Tag Archives: Attorney

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!

Ownership of Burst Condo Water Line Questioned

T.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If a hot water line bursts in an outside wall who is responsible, the unit owner or the board? Also, the line was not where the Board said it was. Our kitchen sits above our neighbor’s garage. The board said both hot and cold lines are in the ceiling of the garage.

Mister Condo replies:

T.G., typically when water lines burst it is the responsibility of whoever owns the area where the line has broken. In other words, if you own from the wall in, a line that breaks outside of your walls is very likely the responsibility of the association. Regardless of what the Board says about it, a reading of your documents will very likely clear this up. If, by chance, the documents don’t appear to provide you with a good answer, it is time to speak to an attorney who can read any “legalese” that might make a simple determination possible. There are exceptions, of course. I know of some associations that have allowed modification of water lines at owner’s requests and along with the approval to do so came the responsibility to maintain the water lines. This is highly unusual though and does not sound like your situation. If you do own all of the interior walls where the water line burst (garage ceiling is a good example, a bathroom supply line would be another) then you may be on the hook for the repair. Like I said, when the unit owner and the Board don’t agree, it is usually time for a legal opinion. Good luck!

Who Pays for New HOA Parking Area?

R.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have three towers in our development with three separate HOA’s. However, there are some common items shared such as parking and entry gates. Have you ever determined what causes most parking problems? Number of condos/owners? Number of bedrooms? Square footage? Our development does not allow rental for less than a year. Therefore, we have no short-term rental parking issues. However, with 66 total units, we only have 96 parking spaces/garages. The garages are deeded owned units, the other parking has been on a “first come first served” basis. Two of the towers have 25 units and our building only has 16 units. All our units have deeded garages, the other two buildings have unit owners without a garage. We are trying to establish the best manner to distribute the cost of adding additional parking for the three-unit complex. Should we assign cost based on number of units, number of bedrooms, square footage, or is there any reference you can provide for other distributions of cost of similar problems.

Mister Condo replies:

R.W., the only thing consistent about parking woes at condos and HOAs across the country are too many cars per unit. It is not uncommon for there to be only one parking space per unit. Combined with a garage or a reasonable amount of Guest Parking, that usually does the trick. But, wait, Unit 17’s son and his wife have just moved in with the owner of Unit 17 and now there are three cars instead of one assigned to that unit. And then another unit is rented to a family with three cars, and so on it goes until the parking lot is at capacity and residents have nowhere to park. This scenario plays out time and time again at condos and HOAs. The only real solution is to have a strong and enforceable parking program. As for the cost of any additional parking, the formula is typically to follow the percentage of unit ownership formula for all units. If the three-unit complex is its own HOA, then the cost is born by the unit owners according to the formula. However, if the parking lot is owned by the Master Association (you mentioned shared parking), then the cost may be split out using the Master Association formula. It really depends on how your governance documents read. If you haven’t already done so, this is a great time to get the opinion of the association attorney on the matter. All the best!

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!

No Common Fees Collected on Condo Unit for Six Years!

J.D. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In New York, is there a statute of limitations applicable to a condominium where the entity claiming to be the holdover of the mortgage note has three times, without success, sought to hold a public sale? Now, more than six years have passed since the last payment was made (to a bank no longer in existence, having been absorbed into another bank, which – in turn – was merged by the federal government into the entity which has unsuccessfully thrice attempted a public sale). If such statute of limitations exists – would it be found in the CPLR, GOL, or some other statute, rule or regulation?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., I can only hope this association has had some legal guidance from a qualified attorney during this lengthy period. I am not an attorney so I cannot offer any legal advice in this column. I am not sure how an entity can claim to be a mortgage note holder without providing some type of documentation. The Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR) and General Obligation Law (GOL) may be a great place to start but I would also suggest that the association has a lien on the property enforced by the New York Condominium Act and that whoever owns the unit is liable for the back common fees as provided in the law. An attorney may have also advised that the association foreclose on the unit for unpaid fees due to the association. Clearly, this unit needs to be liquidated one way or another and the association needs to have a dues-paying unit owner using the unit as soon as possible. That may mean taking a write-off but it should get things back on track. Consult with a locally qualified attorney to see what your options are. All the best!

