Tag Archives: Attorney

Which Condo Governing Documents Take Precedence?

K.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What do you do when you have conflicting master deed, bylaws, and R&R’s? Which one would take precedence?

Mister Condo replies:

K.W., that is a very interesting question and one which I have heard before. However, since I am neither an attorney nor an expert in community association law in your state, I must refer you to local counsel, preferably an attorney who specializes in community association law. It is most typical that the Master Deed would take precedence but if your by-laws are part of the Master Deed, there is a conflict within the Master Deed as well. As you can see this is a matter for legal minds to sort through. I think it would be a good investment for the community to get this matter settled with legal help as soon as possible. All the best!

Previous Condo Unit Owner Had No Right to Modify Attic

S.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought my condo in February of 2015. On the mezzanine floor, the previous owner had extended in to the attic a sort of storage room. Basically, there is a door and it leads in to the roof attic for extra storage. I now received a registered letter to close up this area as per it being part of the common ground and is not entitled to me. What’s more is that I was never told by the inspector, the agent, nor the previous owner that it did not belong to me. This extra storage room made my decision for actually purchasing this unit. What can I do? Can I ask the board committee to keep this extra room or am I to close it up? Can I sue the previous owner, agent or/and inspector for not disclosing this room to me?

Mister Condo replies:

S.S., I am sorry for your predicament. The foul was created by the previous owner who had no business commandeering common space and modifying the unit without Board approval. You can certainly petition the Board to allow the modification but I don’t see why they should do so. If they allow it for your unit, they open themselves up to allowing similar modifications throughout the complex. You should comply with their request to return the unit to the condition before the modification was made. As for lawsuits, etc., I am not an attorney and I offer no legal advice here. You should speak with a locally qualified attorney to see if you have a case against the previous unit owner. My guess is that you might have a case but I am not sure how you could prove any damages to yourself that would be worth pursuing. All the best!

Condo Landlord Reluctant to Pay for Damage to Neighboring Unit

D.J. from Michigan writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a condo. A little over 1 month ago, water was pouring out of my linen closet. I immediately ran to my neighbors, thinking they must not be home or left water running. They were and I advised water is pouring out of my linen closet. They came down to take a look. They are renters. I’m an owner. I notified the HOA that night, by phone and email. Eventually, after 2 days the HOA sent out professional to dry vac my carpeting and to detect the problem. Once the bathroom ceiling was opened up, linen closet ripped out the problem was located, and it was & has been determined the renter’s condo owner is responsible for basically getting my bathroom back together/carpeting replaced/drywalls repaired: I have no linen closet, because it was ripped out.

The owner of the other unit and the HOA are going back and forth as to who is responsible. The HOA has brought in an attorney to confirm they, meaning the other condo owner, are totally responsible. The owner feels as though the HOA is responsible, because it’s a common area. This is so bad, the owner has asked for the bylaws, which was provided. No one is doing anything, and I’m caught in the middle, totally. I can’t see this being resolved any time soon. The owner will not provide his insurance information, so a claim can be started. I’ve already asked the HOA for information & was told, the owner will not provide that information.

I’ve been very patient and understanding, but nothing is being done. I’m at the point I need to contact an attorney and sue the HOA, as well as the Owner, for my insolvencies, as well as repairs/replacement of items.

Mister Condo replies:

D.J., I am sorry for your worries and problems. Water damage at condos is far too common and, as you are seeing first-hand, it isn’t always a simple case of pointing to the cause and assessing the cost of repairs. Your closing comments are my best advice to you. It is long past the time of being patient and understanding. The other parties have hired attorneys, so should you. If the damage came from a common area, the other owner may have a point. If not, he may be responsible and have to pay or have his insurance company pay. Either way, your best interests will be protected by having your own attorney look out for them. Have you read the by-laws yourself? Sometimes it helps to have your own understanding of what is being contested. It doesn’t necessarily help resolve the matter any sooner but it might help you understand what the legal bickering is about. All the best!

How Too Many Non-Resident Unit Owners in a Condo Association Changes Everything

E.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The same people who established the condominium in which I live still control it. Though units were first sold in 1990, one of the developers maintains 15 of the 130 units. This block of condo units represents 15 votes, which when added to condo units controlled by their friends on the board, leads to a lot of apparent financial shenanigans and bullying of owners who simply want a little transparency. About 70% of the owners currently rent out their units, mainly because they hate the way this place is run. Those of us who are left living here cannot seem to oust the trouble-making board, nor win the support of the non-resident owners who are generally apathetic, now that they’re gone and have a paying tenant to cover their costs. Many resident owners, however, are either angry, stressed, depressed, chronically ill, demoralized, etc. as a direct result of feeling powerless to do anything about their maltreatment by the current board, which has both directly and indirectly ruled the roost since the beginning. This is one miserable place. We have turned to lawyers and they say get a petition together to call a special meeting and vote the board out. This is not possible, given the apathy of so many non-resident owners — many of whom also fear retaliation by certain board members and their property management company, which has been with them from the very start. The resident owners who really care about reform — and who have been suffering physical and emotional harm — have already been burned by one attorney who proved incompetent, so we are wondering if a class action lawsuit might be a viable avenue for us. We would let the attorney have all the winnings. We just want to see some justice done after all these years.

