Tag Archives: Architectural Compliance

Condo Window Replacement Conundrum

J.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small, self-managed condo building of which I am the sole Trustee. We have a back stairwell that every unit has common access to, but spacious landings with street viewing windows and storage/closets that are exclusive use. When I bought my place, it was the height of summer and I did not realize how dreadful my landing window situation was. They are old storm windows that during the winter I needs to nail shut so they don’t fall open, when closed have horrendous gaps I’ve been filling with foam at the start of each winter, and have no screens. All the floors below me (I’m on the top) have new, modern windows. I saved up enough money so that I could replace the windows before the winter this year. I’m being told by a friend who works in property management (she doesn’t represent me or my HOA) that windows are common, so the HOA would have to pay for new windows and that I couldn’t just replace mine, we’d have to replace them all so that they “looked the same.” I don’t think I can take another winter with these windows and I can’t see the other units agreeing to foot the bill for windows they don’t have access to. I don’t want to do anything that would breach our condo docs, however the only thing I can find in our docs is that each unit has exclusive use of their landing; all the other units have relatively new windows; and who would contest me paying for a repair out of my own pocket for my windows vs levying an assessment for them all to pay for mine? We’re on a pretty tight budget as is and—after contentious discussions—finally agreed to monthly HOA fees for planned assessments through 2019.

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., your friend may or may not be right. Windows are sometimes considered common elements and sometimes they aren’t. You need to look at your condo docs to see which is the case for you. If you are the owner of the windows the repair and replacement is on you. If the association owns the windows, it is on them. Either way, the association is responsible for the architectural compliance guidelines for the condo and the Board will have to approve whatever windows are going to be installed. Here’s a clue: you said “all the windows below me have new, modern windows”. How did that happen? Who paid for their windows? That will tell you who is responsible and then you will have your course of action. You should also be concerned that there is no money saved up for capital improvements. Without a healthy Reserve Fund, you may find yourself asking this same question when it comes time for a new roof, new parking lot, new siding, etc.. As the sole trustee, these are now your responsibilities. I hope you take on this duty seriously and lead your condo down the path to financial stability. All the best!

Making Condo Unit Owners Comply with Architectural Compliance

M.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m on the Board of a 118-unit high rise condo building and wondering if you’re aware of any effective strategies to enforce compliance with our “white only” exterior appearance of window treatments?

Mister Condo replies:

M.D., if the association has published and properly adopted architectural compliance guidelines that indicate “white only” exterior appearance of window treatments, it is as simple as citing the unit owners who have violated the guidelines. Typically, the Board would send a letter notifying the unit owner of the violation. If the unit owner complies in short order, no problem. If not, follow your documents as they pertain to rules violations. Typically, the unit owner is summoned to appear before the Board and offer defense/explanation. In this case, there isn’t too much to say. The window treatment is either white or it isn’t. The Board can then decide to fine the unit owner or not and use whatever methods it has at its dispose for correcting rules violations. My guess is the unit owners that are out of compliance have done so without knowing they were breaking the rules. A simple notice will likely suffice. If not, you have other options. Work with the unit owners to get them back in compliance. Time will heal all. Good luck!

Adding Skylights to a Condo Unit

N.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are doing the attic in our condo unit. Skylights have been approved by the department of buildings, but the condo board is disapproving it! What should we do?

Mister Condo replies:

N.S., architectural compliance is the purview of the Board. Skylights fundamentally change the exterior appearance of the roof, which is a common element owned by the association, not you. Therefore, you need to seek permission to modify this common element unless your governance documents say otherwise. Are there other skylights in other units? If so, that would be your argument before the Board to allow you to have them as well. However, the Board is under no obligation to grant your request and should you decide to go ahead and install them without their written approval, don’t be surprised if you find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit from the association that would require you to remove the skylights and return the roof to the same condition it was before your installed them. The best time to make a request for skylight installation is when the roof is being replaced. The Board may still not grant the request but since the roof is going to be replaced, it is an easy time for a modification to be made. All the best!

