Tag Archives: Governance

Lights, Camera, Action! Condo Fine Fought with TV Presentation!

C.S. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In the State of Florida, now the Board votes on if a unit owner should be fined for a violation and a fining and suspension committee acts as the hearing committee did in the past, giving the unit owner the chance to state their side, and the committee then decides if the fine voted on by the Board, should be upheld or if no fine is to be given. I have a Unit Owner who wants to state his side and have all of his friends give their opinion at the meeting, while also giving a TV presentation in which not all of the committee members will be able to see since they will be calling in. My question to you is can the unit owner have all of these people speak their opinion on behalf of him, and should he be allowed to give a presentation when not all of the committee members will be able to see. What exactly is the unit owner allowed to bring to this meeting or is this a place that he just pleads his case as to why he feels he shouldn’t be fined? Hope this all made sense.

Mister Condo replies:

C.S., it all makes perfect sense but what a crazy HOA and condo world we live in where unit owners feel the need to give a video presentation to defend themselves before a Board or Fining Committee. As far as friends speaking on the unit owner’s behalf, I would refer to the by-laws and any applicable state law. My guess is that one or two unit owners (neighbors) who have something of interest in the matter that will support the defense of the unit owner, it would be allowed. That being said, all participants should be kept to a timed presentation. Neither the Board nor the Fining Committee should be subject to endless banter in favor or against the fining of an individual unit owner. A complaint was made. The unit owner was notified. The unit owner appears before the governing body and either agrees a rule was broken or denies it. I would think the unit owner would not need more than two minutes to rebut the claim. Supporting unit owner testimony could easily be submitted in writing in support of the defense. I cannot see where a TV presentation is warranted although if there is a short video clip that supports the defense, I suppose it could be offered as evidence. Again, in advance of the meeting for review by the Board or Fining Committee before the meeting. Fines are not court cases. They are simply the Board administering the rules of the association as they are reported to be violated. I think this unit owner may have watched to much “Law and Order”. If the Board fines the unit owner and they disagree, they can appeal. Or they can pay their fine and move on. If they feel they have been discriminated against or treated unfairly, they have recourse through the courts. Other than that, let’s keep it simple, folks. All the best!

HOA Board Ain’t Fixin’ Nuttin!

R.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

4 months ago, I purchased a duplex which has 3 buildings and 6 owners. I had a hard time getting documents during the sale and did not understand the dynamics involved. The first email I got from the treasurer was on the day the fees were due. Our first meeting when I met the other owners was a nightmare. The president has been in position for 20 years and has Alzheimer’s so her daughter had appointed herself to the position. The treasurer was appointed by her, not vote, and the secretary had been behind 6 months in fees which they were trying to cover up. When I brought up concerns about the outside of our building, I was yelled at by the President’s son-in-law and told “we ain’t fixing nuttin, we got no money!” Then my neighbor brought up a repair not done properly and he stood up screaming and swearing at her and everyone started fighting. I asked for the bylaws and I was told by the president to find them myself. She doesn’t have them.

A few weeks ago, the fascia that needed repair was hanging off of my roof. I called the president and son in law started screaming and threatening me and said we have no money to fix it. I mentioned the Reserves that we should have had when I moved in, and both him and the treasurer admitted it was fudged to make the sale happen and accused my realtor of fraud. I had her call them and the next day the son-in-law apologized and paid out of pocket to have the fascia repaired.

They had previously called a special meeting to discuss the budget so I told them I did not want the son-in-law there as he has no business there; they agreed. The meeting started off ok until we brought up questions about missing payments from a couple of owners. We started getting bullied again. When the argument was brought up about the fascia I defended myself telling what the son-in-law said to me. He came running down the stairs screaming and swearing and threatening me again and threw me out of his mother-in-law’s house. I called the police.

I want to have the President, Treasurer, and Secretary removed by law for keeping false books, hostile environment, favoritism, harassment and negligence. If I have solid proof (which I do), will I be able to charge the association for the attorney since it’s in the best interest of the owners? It’s the board who caused all of these problems.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., your tale of woe reads like a comedy of errors. I am glad you got your fascia replaced but the rest of this tale is a nightmare! This is a small homeowner’s association (6 units if I understood your opening statement). Small associations face the same challenges as larger associations but have far fewer resources to handle the issues. A functioning Board is a good start but there are legal remedies available to you. I want to ask you about your own purchase into this association. Did you use an attorney? Did the attorney review the governance documents? They can’t go missing as they are part of the closing process. Of course, if you somehow waived your right to these critical documents in an eagerness to make the purchase, you are experiencing a major case of “Buyer Beware!” It sounds to me like there is awful lot of impropriety going on here. You need to speak with an attorney, which I am not. I offer friendly advice; an attorney will offer you legal advice. You may end up suing the association, individual officers, anyone else associated with these misdeeds in an attempt to get the association back on sound footing. By the way, 6 owners don’t guarantee deep enough pockets to do that. In fact, you may be throwing good money after bad in an attempt to correct this problem. Your attorney can better advise you if you can include your own legal fees in any litigation but winning the litigation is just the beginning. You need to collect from these folks, who clearly don’t have the money from what you have told me. If it were me, I think I would try to sell and cut my losses. Otherwise, be ready to deal with an ongoing problem for months and even years to come. Keep the police on speed dial because these folks clearly have no idea what they are supposed to be doing and will likely continue doing what they have always done. Good luck!

