Tag Archives: Attorney

Hoarder Refusing Unit Access Adds to Hurricane Irma Damage

E.E. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We just suffered flooding due to Hurricane Irma in 3 of our 6 townhome buildings. The building where we are having an issue has 6 units adjoined by a 2-hour firewall. We have 1 unit owner is a hoarder – very bad, almost no walkpath. The unit flooded and we need her to move everything on the 1st floor for the repairs that the Association’s insurance is willing to do so that she doesn’t have a black mold issue. The drywall, the cabinets and flooring all have to be removed. She is saying she has no plan to move anything out or make repairs. The concern is not only for her but the adjoining unit owners. Can we make her comply for repairs?

Mister Condo replies:

E.E., I am sorry that your community suffered Irma’s wrath. Like so many other condominiums in your region, damage was significant and clean-up efforts will be ongoing for quite some time. You now face a serious challenge with a hoarder blocking access to her unit for clean-up. While most folks would welcome the cavalry arrival to get things back to normal, the hoarder’s brain works in a different manner. All is not lost, although I think you will find this a difficult battle. It’s all about where the line is drawn between unit owner’s rights and the rights of the HOA. My first call would be to the association attorney who can help guide you through what may become a lengthy legal process of actually having access granted. Of course, your first step is to work with the unit owner and/or any known family members who may be able to step in and let the restoration company get in and do its work. However, if the unit owner refuses to voluntarily provide access (typical hoarder behavior from my experience), the association needs to take more aggressive action. While the unit owner’s health is most certainly at stake, so are the neighboring units and even the entire building. Mold isn’t just unsightly; it can be deadly. This is an unfortunate complication to an already bad situation but, trust me, you will get through this. I wish you all the best in your recovery efforts.

Delinquency Usually Leads to Collection Action by the Condo Association

R.A. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I was previously 3 months delinquent on my common charges with no assessments and the condo association attorneys told me that I had to pay a total of $2000 dollars in order not to go into foreclosure. It seems to me that I am being extorted for money and I am on disability. The reason the attorney said I had to pay the $2000 dollars was for title search, legal letters and other fees that I do not understand. My delinquent fees are only $690 and they are trying to tact $2000 on top of that fee. My HOA dues are $230 a month. I was also told by the management Company that I could not talk to the Board because the matter was out of their hands and I had to deal with them or their attorneys. Being an owner in a condo I know I have rights other than to do nothing. I have been paying my common charges with an extra $100 dollars to put toward the delinquent balance. I know I’m being taken advantage of, can you please help me? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

R.A., you most certainly do have rights as a condo owner but not paying your common fees is not one of them. I am sorry you find yourself in this position but what choice does the association have? For the three months that you were delinquent, all of the bills of the association were still paid. Your insurance, your grounds keeping, your maintenance, your unit management, all of this and more were still paid. By not paying your fees on time, you triggered a legal action against yourself. The association turned the matter over to the collections folks (the attorney) and they did what they do which is take steps to insure the association gets paid. In this case, that meant lots of legal fees. While I appreciate that you may face special challenges as a disabled person, I am sure you know there are certain expenses of owning a condo that are recurring monthly – mortgage, common fees, utilities. If you don’t pay your mortgage or utilities, what happens? The bank can take your home or the utilities will turn off your supply. It is the same with common fees. I am sure you will always pay them on time in the future so this may just be an expensive lesson in why. You should speak with the collection folks about your $100 per month repayment schedule to make sure it is acceptable. Ideally, you would just pay off what you owe and be done with it. If you feel your rights as a homeowner were violated, you should most definitely speak with an attorney. I am not a lawyer so I cannot offer you any legal advice on the matter. From what you have told me, you were treated the same as any other delinquent homeowner would be treated. Good luck!

Condo Executive Board Deferring Common Fees as Payment for Service!

