Tag Archives: Attorney

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!

Hardship Case Causing Condo Rental Cap Chaos

H.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our association passed an amendment to the CC&R’s capping the rental of units at 17. We have 66 units. This was done in 2006 to help us keep FHA funding. Our last management company let it slide, so our new management company has gone through the hoops and we are now FHA approved again. We have a clause that allows a temporary hardship case which allows renting of a unit out for 1 year and 2nd extension of 6 months. Someone has married and his wife has 3 kids and lives in a house. He bought the condo just before the big collapse in prices. Now he cannot sell it for what it is worth. His wife was laid off. He wants to claim hardship to rent for a year. He said we had until a certain date to give him an answer for a court filing. Well we finally decided to let him do it after conferring with our lawyer. But we waited past his deadline. We have a rental list that he could get on. He has not signed up. If the current person who is number 17 on rental list and cannot get his unit rented within 60 days, he falls to bottom of the rental list. The next person on the rental list moves up to rental position. This person with the hardship case, if he signed up, would now be able to rent the 1 bedroom unit as a regular rental now, if the other 4 folks on the list allowed him to skip over them to be 1st on the rental list. Then we would be back to 17 units rented and no hardship case. This way we won’t lose FHA funding. Some folks are saying FHA is now allowing up to 50%. We are considered the old school rule of condos. I don’t want to take a chance of going over 17 units if I can help it. Will we be in trouble being over the 17 units with this hardship case?

 

Mister Condo replies:

H.S., your adherence to FHA rules while trying to accommodate a unit owner who has fallen on hard times is admirable. However, since you have already involved the association attorney in these proceedings, my best advice is to continue to seek legal advice to guide you through these murky waters. While hardship cases tug at my heartstrings, condo associations are businesses and do not have the luxury of caring about individual unit owner’s unique situations. It sounds to me like you have some very reasonable rules in place about rental restrictions. They have been in place since 2006 and, I am assuming, are in compliance with your state laws on rental caps within community associations. The unit owner’s lack of ability to sell the unit for what it was purchased for is not the business of the association. The collection of common fees from that unit owner and the enforcement of the rental restrictions and other rules of the association are the concern of the Board. If your true concern is FHA funding eligibility, you would be wise to speak with an expert in that area. I am not an expert but I would agree that the current standard of 50% is accurate as of the time of this writing. As your question so easily points out, the FHA changes the rules so today’s answer may not be true tomorrow. There are other reasons for maintaining rental caps, including quality of life for unit owners. Additionally, if you do wish to change the rental cap restrictions, you will need to hold another vote on the matter.

Confrontational Condo Owner Seeks Chair Lift for Condo Pool at Association Expense

J.S. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, I met you and your wife at the Long Island Chapter of CAI meeting last month. We have a homeowner who has lived in our association from the start about 14 years. He can be very confrontational. There have been numerous incidents involving him and the board and he and his neighbor. He has developed several health conditions. He still shops on his own and he drives on his own. He has veiled threats against the community to call the Americans for Disability and force us to put in a chair lift in the swimming pool for him. He does enter and exit the pool on his own now and there will be issues in about a month when he wears his same outdoor dirty sneakers into the pool and occasionally has unhealed sores. My question is: can he force us after all these years to construct a chair lift for him which could run up to one hundred thousand dollars?

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I hope you enjoyed the presentation in Long Island. It was a pleasure to meet so many Chapter members and share time and stories with you. You certainly have an interesting situation on your hands. As you know, I am not an attorney nor am I an expert is New York Community Association law. However, I will offer you some friendly advice. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect people with disabilities and allow access on public properties. Most condominium associations are private properties and are not subject to the same requirements that public businesses are. Although, there are exceptions. If your pool or club house are rented out and used “for profit”, the association may be subject to all the provisions of the ADA. So, you have a bit of a sticky wicket here. It is most certainly time to speak with your association attorney who can give you a legal opinion. Of course, a unit owner who threatens to sue is quite different than a unit owner who actually does sue. If the unit owner makes a formal request for the pool chair, contact the association attorney to determine your legal options. If you are not bound by the ADA rules, you can likely do one of two things. You could simply deny the request, citing the expense as being an unreasonable request or you could allow the installation at the unit owner’s expense, keeping in mind that the unit owner would also be responsible for the maintenance of the chair as well. You can also have pool use rules added that prohibit bathers from wearing shoes (or any footwear) in the pool and prohibit use of the pool by anyone with open soars. Check with your local Health Department for suggested rules on pool use restrictions as well. I hope that helps and I look forward to seeing you again in the future.

Can Husband and Wife to Serve On Condo Board Together?

M.H. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a couple owning 2 condo units be on the HOA board at the same time in Florida?