Too Much Condo Surveillance?

R.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We just discovered that the Front desk person of the building is recording and typing up every conversation, comment, and who is sitting in the lobby for more than 30 minutes. This “spying” is being done without resident knowledge or communication that their conversation will be written. Residents have been told the front desk is meant to announce visitors, accept packages, sign in visitors…. not security etc. Is this legal??

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., I can see where this “big brother”-like behavior could be disconcerting. However, I do not think it is illegal as the front desk and lobby area are common property of the association. There should not be any expectation of privacy in such a place. The more important question here is why is this behavior going on at all? The Board is responsible for the going’s on of the association and management of the common areas. If you have a management company handling the management of these common areas, it is quite possible that this employee is following orders from them either at the request of the Board or the Management Company. Either way, your next move is to ask the Board why this type of record is necessary and that you and many other residents feel it is not. The Board can then decide to continue or discontinue the practice. Good luck!

NYC Condo Board Forcing Rule Changes on Unit Owners

M.T. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We live in NYC in a 22-unit condominium building. We recently received an e-mail from our management company (on direction by our board) that certain “rules” would be changed, including language that limits what the building insurance would cover and how many pets are allowed per unit. We don’t really care about the change in pet policy though it does strike us as funny that one of the condo board members has more than the two dogs currently allowed. The change to the insurance language however does seem odd since it’s contrary to our by-laws. In the same message that contained the new “rules,” we were also informed that we needed to sign the attached document within 2 weeks and return it to them. Failure to sign would result in escalating monthly fines. I don’t see anything in our by-laws that specifically authorizes this – except that the condo board of course can enforce rules and fine for non-compliance. Do I have to sign? Or in other words, can they fine me for not signing this? The rules at this point look more like an amendment of the by-laws and it’s our understanding that we need to vote on that in order to make a change.

Mister Condo replies:

M.T, I can see where you would find it odd that these rules are being changed almost arbitrarily, especially by a Board of such a small condo. If there are 5 Board members and only 22 units, almost 25% of the units are represented by Board members. You are correct to challenge the process of changing rules or by-laws and you should look at both your governing documents and any local laws that may offer you protection from a Board that oversteps their authority to make changes that require a full vote of unit owners. As for signing a document provided by the Board that states they have informed you of the rule changes, I don’t see where that is a foul. Fining you for not acknowledging these rule changes seems a bit extreme. Typically, the Board only needs to notify unit owners in writing of rule changes for the rules to be considered in place and due process to have been followed. Forcing unit owners to sign this acknowledgement and then fining them for not doing so sounds like an unnecessary step to me but your governing documents may call for such a measure. You might want to attend the next Board meeting and observe what is going on. If they offer an opportunity for unit owners to voice concern, you could ask what these changes are about. It could be that the insurer has given the Board reason to make these changes. One instance I can think of is creating maintenance standards for things such as water supply lines inside of units. If left unmanaged, broken water supply lines can cause a fortune in damage. Many insurance companies now require that these lines, even if working properly, be replaced at regularly scheduled intervals. All the best!

Condo Board Vacancy Filled; Volunteer Overlooked

C.W. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If a condo Board has a 5-member Board and one resigns, and a new homeowner elects to offer his services for the Board to fill that seat and the remaining 4 Board Members decline to allow that member to become a Board member but would select another homeowner who does not want to be a Board Member and it is personal and they do not allow the one volunteering his services simply because they do not like him, is this collusion, unethical?

Mister Condo replies:

C.W., I would say it is unfortunate but not unethical. Your governing documents spell out how the Board can fill a vacancy. Typically, it is completely up to the Board to make the appointment. Just because there is a willing volunteer from the association looking to be appointed, the Board is not obligated to do so. In a small association like yours, I would simply suggest that the eager volunteer get on the ballot for the next election. At that time, it is up to the unit owners, not just the Board. All the best!