B.D. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

 

Our Executive Board of 5 members has about 80% of their monthly HOA fees deferred as compensation for their time spent working on Association issues. Their contention is that 1099’s need not be issued because the Association is a nonprofit entity as defined by IRS regulations. I believe that is incorrect and that they each should have received a 1099, declared the income, and paid whatever taxes were due to the State and Federal Government. I researched the question and found some information from the National Council of Nonprofits that suggests 1099s should have been issued, but the particular circumstance they cite has to do with charitable nonprofits. I don’t think that makes a difference, but would like clarification before I approach them with the information. Thank you for your time and expertise.

 

Mister Condo replies:

B.D., since I am neither an attorney nor an expert on IRS regulations regarding non-profit organizations, I cannot offer you a legal opinion on this issue. However, I will say it is tremendously unusual for any individual to receive tax-free income from any source and would not likely stand up to the scrutiny of an audit by the IRS. Further, do your governing documents allow for compensation to Board Members? Most condominium association by-laws forbid compensation of any kind to Board Members as it is a voluntary service, meaning the volunteers seek election and then volunteer their time on the Board. If your Board has taken it upon itself to claim compensation for their volunteer efforts, the association may have a legal case to take action against them and have all monies paid to the Board Members returned to the association. Taking funds improperly from the association is theft and punishable with fines and/or jail. It is most definitely time to speak to a qualified attorney from your state to discuss how your Board has decided to conduct business. If laws have been broken, they need to be thrown off the Board and charged accordingly. At the very least, they should return any money they have received in compensation for their voluntary service. Good luck!

Questionable Dialogue Deleted from Condo Association Board Meeting Recording

J.J. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I serve on the Board of Directors as Vice President of a Florida condominium. Recently, the Secretary of the Board relayed via email that she had deliberately removed from tape dialogue between the President and Property Manager during a board meeting. Is this an illegal or actionable matter?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., since I am not an attorney, I cannot offer you legal advice in this column. You should speak with a qualified community association attorney in your state (there are many!) for a legal answer. Let me offer some friendly advice instead. Do you know what kind of statements were deleted? For instance, “How about that Marlins game last night?” and the associated banter that accompanies such a statement is hardly scandalous or of interest to the association. Even off the cuff remarks about anything other than association business are hardly of interest to unit owners or other Board Members. If the dialogue was specifically about association business and you suspect foul play is going on, you should certainly speak to an attorney and describe what you know to have happened. Presumably, you were at the Board Meeting and know what was said. Minutes of Board meetings are the official record of what happened. Motions, votes, and so on. If it isn’t in the Minutes, it never happened. If you suspect foul play, take action. If not, let it go, and keep an eye on the situation. If this is an ongoing problem, there may be more to it than meets the eye. All the best!

Condo Developer Transition Turmoil

S.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Board does nothing. No communication, they don’t respond to our questions very well, they are not transparent when they communicate among each other (which is not too often) and my biggest beef, they refuse to fix our crumbling infrastructure (roads, outside siding, fascia boards, etc.). It’s one delay, one excuse after another and this has been going on for almost 3 years. Money is tight, they do not properly fund our community yet they are raising the dues and still operating with a negative balance. No one on the board lives here full-time and the president and one other member work for the developer. Clearly, their priorities are not in sync with the homeowners. Most residents will not say a word for fear of being the bad one or simply a case of extreme apathy. I want to round up the troops and have all the board members (well, 3 out of 4) removed. Having been the president of the association and property manager, I have plenty of experience.  I do not know what kind of reaction I will get but I do know there will be some support. Any response from you would be great and I look forward to it. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

S.C., I am sorry that your condo Board is not performing to your expectations. However, from what you have told me, the association is still under developer control so the Board truly has limited power during this time period. Once control is handed over to the association, things will change because no one will be beholden to the developer. The association governs itself and many of the items you discuss can be addressed through democratic elections of interested and able volunteers. Now, if the developer has broken covenants with the owners and you think a lawsuit is in order, you might want to discuss your situation with an attorney. However, new owners like you describe may not go along with spending money to sue the developer so you may just need to wait until the developer transition period is complete. If I have misread your letter and the developer transition is already complete, you simply need to elect new leaders for your community. You will need volunteers ready, able, and willing to serve. They will need training and support. You should also consider hiring a community association attorney verse in developer transition, and accountant, and a property manager if needed. The developer’s team was there to support the developer, not the community association. Getting the right folks in place is vitally important to your association’s success. Your local CAI Chapter can help you find the resources you need. Visit http://caict.org to learn more. Good luck!