Mister Condo replies:

E.C., I am sorry for your situation. Associations that are largely under developer control even after the developer transition period is over can be tricky. Associations with large percentages of rental units come with their own problems. You have a double whammy at your association. Your best bet is increasing the numbers of resident owners who are willing to volunteer and serve on the Board if elected. As long as the resident owners are the minority, nothing will change, in my opinion. At their core, condo associations are democracies. The people with the most votes are the ones who govern the association. As long as those people are not resident owners, I don’t see much motivation for them to change how they govern. You indicate that this behavior has been going on for years. If it were me, I would have sold my unit by now. Unless you see the pendulum swinging towards more resident owners, I would encourage you and anyone else who is unhappy there to consider moving out. You can contact an attorney to see if you have a case but I haven’t heard of anything you’ve mentioned as being a valid reason for a lawsuit. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney so my advice is strictly friendly. For a legal opinion, you will need to seek out the services of an attorney who could better guide you legally. Good luck!

Neighboring Association Trash Dumpster Intrusion

T.P. from Chicago writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The neighboring condo association has had their 2 garbage bins on our property for the last 6 years. I’ve always had a problem with that because, 1) they don’t maintain the area, I do, and 2) the liability of a “slip and fall” happening on our property by our neighbors or their trash removal company. I recently asked them to move the bins and was told “no”. Can I contact their trash removal company and have them move the bins? What other options do I have? Thank you from a Chicago Condo Board President.

Mister Condo replies:

T.P., unless there is some kind of agreement between the two properties, the neighboring association has no business intruding on your private property. This is a simple matter for your association attorney to remedy via lawsuit. Quite simply, the trash contractor is trespassing on your property. A “cease and desist” order should do the trick. If not, your association attorney can direct you to the next steps. You tried the easy was with the request for them to stop. They didn’t comply so it is time to escalate the situation. Good Luck!

Board Dragging Heels on Simple Repair Project

K.W. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo association has accepted responsibility to fix a pipe in a carport roof that freezes in low temperatures. It paid an engineer to recommend a fix. However, it has failed for 2 years to initiate a repair and will not give me the engineer’s report. My attorney has demanded action but has received no response. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

K.W., I think you are already doing all you can do. You have hired an attorney who will look out for your best interest in this matter. Since the association has acknowledged ownership of the problem, there really isn’t too much else you can do. Any idea what the delay is? Is it an expensive repair? My guess is they are just going to wrap the pipe in insulation and try not to make it too unsightly. Unless there is more to this story, I am not sure why it is taking them two years to handle this simple matter. Keep on top of your attorney and the Board to make sure the project gets done. Other than that, follow your attorney’s advice. Good luck!

Condo Owner Flooded Twice by Vacant Unit Above

D.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our 2-level condo was flooded last week for the second time in 17 months by a bank-owned unit above ours. The first time the above unit was unfinished and not winterized; a pipe burst, flooded us below and we were out 47 days for repair. This time the bank owner’s subcontractor broke a sprinkler head, resulting in more damage than last time. What is our legal status with owner and with subcontractor? Settlement? Lawsuit? Other remedies? It will be repaired but we will be out an indefinite time.

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., I am so sorry for the double whammy you have experienced. I can’t even imagine the heartache and inconvenience these back-to-back disasters have caused you. Unfortunately, the nature of having units stacked on top of each other creates the possibility for exactly the types of problems you have experienced. The good news is that insurance covers most of the loss. The bad news is that lawsuits are typically only used for your “out-of-pocket” expense. They rarely cover paying you back for your inconvenience and time. I don’t think I see the basis for a lawsuit or settlement based on what you have shared with me. However, I am not an attorney so I offer no legal advice in this column. If you think you are entitled to damages above and beyond what has been offered, you should seek the advice of a local attorney who can best guide you. I wish you dryness and a comfortable living space moving forward. Good luck!

Board Attempts to Reassign Limited Common Element Responsibility to Unit Owners

A.F. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

On the limited common area behind my home, a tall retaining wall runs behind 4 of the 48 cottages in our condo development. The Board of our POA wants to reassign responsibility for a portion of that wall to each of us. Two problems: it is a retaining wall, which is a structural support for our homes, plus my insurance agent says that homeowners and liability policies sold to condo owns do NOT cover any thing in or on limited common or common areas. Can the board assign responsibility for something that homeowners cannot insure for?

