association’s governing documents. My gut instinct is that you will likely find that you are required to be in attendance with any guests, especially if they are using any amenities, such as a pool, tennis courts, clubhouse, etc.. Many associations have added such rules in recent years to prevent unit owners from subletting using services like AirBnB or VRBO, where they are actually making income from their units when they are not home. Check your documents. If there are provisions prohibiting you from having people stay in your unit when you are not at home, be thankful you weren’t fined for past violations and follow the rules moving forward. Good luck!

Condo Documents Dictate Double Late Fees and Fines

I.G. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our By-Laws stipulate a late fee of interest plus prime rate if a payment is 30 days past due. The Rules and Regulations stipulate a $100 fee after 15 Days. Which prevails? One or both?

Mister Condo replies:

I.G., hopefully, every unit owner pays on time and you don’t have to implement late fees. It is not uncommon for governing documents to have conflicting terms. It is up to the Board to correct the documents and implement a proper late fee policy. Since one dictates a fee after 15 days and the other dictates a fee after 30 days, you could make the argument for both being applicable. However, it would make more sense to have just one fee and a detailed collection strategy for what happens at 30 days and what happens at 60 days, with 60 days being the time the matter is turned over to the association’s collection agent or attorney. I hope you never need to do that. Good luck!

Who Should Rewrite the Condo Documents?

T.M. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association was chartered in the early 1980’s, and most of our buildings are converted motel units. There have only been a few amendments made to our documents since then; suffice it to say we know our documents should be rewritten. We need an attorney for that, correct? And the most recent attorney we had retired last year. So, we need another of those, too. Our membership is split on the issue: some feel it’s most important to have an attorney who specializes in condos only, while others feel we need a general attorney who is local to our northern Michigan locale. What do you think? Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

T.M., I think modifying your governance documents make ssense. A lot has changed since the 1980s and if there have been numerous additions or modification to your documents, a fresh set probably makes perfect sense. My advice would be to hire an attorney who specializes in Michigan community association law. Unless there are specific local laws in your part of Michigan, any community association attorney from your state should suffice. I actually know several really good ones and you can find a great list online at http://www.cai-michigan.org/resources/service-provider-directory.html?LocationCategory=63&LocationSearchGo=SearchI found more than a dozen fully qualified firms on that page who can really help you get it right. Good luck!

Condo Owner Must Produce Common Fee Check Archive

A.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The association where I reside is on its third management company since I moved in back in 2009. The biggest issue with the last two management companies is their lack of proper financial records and management of the associations funds. Our current management company is in the process of doing an audit on each unit based on the files/paperwork they were able to gain access to from the previous management companies. I provided a reconciliation when the second management came on and since I keep good records, I was able to put together a reconciliation of my payments since. I received a letter from the new management company telling me I owe a balance on my account and that I need to provide back-up (check copies). I am able to submit a list of checks and their bank posting date, but the check copies are going to cost me money. (My bank, as well as many others no longer provide check copies with statements. And I have e-statements). Can they force me to provide check copies or is my list of checks and the bank posting dates sufficient? Is it fair for me to push back and have them pay the fee for the checks they are requesting? What are my rights? I know for a FACT I do not owe any back payments.

Mister Condo replies:

A.B., I am sorry that you find yourself on the receiving end of what must feel like financial incompetence by the previous management companies. The reality is that the banks do charge a very small fee for providing archives of checks but that is just a cost of doing business. I would rather pay the very few dollars it will cost you to reconcile your payment record with the association than find yourself having to defend a collection action by the association. The association has the right to ask for these records and you have the right to provide them or not. If you don’t, the association will very likely hit you with late fees and other collection expenses. You don’t want that so go ahead and work with your bank to provide the records the new management company seeks. And, by all means, keep copies of any checks they provide so you don’t find yourself doing this again should the association hire yet another management company in a year or two. Good luck!

Condo Board Member Education Expense

C.L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can the association pay for a class or course upfront for a board member instead of the board member paying for the course first and then getting reimbursed?

Mister Condo replies:

C.L., I don’t see how it matters. Either way, the association is paying for the course. Unless your documents forbid the association from paying for such items upfront (most unusual), the Board Member can have the association either pay up front or reimburse them for the class or course. I am glad they are getting training! All the best!