Mister Condo replies:

M.H., thank you for your question. As you know I am not an attorney nor am I an expert is Florida community association law so please consider my advice here as friendly and not legal. If you think you need a legal opinion on this matter, I strongly suggest you speak with an attorney in your area knowledgeable of Florida Community Association Law. That being said, your question has two possible answers that I am aware of. Start with your governing documents. My guess is that the documents are either silent on the issue or prohibit two owners from the SAME unit serving on the Board. Since there are two different units involved in your example, I don’t see why there would be a prohibition of the husband and wife serving as long as they were each representing one of the two units they own. While I am not an expert in Florida law on the matter, I have read that the laws in Florida that pertain to condominiums – the Florida Corporation act and the Florida Condominium Act – do not prohibit co-owners who own more than one unit from serving. The Florida Condominium Act does address the issue but also allows for an exception if there are no other unit owners willing to serve. You can read an interesting article on the subject here: http://www.floridacondohoalawblog.com/2016/01/articles/qa/can-husband-and-wife-serve-on-the-board-at-the-same-time/. All the best!

Condo Denies Disability Parking Request

S.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can the condo association deny a request for disability parking especially since the condo is on private property?

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., you may have noticed that there are many questions and answers about disabled and handicapped parking on my website. It is a serious matter, to be sure, but the answer remains the answer. It depends. Generally speaking, since condominiums are private property, there aren’t too many restrictions on how they parcel out their parking lots. If the unit came with deeded parking (a specifically assigned parking space that is part of the deed of the property), then the unit owner has exclusive use of that space or spaces. All other parking is usually owned by the association and can be used as they see fit. If a request for a handicapped space is made of the Board, the Board should review the request and determine if it is reasonable to grant the request. For most associations, since parking is usually in high demand and short supply, they can claim that dedicating association parking for handicapped use creates and undue burden on the association. If the unit owner in question has deeded parking and is simply looking for additional dedicated parking, they are often out of luck. Of course, to be safe, I usually recommend that the Board consult with the association attorney to make sure no local, state, or federal laws are being violated if the Board decided to deny the request for dedicated handicapped parking. Handicapped parking seekers often cite the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as their grounds for requesting the handicapped parking. However, the ADA does not deal with privately owned parking lots such as those found in typical condos. Exceptions are if the association is renting out the clubhouse or has amenities that are also open to the public for a fee. Then the rules change. Other than that, the Board is usually free to use the association-owned parking as they see fit. All the best!

Unapproved Remodel to Upstairs Condo Damages Downstairs Unit

L.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The question I have is this, I live in a condo that has 4 units per bldg. I own mine. These condos were built in the late 50’s maybe early 60’s. Unfortunately, there is an HOA fee of 150 dollars a month and the outside of the buildings look horrible. They really need to be painted and new front and rear doors placed. The front porch is falling apart. The condos were not built like the newer ones are. Someone purchased the upstairs condo and decided that they would remodel the whole condo. There was a wall removed and other major repairs without a permit that has caused damage to my condo. I spoke to a contractor who looked at the damage and informed me that if we were to try to fix it, it would cause more damage. The upstairs condo would receive damage also. I am just wondering who should pay for the damage. The owner knows that there were issues and he wanted his handy man who caused the damage and himself to look at it. I am not sure what good that would do. Should I file a claim with my insurance company and let them fight it out or is there another way to deal with this? Am I going to be stuck with a huge bill?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., you certainly have a lot going on inside your 4-unit building. Let me address each item separately. First up, the HOA isn’t maintaining the property as they should. There is no reason for painting to go undone other than there is no money in the Reserve Fund for the project. You mention a fee of $150. If that fee isn’t enough to cover operating expenses and set aside money for routine maintenance like painting and door replacement, there will need to be a Special Assessment and/or an increase to common fees. Neither option is popular but that is the only way to get the association back on track so it can fulfill its duty to maintain the building exteriors.

The remodeling project is another issue entirely. It sounds like the upstairs unit owner did some unauthorized and unpermitted work on their unit causing damage to your unit. It’s time to speak with an attorney about suing the unit owner for the damage. You should file a claim with your insurance if you have suffered financial damage worth filing a claim over. However, the fault is clearly with the unit owner who did the unauthorized remodel. You governance documents likely spell out what types of repairs and improvements can be made to unit interiors. If they knocked down a supporting wall, you could be looking at a very expensive repair, not to mention the potential danger you are in. I would want to get this taken care of immediately. If they are amenable to correcting the problem at their expense, you may not need to sue but, in my experience, once the dollars start adding up, a lawsuit is almost inevitable. You should be able to recover your damages though and I am hopeful that your upstairs neighbor will do the right thing. Good luck!

Withholding Repairs to Delinquent Condo Unit Owner

M.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo board withhold unit repairs to an owner who is delinquent?

Mister Condo replies:

M.B., that is a loaded question with lots of possible answers! Since I am not an attorney, I must recommend that you speak with a qualified community association attorney from your area to determine if withholding repairs is within the association’s rights. Typically, my answer would be that the association has a duty to upkeep and maintain all common elements as they are property of the association and not the individual unit owners. The association’s governance documents clearly state what is the association’s duty to maintain. This would usually include parking lots, landscaping, amenities like pools, sidewalks, roofs and building exteriors. Now, if a unit owner became delinquent in their common fees and needed a roof replaced over their unit, the association would still have to maintain that roof because they own it, not the individual unit owner. Failure to maintain a common element would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. It will still need to be done whether the unit owner living under that roof is delinquent or not. I think the more important question here is what steps the association CAN take to either bring this unit owner up to date with fees or force a foreclosure where by the association evicts the unit owner, and, hopefully, replaces the unit owner with a dues-paying owner. If you haven’t already done so, consult with your association’s attorney and make sure the proper steps are being taken. Good luck!

