Sweet Condo Investment Going Sour

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D.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a unit in a small condo complex. I am in the process of painting and what not to get ready to rent the unit. Everything has been a disaster, leaky plumbing, lower floor ceiling replacement, etc.. As I am doing this, the roof starts leaking into the upstairs bedrooms. This exact problem happened last year. I tried reporting it to the Association President with many messages left and no response. I had also called to report the gutters being full and tree saplings starting to sprout out of them. So here I am this year with the same issue. I have stopped by his home and called with no contact made. I am a senior woman and am completely out of my element with laws, etc..

I have no idea if we have an association or just a President. All I know is everything goes ignored. I nearly fell on my front walk today due to ice though when I got down to his building I noticed clean gutters and de-icer spread all over the walkways. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., I am sorry for your troubles and I hope I can offer some advice that will steer you in the right direction as you move forward with your plans to rent out your unit. Let’s start with the most basic issue of what makes a condo and how you will know if there is an association or just a president. Of course, this research would have been best completed BEFORE you purchased this unit but now that you are an owner you have been provided with a set of the association’s documents as part of your purchase. If you used an attorney for the purchase you probably had the attorney review these for you but you really need to look at the documents yourself.

Inside your condo documents you will find the method of governance for the condo which very likely describes a volunteer Board of Directors and their method of election and how they then go on to vote amongst themselves who will be President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Remaining Board members are usually “at large” meaning they are Board Members without additional title. Boards can decide to self-manage or they can hire an outside management firm. Where do you send your monthly common fees? If they go to a management company then you are likely professionally managed and you should contact your management company to discuss your problems. That’s one of the things they get paid for. If you determine that your condo is self-managed then you may be correct to contact the Board President to discuss your problems but keep in mind that the Board President is nothing more than a volunteer leader who needs to bring your problems to the attention of the full Board at the next meeting. Generally speaking, he is not empowered to hire a roofing contractor or gutter repair company simply to fix the problem at your individual unit. Also, you need to document your issues in writing and with photos. As you have seen simply calling the Association President is not fruitful. By all means, attend any Board meeting where your issues will be discussed and be sure to attend and vote at the Annual Meeting.

I appreciate you being out of your element with state laws that protect you but you do need to know exactly what you purchased and what your rights are. It is not uncommon for me to recommend professional help in the form of an attorney to guide you with any concepts of condo ownership that you may not understand. Since you bought this unit as an investment property, I have to assume you have a little more savvy than you are letting on. If you have ever purchased other condo units as investment properties you know how important it is that the association governance (self-managed or professionally managed) is in good condition as part of your investment decision. Purchasing into an association that is poorly run or in decay can be quite costly as you may end up facing special assessments as part of your unit ownership in such a condo. It makes no difference if you are a resident or an investor when special assessments hit.

From what you have shared with me, I would guess that you have invested in a poorly run, self-managed condo. If it were me, I would hire an attorney to discuss my options and look to sell the unit before I threw more of my money into a potential money pit. If the association is not maintaining its buildings and common areas properly it is only a matter of time before there is a major financial crisis. It could come in the form of a large capital improvement project or it could come from a slip and fall lawsuit from someone falling as nearly happened to you. Either way, I wouldn’t want you to be there when that happens. All the best!

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