HOA Bills Unit Owner for Repair Team’s Lack of Unit Access

J.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The unit above me leaked into my garage. The owner happens to be on the Board of Directors. He is having the HOA pay for it. Now, I got a bill from HOA that my tenant was not home for them to do the work.

Mister Condo replies:

J.C., well this is certainly a series of unfortunate events. I am sorry for your troubles. Typically, the association carries insurance for damage caused by your fellow unit owners. The fact that this unit owner serves on the Board of Directors is irrelevant unless you are alleging wrongdoing on the part of the Director. From what you have told me, I do not see any wrongdoing here. The Director is also a unit owner and protected by the same association insurance that you are. The HOA dispatched a repair operation to your unit, which is what they are supposed to do. Was their communication between the HOA, the repair firm, and you or your tenant? If so, and your tenant agreed to be home when the repair team was dispatched yet failed to be there, I can see where the HOA would assess a fee to you for the cost of the repair team not being allowed access to your unit. If there was no communication that a repair team was coming and they are still charging you, I would challenge that fee and maybe even speak to an attorney about the fee to see if it is something you could sue over. Chances are the amount in question is too small to sue over. The bottom line is that you want the repairs to your unit made so work with your HOA to make sure that happens. If your tenant can’t be there, you may have to be there yourself to make sure the repair team has access. All the best!

When Does Delinquency in Condo Common Fees Cause Collections?

A.V. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How many months of condo fees do I need to be behind before being sent to attorneys for collection?

Mister Condo replies:

A.V., I am sorry you have to ask such a question. I hope your financial situation improves and you get caught up on your common fees. Associations have the ability to send any overdue account to a collections agent as soon as it becomes overdue. For practicality purposes, most association will allow a 30-day period (with fines or fees after 10 days for late payment). After 30 days, a letter of demand is usually sent. After 60 days, referral to an attorney or other collection agent is common. At that time, the collection agent will take or recommend more aggressive action which can actually lead to foreclosing on the unit for delinquency. This is an extremely aggressive action but it is necessary to keep the association solvent. After all, common fees are the lifeblood of the association. If unit owners stop paying them, the association cannot provide the services these common fees are used to pay for. Unit owners who don’t pay their fees are getting a “free ride” at the association’s expense. They still get snow and trash removed, lawns kept, insurances paid for and much more. It isn’t fair to the association members who pay their fees on time to carry another unit owner. If you do find yourself turned over to a collection agent, my advice is to work out a payment plan if allowed and get yourself current as quickly as possible. Common fees alone can be expensive. Having them compounded with late fees and collection fees will quickly make a bad situation much worse. Good luck!

55+ Condo Reluctant to Allow Young Family Member Residence

C.D. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condo I own for 55+. Recently, my six-year-old granddaughter was removed from her parents by CPS and placed with me do I have to move?

Mister Condo replies:

C.D., I am sorry that your granddaughter was removed from her parents’ custody. She is fortunate to have loving grandparents to take her in. However, unless your condo documents allow for family members under the designated age for residents of the community, you may very well have to vacate your unit and find a more suitable community to raise her. There are exceptions and you might want to speak with your condo association Property Manager and Board to plead your case. You may also want to speak with a locally qualified attorney who can offer you legal advice on your predicament. I do know of some communities that are willing to bend the rules, but just a bit. For instance, if someone under the stated age inherits a unit and wishes to reside there. Typically, the inheritor is not that far away from the stated age, so the problem corrects itself in short order. I also know of communities that follow an “80/20” rule meaning that as long as at least 80% of the units are adhering to the age rule, the community has some flexibility in allowing a few (less than 20%) of units to house folks that aren’t of the appropriate age. Again, there is no requirement to do so but I do know of some that have made exceptions. I think the real issue here is the young age of your granddaughter. Folks that buy into a 55+ age-restricted community do so with an expectation of finding nothing but folks their age in the community. Perhaps, that is even why you purchased into this community? You certainly wouldn’t expect to hear the sounds of children playing or riding a bike or other activities associated with childhood within such a community. There is also the challenge of providing peer friendship for your granddaughter. She isn’t likely to find playmates here as she would most likely be the only child in the community. I am sure there are no child-friendly amenities like a playground for her to enjoy. It might be in her best interest as well as your own to find a more suitable environment to raise her. That being said, you asked if you “have” to move. My answer is “maybe”. Follow the steps I outlined above for a more definitive answer. I wish you and your granddaughter the best of luck!

