J.T. from Massachusetts writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I own a condo in Massachusetts, which I purchased in 2010. I lived there from the time of purchase until moving out of state in 2013 to accept a position in my profession. I decided to keep my condo and rent it, which is within the rules of the condo regulations. Over the years I’ve been an owner in this building, I have witnessed, and been subject to, property management issuing arbitrary threats and fines, that seemingly come out of the blue and are usually excessive in nature, given the situation. While this might sound subjective, the property manager, who is contracted, is the furthest thing from being a people-person. He is often terse, harsh, and accusatory.
Recently this manager has threatened me with fines because of noise complaints towards my tenants. There have been two complaints, to my knowledge, over the past year. I, and my tenants, have apologized for these incidents to the property manager, and have requested that he tell us who the complainants are, so we might contact them and resolve things in a civil way. My tenants are professional people and not troublemakers. The property manager is refusing to give us the names, and is responding to my requests in the manner described above with threats and anger.
While there are references in the condo association rules and regulations about noise, these references are general in nature. They describe being respectful of others and that sort of thing. Nowhere are fines and/or direct definitions of noise, described. I should also clarify that when I lived in the building I was a quiet, respectful and responsible owner/occupant, and now as a landlord, I take responsibility for my tenants and their actions and respond immediately when contacted by the property manager for any issue that comes up. In this case while I was attempting to resolve the issue through email, telephone calls, etc., the property manager lashed out at me with two strongly worded emails (the kind where people type full sentences in capital letters to show their anger). This is the level of professionalism I’m dealing with. It was within one of these emails that he issued the threat of fines if he got another complaint. That all being said, sadly, he has power, I think. And this is the basis for my questions.
Question One – What rights do I have to refuse to pay arbitrary fines assessed by the property manager? I understand my requirement to pay condo fees, and any special assessment. I have never been in arrears with these items.
And question two – do I have a right to know who is complaining about my tenants within the building?
Thank you very much for your help, Mr. Condo.
Mister Condo replies:
J.T., complaints that are logged by the property manager are records of the association, and, as such, can be examined by you or any other unit owner. So the short answer to your second question is “yes”, you do have a right to see the complaint. However, you do not have the right to confront the accuser or negotiate a settlement with them. Your issue is with the Board, the Property Manager, and their collective interpretation of what offense is worthy of a fine and your disagreement with their findings based on the association’s published rules and regulations. You have the right to sue the Board and/or the Property Manager for any and all arbitrary fines they levy against you. However, I would strongly suggest that you speak with an attorney before you do that just to make sure there are no rules in place that you have either overlooked or misinterpreted.
Most associations have rules and guidelines about noise. Most associations also have a punitive system (fines) in place to help enforce those rules. However, the Property Manager is not the decider of the fates of the rules breakers. The Board is the governing authority for such matters and they need to be informed of an infraction (letter or phone call to the Property Manager), review it at their next Board meeting and decide what steps if any are necessary. Some states require a notice of intent to fine to be issued as well as a request for the offender to appear before the Board to tell their side of the story before the Board decides whether or not to issue a fine (if the by-laws allow such action). If the Board decides to issue a fine, the fine should be paid even if the unit owner wishes to protest it. Fines are usually so small ($25 or so) that the unit owners pay the fine and the problem is dealt with. Repeat offenders can find themselves in the crosshairs for larger fines and/or legal action from the Board. Some offenses (parking in fire lanes and such) can be dealt with more immediately with the removal of the offensive vehicle by towing if necessary.
It sounds to me as though your Property Manager may be acting a little bit too independently. If he or she is doing this without the Board’s authority, you can end it quickly with a lawsuit. No Property Manager is above the law when it comes to harassment. Again, speak with an attorney if you feel your rights have been violated. You should also report your Property Manager’s unprofessional behavior to the Board so it can be taken into consideration when the management contract comes up for renewal. Massachusetts does not have a requirement for Property Manager licensing so there is no state authority for you to report the behavior. In neighboring Connecticut, the Department of Consumer Protection licenses all Property Managers and investigates questionable activity. If found to be operating improperly, a Property Manager in our state could find themselves without a license. Good luck!