Informing the State of Newly Elected Board Members

C.W. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I need the form to inform the State of Florida of the newly elected board members. I cannot find it.  Can you help? Very important. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

C.W., I am not aware of a requirement of keeping the state informed of the Officers and Board Members of your condominium or a specific form to do so. I am aware of a certification form for newly elected Board members that they must file with the association secretary that they have read the by-laws of the association and that they will fulfill their duties of upholding those by-laws. A sample of that form can be found here: http://www.ccfjfoundation.net/CondoCandForm2010.pdf

Annual corporate filings with the state (tax records and such) may have a place to list officers and/or directors. Those forms are typically filed by the association’s accountant or Treasurer. I am not an expert on Florida community association law as I don’t live in your state but I would ask any of my regular followers to kindly give a more detailed answer if I have overlooked anything. Good luck, C.W.!

Condo Employees Harass Condo Resident

D.G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’ve been harassed, insulted for no reason at all, and put in a false light by the employees of my condominium. It all started when I reported to management an incident with an abusive contractor that works for the building. He had my apartment keys because he was renovating my property while I was overseas. When he was done with the job he used my apartment as his personal warehouse and because of this I had to have the walls painted again, at my expense. Shortly after that, employees started giving me the cold shoulder and my life in this condo has gone down since.

One day, one security guard came to my home and shouted some insulting words to me just because I had my entrance door open to let some nice ocean breeze flow in the apartment. “You have to close your door because DIRT is coming out of your apartment”, he shouted, and left. BTW, you can come to my home and eat from the floor, he just wanted to insult me.

I complained to management and mentioned to them how security personnel in this building has a keen eye for minor things such as “an open front door”, but a blind eye for major things such as: 1. A shooting (right next to the lobby where the stores and restaurants are). 2. Personal property stolen from the pool area by outsiders. 3. Two cars stolen from the parking area. 4. A maintenance employee using and abusing building’s property for years (he provided floor polishing services (for cash) to the contractor I mentioned before).

I’m not sure if the security guard was fired (this building is huge) but the harassment got worse. Some employees are putting residents against me saying that I’m a tattle-tale. I even lost a website design contract because of lies and bad word of mouth. What can I do to protect my right to the quiet enjoyment of my property without being annoyed or harassed? Thanks.

Mister Condo replies:

D.G., you certainly have your hands full in this community association. I am pretty sure I would have sold and moved by now just to be rid of the crime issue. However, you have elected to stay and have your rights respected. In my opinion, criminal matters should be reported to the police as they occur. Harassment is a crime and your local police are the first call when you are physically or verbally abused. If you are violating a rule (even if you don’t agree with the rule, you are bound by it) like having an open door, I would advise you to follow the rules so you don’t open yourself up to additional abuse or fines from the association.

The underlying problem here seems to be the management company’s behavior and the rampant abuses you have observed from contractors hired by the management company. Are you the only one who has noticed this? It would seem to me that multiple unit owners and residents have experienced similar? If so, the Board should be taking action to correct the situation. You mentioned that your apartment had been used as a warehouse while you were away. Clearly, that should have been reported to the Board and halted at once. It is now water under the bridge and would likely happen again if you are gone for any length of time. Document what you can and report it to the Board along with a letter demanding that never happen again.

If the Board takes no action to correct these actions, you have two basic choices. You can sue for any abuse of your rights as a unit owner or renter. Talk with a local attorney to get an opinion as to what rights have been violated and what remedies are available to you. This could be expensive but may get you the relief you seek. Your second option is to get more involved with your Board, including getting yourself or a like-minded individual elected to the Board. Management company contracts are difficult to break. However, they don’t have to be renewed. If the management company is underperforming, it is time for a new management company. The Board hires the management company. The only way to affect that decision is to work with the Board to make sure they understand that unit owners demand better. Of course, if you are in the minority and everyone else seems happy with the management company, that strategy won’t work. Either way, you will need to take action to correct these issues. Good luck!

Purchase of Lien and Foreclosure Rights on Delinquent Condo Owner

S.A. from South Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can an individual purchase the lien and foreclosure rights on a delinquent condo unit? Second, is there a situation where a condo association can foreclose and take possession without going through the auction process? The unit in question has no mortgage and the owners have abandoned the unit. Sorry, one more question, is it the responsibility of the Association to keep the electric on if the unit is abandoned, to protect the neighbors from mold. This is a South Florida condo association.