Turning a 2-Bedroom Condo into a 3-Bedroom Unit

M.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are considering buying a condo which has 2 bedrooms. We thought to set the kids in the bedrooms and transform the dining room into our “bedroom”. We were thinking to install some sliding doors to enclose the dining room – they could be just sliding on the ceiling, no need for railing on the floor. We just need some privacy as adults, but we are not fussy. Anything simple, practical would do. However, after reading online that permission needs to be asked for everything from HOA, we are a bit skeptical they would allow sliding doors. Then we thought about using IKEA tall bookcases, or even heavy curtains as dividers. What do you think would be our best bet? Does any idea above not need approval from HOA? Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., by design, this 2-bedroom condo has two bedrooms. You are attempting to turn it into a three-bedroom unit. My first instinct is to tell you to simply look for three-bedroom unit so you don’t need to alter the unit in any way, regardless of the permission required by the HOA. HOA restrictions are in place for a few reasons. People purchase into an HOA with an expectation that the HOA rules will be observed by residents and enforced by the Board of Directors and/or their assigns such as the Management Company. If you can find a way to live comfortably in this unit without breaking any of the HOA covenants, then you should be good to go. However, consider the long-term ramification of giving up a dining room or needing to live behind a bookcase instead of a walled-off room as is typical for most adults. It seems to me that you simple need a larger unit. Maybe the cost is keeping you from seeking such a unit but I have to question the long-term happiness of you and your family living in a confined space without a dining area. One of the central goals of condo living is a comfortable life style. If you can achieve that without breaking any rules, more power to you. Only you can answer that question. Good luck!

Can Hot Tub Be Installed in Condo’s Limited Common Area?

D.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are hot tubs allowed in a lanai that is limited common area?

Mister Condo replies:

D.S., it depends on the rules for use of limited common areas at your association. If the documents specifically state that unit owners may not modify any limited common area, then my answer would be “no”. However, since limited common areas are for the exclusive use of the assigned unit owner, I can see where an association might allow it. Additionally, there should be an agreement between the association and the unit owner about the ownership, style, and upkeep of the hot tub. After all, the association shouldn’t face any liability from an owner added amenity. On the flip side, the association could ban hot tubs or any other owner added amenities which would prevent a unit owner from installing a hot tub on a limited common element. It all comes down to the governing documents and the Board’s interpretation of the documents and attitude about allowing owner added amenities. All the best!

Condo Board Denies Unit Owner Driveway Widening Request; Owner Proceeds Anyway!

J.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One of our condo owners asked the Board if they could widen their driveway to accommodate 2 cars. We, as a board, had to deny the request due to the bylaws regulating common areas. We have discovered they are making plans to proceed without our permission. What can we do to prevent this from occurring?

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., this is the second day in a row I have received questions about unit owners feeling they have the right to do whatever they want in their condo, regardless of the rules of the association. Quite simply, the Board is the enforcer of the association rules and it is up to the Board to make all unit owners comply with the regulations of the community. If a unit owner attempts to modify a common element, in any way, the Board needs to cite them for the violation, ask them to return the common element to the way it was before they violated the governing documents. Further, contentious unit owners who show little regard for the rules of the association often need further “encouragement” in the form of a lawsuit, that not only forces them to comply with the rules but also costs them a good deal of money because they are often charged the cost of the association’s attorney to take action against them. It is unfortunate that it often comes to this but I find it is the best way for the association to protect itself from unit owners who probably don’t belong living in a condominium in the first place due to their lack of consideration of following the rules which make the community a desirable place to live. Good luck!

Condo Owner Modifies Condo Interior Without Board Approval

H.R. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Small condominium, AKA condex, has one and two bedroom units. A new Unit owner has made changes to their unit without seeking the required permission from the board. The seller notified the association of a new rug to be put in. This was approved. Unfortunately, the new owner took out the old carpeting and put in hardwood floors and added additional rooms to a one bedroom unit. They are currently occupying the space as a non-approved three-bedroom unit. They are also paying the condo fee at a one bedroom rate. What is the most effective way to restore the unit to a carpeted one bedroom?