What to Look for in new Condo Property Manager

D.G. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I saw you speak at a recent CAI Long Island chapter meeting. We are looking into a property Management company. What specific and important questions should we include in our Request for Proposal. Also, can you offer some suggestions on important questions to ask Property Manager company during the interview. Thank you for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

D.G., thank you for your question and I hoped you enjoyed my presentation. It was my pleasure to address the membership of the CAI Long Island Chapter. I hope to be invited to come back and speak with your group again. I have a new page on the website describing the program if you care to take a look – http://askmistercondo.com/mister-condo-live/

On to your questions. I am happy to learn you are seeking some advice BEFORE hiring a Property Management company. It is not like buying a T-Shirt, where One Size Fits All. There are many different types of Property Management companies and even Property Managers within the company. Obviously, reputation within the industry is important. You should certainly speak with other CAI Chapter members who have hired Property Managers and ask them how pleased they are with their choice. Referrals and reputation play a strong role in Property Manager selection.

Your request for Proposal should include all of the services you want the Property Manager to perform. Will they simply handle your bookkeeping needs? Will they perform on-site inspections? Will they provide Property Maintenance services like landscaping and snow removal? Will they need to provide on-site personnel? For smaller associations, the management needs can be fairly simple. For larger associations, the needs can be quite significant. You should work with your Board to answer the questions before you prepare your Request for Proposal (RFP). Additionally, I know of many community association attorneys who like to be hands-on in the RFP process as they would prefer to help in a pre-emptive manner rather than having to deal with a potential problem that could have been avoided. Something to think about.

During the interview, one of the questions I like to ask is if the Property Manager can describe a recent challenge and how they helped the community overcome it. While this may not be the same challenge your community will face, it may give you an idea of how this manager operates. If you are facing a current challenge, you might want to ask how they would solve the challenge. Again, this will give you an insight as to what to expect once you hire them. Of course, I am a big fan of hiring Property Managers that are active in CAI. That signal me that they are industry professionals and are keeping current on their training. As you know, laws change, technology changes, and the overall methodology changes as well. CAI Member Property Managers tend to be “in the know”, which is a tremendous benefit to their clients. Hope that helps. All the best!

Can the Condo Property Manager Sue Me?

M.Z. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Has the property manager the right to fine me or sue in court?

Mister Condo replies:

M.Z., I am sorry you find yourself at odds with your Property Manager and now need to inquire if you can be fined or sued. The answer to both questions is yes, but with a few caveats. Property Managers work for the association and are granted their powers to enforce the covenants of the association by virtue of their contract with the Board to do so. They cannot make up offenses that you can be fined for. If you are in violation of your community’s rules and regulations, the Property Manager can issue you fines as outlined in the governance documents and in accordance with local and state law. In many states, unit owners who have been cited for violating rules must first be summoned to appear before the Board and state their case before the fine is issued.

Suing you is a different matter entirely. As an individual, almost anyone can sue anyone in this country. The Property Manager can follow the Board’s instruction to bring suit against a unit owner for a couple of reasons. The most common is that the unit owner is in arrears with the association. Delinquency of common fees or special assessments are the most common reasons an association would sue a unit owner. An ongoing dispute over architectural compliance issues is another. In both of these instances, the Property Manager is acting on behalf of the Board. If you and the Property Manager got into an altercation (I hope not!) and the Property Manager decided to sue you personally, that is certainly their right.

The bottom line is that you should speak with an attorney if you are being sued. Personally, and professionally, the Property Manager can bring suit against you. You will want to defend yourself. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

Condo Bullying and Harassment

R.C. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What can unit owners in Florida do when bullied, followed, harassed, watched, threatened, etc. by condo association members and property manager? Especially when a lot of us are elderly and/or disabled physically in some way? Can you at least point me in the right direction?

Mister Condo replies:

R.C., I am sorry you and your neighbors find yourselves bullied, harassed, threatened or otherwise bothered by anyone, let alone the folks who govern and manage your association. True bullying, harassment, and threats are criminal offenses which should be reported to the proper authorities, including your local police department. Short of that, you might want to speak to an attorney who specializes in elder law to see what types of protections you are offered. The Property Manager works for and reports to the Board of the condo. You and your fellow unit owners have elected the Board to serve. If they aren’t doing the job properly, it’s time for a new Board. The condominium’s governance documents spell out the rules, regulations, and enforcement procedures for the condo. I guarantee you that bullying and harassment are not a part of those documents. In my experience, the best remedy for a condo bully is to stand up to him. That may mean removing him or her from his position of authority. It may even mean calling the police or bringing suit against him or her in a court of law. Bullies like victims, not folks who fight back. In Florida, you might want to check out the Department of Elder Affairs website to see if there are local resources to help you as well. You can find the information online at http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/doea/report_abuse.php. Good luck!