Mister Condo replies:

S.A., those are all great questions. As you know I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column. You should likely check with one of the many fine community association law forms in your state before taking any actions listed in your question. Let me offer the following friendly advice. Delinquent condo owners, even those who abandon their units have rights, both from the association’s governing documents and state law. If the unit owner is amenable to any of the methods of disposal for their unit as you have outlined, I can’t imagine there being a problem. However, it doesn’t sound like the unit owners are even around to agree with any proposed disposal of their unit. This is where the lawsuits typically begin and the process of foreclosure gets under way. Typically, a unit owner would offer a defense to the action of foreclosure. However, if the legal papers are served and they choose to simply ignore them, the process continues. If the association follows the law, there should be no problem. As far as an individual purchasing the lien and foreclosure rights in order to take possession of the unit, I would personally have a problem with that. The association is the aggrieved party. They should be the recipients of the proceeds from proper resolution of this matter. However, I am not aware of any law that forbids this. Once again, I would suggest speaking with the association attorney about the legality and proper filings. If the attorney says “yes” and you have a willing and able buyer, I would think it would expedite the process and save the association a good bit of time and money. They key to either of these transactions is making sure the association doesn’t violate any of the unit owner’s rights. Otherwise, multiple lawsuits could ensue. Please check with the association attorney before taking any action.

As for the electric that the association needs to decide whether or not to keep on, my guess is that they should be able to charge back the cost of any electric to the unit and make it part of the lien. Again, the expense of the electric service likely outweighs the potential damage that could be caused by mild so the best business judgment rule should allow the association to make that decision. Even if they can’t collect on the electric cost, that amount should be paltry in the overall scheme of things. All the best!

Condo Roof Leak Causes $75K in Damage; No Insurance Claim Made

J.T. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo roof leak caused mold and extensive repairs paid by unit owner. The association refuses to pay the bill. $75,000.00 and never contacted master insurance but stated in emails that they did during initial assessments by environmental specialists provided by association who stated the need for immediate repairs. What is my next step?

Mister Condo replies:

J.T., you have a few different issues here. If it were me, my next step would be to contact an attorney to find out who I should sue for the $75,000 repair. That is a lot of money to be out of pocket for a roof leak and mold remediation. Of course, there is a procedure and protocol to follow here so don’t expect this to be a necessarily easy battle. Let’s start with the roof leak. Did the association fix the roof leak? That is their duty, regardless of whether insurance covers it or not. The association should have had insurance to fix the roof and made a claim to cover the cost or repair and any damage to any common elements. The association should have hired the contractor to make the repair. Is that what happened? You didn’t pay for the roof repair, did you?

Damage to your unit’s interior should have been covered by your own policy. If you didn’t have a homeowner’s policy in place, you should have and you should definitely have one in place moving forward. If the repairs were made in timely fashion, the mold issue may have been averted as most clean-up efforts would have included a dry-out of the damages area. However, as is often the case with mold, it doesn’t appear until months later. Regardless of how it got there, mold remediation is necessary because it can be toxic and, at the very least, a health hazard. If the mold can be determined to have been caused by the roof leak, the association may be on the hook for that as well. You should talk to an attorney about the mold issue to see who is responsible.

Again, I am not sure as to how you amassed a $75,000 bill for this problem, J.T.. If it was a lack of insurance on your part, this is going to be an expensive lesson on why you should always carry homeowner’s insurance. If it was simple mishandling of the claim by the association, an attorney can best advise you of your next steps. I hope you get the mold remediation taken care of immediately. All the best!

Condo Association-Hired Contractor Damages Unit Owner Ceilings

D.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A unit owner notified the condo association of a roof leak. A contractor, called by the association to inspect and give an estimate, caused several cracks in the ceiling while up in the attic inspecting, even though he was told the attic had no floor. Who is responsible for the repair, the contractor and his insurance or the Condo association insurance. The condo insurance company said they are not involved.

Mister Condo replies:

D.R., what an unfortunate situation. I am actually surprised that this contractor didn’t fall through the ceiling, which would have caused an even bigger problem for the association and perhaps even caused injury. The association hired the contractor to handle the inspection. Regardless of what the contractor was told, his actions caused the damage as reported by you. Typically, the association should go after the contractor for the damage he caused. Typically, that would have the contractor calling his insurance company to file a claim. It sounds to me like that didn’t happen. Instead, someone initiated a claim with the condo insurance who has subsequently denied the claim as it wouldn’t typically be covered by the type of insurance most associations have for their buildings. In fact, you have stated that the damage was caused by the contractor.

Without knowing all of the details, I would suggest the association needs to go after the contractor they hired and have the contractor make good on the damage he caused. If his insurance will cover it that should be a fairly simple process. If his insurance will not cover it, he should pay out of pocket for the damage. If he won’t do that, the association should sue him for the damage and make good on the repairs for unit owners. If all else fails, unit owners may have to sue the association for hiring the contractor that caused the damage. Sounds like everyone has to do what’s best for them in this situation although the legal fees could quickly outweigh the actual cost of repair. Good luck!