Mister Condo replies:

H.R., while it would be nice for the unit owner who has broken the rules of the association to simply restore the unit to its previous condition and live in the unit as was agreed to in the by-laws of the association, it is very likely time for the association to hire an attorney and sue the owner to make the necessary changes. Clearly, this unit owner has neither read nor lived up to the expectation and requirements as set out in the governing documents. Fortunately for the association, this is a legal document that gives the association fairly broad powers in forcing compliance. Obviously, the first step is to ask nicely that the new owner adhere to the by-laws and restore the unit to its previous condition. However, if nice doesn’t work, there is always the legal option of suing the owner and forcing compliance. I hope it goes smoothly for the association. This could be a long and costly legal battle if it doesn’t. Good luck!

What’s the Law on Allowing Solar Panels in the HOA?

R.G. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are there any laws regarding solar panels in CT regarding HOA from not allowing installation of same?

Mister Condo replies:

R.G., there are no laws in Connecticut that require an HOA to allow solar panels. Generally speaking, HOAs are autonomous on this matter and the folks running the HOA make the decisions on whether or not the solar panels are architecturally correct for the community. That being said, if enough home owners within the HOA want them, solar panels are generally approved within the HOA but with certain governance restriction such as where exactly they may be placed, the responsibility of maintenance of the panels by the home owner and so on. Some states do have laws that prohibit an HOA from banning solar panels. As I write this column, Connecticut is not one of those states. I gave a similar reply last September. You can read that answer here if you would like: http://askmistercondo.com/shedding-some-light-on-condo-solar-panels/ Good luck!

How To Enforce Condo Building Renovation Requirements

S.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When a new owner renovates – without any discussion with the board/management and does things that should not have been done – what can board do? Can they make them halt, and make them put it back to the way it was, and if so how?

Mister Condo replies:

S.O., the short answer to your question is “yes” but it depends on the condo’s governing documents. Typically, interior renovations are subject to less scrutiny than exterior renovations but there are still rules that need to be observed. Common problems include replacing carpeted floors with hardwood or laminate flooring, creating an undue noise burden to unit owners above, below, or on either side of the unit. Regardless of the type of violation, the Board needs to issue a letter to the unit owner and explain which rules they are violating. If the unit owner complies, there is no problem. When they don’t comply, it is usually lawsuit time so get the association attorney involved. If/When the association prevails on court, a court order to return the unit to its previous condition is issued. If the homeowner still refuses to comply, the association attorney can then take further action to enforce the court order. It can be a quite a bit of ugliness but that is the nature of enforcing the rules at a condo. You can’t have unit owners deciding on building modification for their personal unit that effects the uniformity of the community and the enjoyment of neighboring units by their owners. Good luck!

Do All Buildings in a Condo Have to Match?

M.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are replacing siding, roofs and doing repairs to buildings with structural problems in our condo. In our association, we have condos that face a busy street and others that face a forested area. We all have walls on our deck that will be removed. We were originally told that we would have frosted glass used to replace the walls. We have now been told we will have only metal railing. Those of facing the street are going to lose most of their privacy.

It was suggested we install the metal railings on the units facing the forested area and frosted glass on the units facing the busy street. All the buildings facing the street would be uniform in appearance and all the units facing the forested area would be uniform in appearance. We are now told that cannot be done because all buildings in the association have to match each other.

We have the funds to use the frosted glass but the board thinks we should install a security gate instead. There has never been a security gate here. I’m all for a security gate, but do not want to lose my privacy.

Do all buildings in a condo association have to match exactly?

Mister Condo replies:

M.K., the term architectural compliance is the standard that most associations use to determine what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to any modifications within the association. Most association simply rebuild whatever they had when the time comes for replacement. Your association is contemplating a change and with that change comes more questions than answers as you are seeing first-hand. I doubt that there is anything in your condo governing documents that states “all buildings have to match each other”. However, that doesn’t mean that they should be altered too much from how they were originally built either. In fact, making some changes will require a consenting vote from wither a majority or supermajority of unit owners depending on how your governing documents allow. There is also the question of common, limited common, or unit owner responsibility for the new railings and frosted glass. My guess is that all will be common elements owned and maintained by the association. When the Board struggles with issues like this, it is my experience that a legal opinion can be quite invaluable so no costly mistakes are made. The community association attorney can advise you of the right way to go about making these changes so that no single unit owner can come back and challenge the decisions made. This is going to be an expensive project so why not dot your I’s and cross you T’s? My guess is you will get the finished product the association members are expecting and desiring. Good luck!