Mister Condo replies:

A.F., the Board can try and you can fight back with a lawsuit if necessary. While I have no particular knowledge of your governing documents or your state’s laws on common interest real estate, I sincerely doubt the Board can legally reassign any common element, limited or otherwise, to an individual or group of individual unit owners. Such a change, if possible, would likely require a supermajority of unit owners to agree and would basically require a rewriting of the incorporation and governing documents. Neither of these is easy and would involve the services of an attorney specialized in common interest communities. I offer no legal advice in this column but I would strongly suggest you speak with a locally qualified attorney to seek legal advice should the Board decide to push through this measure. All the best!

Rats in the Condo Attic; Rats on the Condo Board!

J.S. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 100+ unit condominium development in California. My question is whether the current board is under any obligation to correct mistakes made by a past board? Specifically, a past board denied my request to do work clearly in the common area as defined in our CC & R’s. That area is the attic above our unit where there was significant rat infestation. The board authorized the pest control company that we have on annual contract to close out all the openings allowing the rats into the attic and to remove all dead rats and rat traps. The board refused to remove the fouled attic insulation, clean the attic and replace the insulation. The local county Vector Control District recommended the clean-up and insulation replacement to protect us and our downstairs neighbor (there is a fresh air make-up duct to her unit from our attic) from possible contamination of virus, etc.. Our general contractor (we were having a lot of remodeling done including plumbing, electric and HVAC all of which required workers in the attic space) refused to begin the remodeling until the attic was properly cleaned to protect his workers. After finding out much more about the past boards’ and current boards’ position on repairing damage in units (they have been paying to restore, repair, replace damaged items from water leaks even if those items are in the “unit” and not contained in the common area, an act specifically against rules in our CC & R’s) I resubmitted a request reimbursement for the cost to clean out the attic and replace the insulation which I had done at my cost after the past board had denied the request to pay for the work. The current board is waffling on whether to reimburse me or not fearing that they should not open a can of worms and reverse a previous board. Doesn’t the fact that we are a California corporation require the current board to correct a past board’s mistake when that mistake is brought to their attention? Doesn’t the corporate responsibility to act in accordance with the CC & R’s continue regardless of which board is in place? Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry for all of your problems. Rat infestations and the resulting potential for hazardous conditions is no laughing matter and the failure of the previous boards to take corrective action is appalling. However, the sins of the father are not necessarily vested upon the son in the form of the current Board. You should have sued the association for not taking the proper action back when the infestation and resulting damage was going on. You were not authorized by the Board to pay for the attic cleaning and insulation replacement. In fact, since you do not own that space, you really shouldn’t have done that. That being said, I would have done the same thing under those conditions rather than risk my own health due to an incompetent Board. So where does that leave you now? Obviously, the good news is that you have remediated the damage and are living in a healthy environment. You have asked the Board to reimburse you for the work and while I agree with you that they should, they are correct in that it sets a dangerous precedent of having unit owners handle repairs that the Board is responsible for and then obligating the Board to reimburse the unit owner for the work. Quite simply, that is not how things work in a condo. When common elements are damaged, the association needs to make the repair, putting them in control of hiring the contractor, negotiating terms, etc. You usurped that process when you took care of the problem on your own. Had a previous Board authorized your action, then it would be as simple as you submitting your receipts for reimbursement. Instead of asking permission, you now need to beg forgiveness. The Board is under no obligation that I am aware of to pay you back so ask politely. If the dollar amount is large enough, you might wish to speak to an attorney to see if it is worth pursuing. Otherwise, see what the Board does, hope for the best, and be happy that you have a rodent and disease-free living space. All the best!

Irresponsible Dog Owner Concerns Condo Residents

L.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are senior citizens who have filed 10 complaints about a resident who does not leash his German Shepherd dog in the common areas, e.g., hallways, elevator, garage. We live in the same building as this resident. The CCR’s require all dogs to be on a leash. The HOA stated the attorney is working on our issue. They have yet to levy a fine on this resident. It has been 8 months and the resident is verbally abusive to us. What can we do?

Mister Condo replies:

L.H., I am sorry that you have such an irresponsible pet owner in your association. Honestly, it sounds like you can do all you can do. Once the association attorney is involved, it is up to the Board and the attorney to take the next steps. Hopefully, this dog will not attack you or any other unit owner before the dog’s owner leashed the dog and follows the rules. Sometimes, you just get a jerk living in an association. This is one of those times. If the verbal abuse continues, call the police. Protect yourself as best you can. My guess is that the attorney’s involvement will help correct the situation. Good luck!