If the Condo Keeps Doing What It Has Always Done…

K.G. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are fairly new to our three-unit condo community. Two of the units, the ones where the Secretary and the Treasurer reside, are reasonable and interested in a positive and well-governed board with productive meetings. The other unit, in which the long time President resides, there is dysfunction and a constant need to have its residents (not board members) take over the meetings and highjack the agenda so that nothing is ever accomplished. It appears we need help. I have two questions that I am hoping you can assist me with. The first, is where can one enlist a mediator or someone to monitor these meetings more effectively? You have suggested to us before that the President should be voted out. It won’t happen as no one else is willing to take over. We could hire an attorney but it seems quite costly. Do mediators exist in Connecticut that could only act as moderators and run the meetings and keep them on task? My second question is that I have scanned the webinars on the CAI website for the Connecticut chapter and there are several that look like they might help. Can you suggest one that would be beneficial to a new board member who does not have any legal experience or real experience on a board? I saw several for resolving conflict and behaviors. Also, would my husband and I benefit from becoming members? We are a small condo Association with only five people residing here. We would appreciate any guidance as we would like to move forward in a more positive manner.

Mister Condo replies:

K.G., thank you for writing back. Many attorneys that specialize in community association law can also serve as mediators. However, mediation is only an option when there are two parties looking to reach a settlement. From what you have described to me here, that really isn’t the case. Let me quote your question here: “You have suggested to us before that the President should be voted out. It won’t happen as no one else is willing to take over.” Really? No one else is willing to volunteer their time to fix this problem? Then, guess what? The problem is likely to persist. If no one is willing to volunteer their time to serve then the association is getting what it deserves. I know that sounds harsh but let’s face reality here. People are willing to invest a hundred thousand dollars and much more in their unit but then aren’t willing to step up and serve? That is short-sighted and a formula for many long-term problems. My original response is here: http://askmistercondo.com/grumpy-old-condo-president-needs-to-go/

The local chapter of the CAI offers several excellent and local training programs. Among the very best is a program called “Condo, Inc. 1”. The next session is right around the corner on September 16th. You can learn more and/or register here – http://www.caict.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=862691&group I cannot recommend this program strongly enough for an association like yours. I think you (and other interested unit owners and Board Members) need to hear from local experts on how best to run your association. This program fits the bill perfectly. I hope you attend. All the best!

Can Non-Resident Unit Owner Serve on Condo Board?

L.M. from Pennsylvania writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our development has been condos since 1985 and this issue has never arisen before. Can a non-resident owner be on the Executive Board, and now that the issue has arisen, can the board discuss and adopt and vote on a resolution to clarify that a non-resident (investor; never resided in development) cannot be a board member as such positions are open to residents only?

Mister Condo replies:

L.M., I am not surprised to learn that this question has not come up before. Without reviewing your condo documents, I wouldn’t have any way of giving you a definitive answer. I will say that the first place you should look is your Declaration and By-laws. Typically, there is a section on governance and who is and isn’t eligible to hold a director or Board Member position. If your documents are silent on the subject, you would then turn to your state laws for common interest communities and/or corporations as those apply to your condominium. It is not uncommon to have an ownership requirement for a director to serve. A requirement to reside in the association is far less common and truly unfair as there are many times when an owner is not a resident. All owners, regardless of whether they reside in the condo or not, have a vested interest in the well-being of the community. If the Board passed a rule requiring residency that violated any non-resident unit owner’s rights, don’t be surprised if the association gets sued. I would advise speaking with the association’s attorney before taking any such action. Good luck!