Condo Cable Installation Costs Out of Control

C.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association just hired a new management property company. This property company has created rules for the cable company to follow in order to gain access to the electrical room where the cable hook ups are located. The cable tech can get access one of three ways 1) to drive to the management office to pick up the key (20 miles there and back, not to mention having to return the key) – the cable tech said they are not willing to do that 2) the cable tech can send an email to the management property with their employee id, but the techs say they are not allowed to send emails to anyone outside of the company 3) I can pay the management company $40 an hour to come and open the door. If the cable company gives me a 4-hour block and the management company stays until the cable tech is done, that could easily be 5 hours and close to $200 to get my cable fixed. I have tried to ask the board, but the management property states that the board wants everything to go through the management property company and they have not passed this issue to the board. Can the management company do this? The old management wouldn’t charge anything.

Mister Condo replies:

C.B., they absolutely can! The problem is with your Board, not your Management Company. If the Board doesn’t apply pressure to the management company to change their policy, the management company can pretty much do whatever it wants. The management company works for the Board, not you. Your displeasure at having to pay these extra fees is of no concern to the management company. In fact, it is quite profitable from what you describe. You need to complain to the Board and also speak with other unit owners who must be having the same issue as you. If enough you get fed up with the Board, it is time to elect new Board Members who will pressure the management company to change this policy or risk losing the management contract. If those things don’t happen, the policy is likely to remain in place. Enjoy your cable and good luck!

Condo President Perplexed as Unit Owners Feed Wild Animals

R.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

As president of our association I have been faced with an issue of residents that constantly toss bulk amounts of food outside in common property areas for the purpose of feeding wildlife. This is causing our community to become unsafe due to many varieties of animals from bears to skunks on the property as well as residents complaining about food on the common areas. We have sent letters and threaten fines but nothing has worked. Can we add a policy to our rules and regulations to stop such behavior in the future? Help!

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., rules are only as good as they are enforceable. You mentioned sending letter and “threatening” fines but you haven’t gone as far as to actually issue fines. Your rules, therefore, have no teeth and residents are scoffing at them. As the next order of business, ass the rules and appropriate fines for rules violations to your by-laws. Then, when a unit owner or resident is accused of violating a rule, issue a summons for them to appear before the Board at the next meeting. Ask them why they violated the rule. Then issue either a warning or a fine and repeat. You tried the “common sense” approach and that didn’t work. It’s time to escalate the words into actions. My guess is once it starts costing them money, the rules violators will stop. Good luck!

Condo Developer Transition Litigation Nightmare

N.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am in a large condo association that was in litigation with the developer when I purchased many years ago. We were never told of the litigation, and strangely enough had no problem getting our mortgage, which was not the case with many potential buyers from what I have been told. Over the years, the board, which is a veiled one, never fully disclosed the extent of the deficiencies until 6 years after the litigation ended. Now every member has been told we will be assessed potentially over $60,000! (They have not done bids yet for the work.) The board will not allow us to see a cost breakdown as to how the engineering company got to this amount. The property manager has also said that in times of litigation open meetings are not required even to ratify any binding action. The minutes of open meetings cannot be accessed because this management company has said anything before their time (3 management companies in 7 years) is missing. To top it off, there was a recent election in which the property manager was bad mouthing certain people running as write-ins to people just turning in their proxies. Faced with this huge looming bill, I am feel like this community is in huge trouble. I fear numerous foreclosures and the association going belly up! What can we do?!

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., I am truly sorry for your situation. The developer transition period is a unique time in an association’s history and it is a time that requires all unit owners to be wide-eyed, leery, and as well-represented as possible. I have written numerous columns on the subject which you can read by following this link: http://askmistercondo.com/?s=developer+transition

I would love to say that your situation is unique but that is hardly the case. The dollar amount in question is unusually high but I have heard of worse, especially when the transparency is lacking between the developer and unit owners. It is not too late to take corrective actions but the underlying financial damage is likely to remain and perhaps intensify if the association needs to take legal action against the developer. Here is what I would recommend you and your fellow unit owners do to protect yourselves.

First and foremost, speak with a qualified community association attorney (NOT the Developer’s Attorney!). You need legal guidance here and each state has its own version of condominium and incorporation acts that will likely come into play. Construction defect lawsuits are not uncommon, can be very expensive, and tricky to pursue. However, money invested in a construction defect lawsuit that may yield millions for the association is money well spent, in my opinion.

You need to understand which phase of developer transition your community is in. Has the developer relinquished governance of the association to the Board or is the Board only functioning as outlined in the development stage, meaning the developer still has large control of the Board? If the developer is no longer in control, different rules apply. This is another discussion to have with your community association attorney. If the Board is in full charge of governing the community, it is also likely time for a new management company as the one originally in place had the best interests of the developer in mind and not necessarily the unit owners. From what you have described, this management company is working for the developer, not the association. 3 management companies in 7 years is not a good thing. Be sure to thoroughly interview thoroughly to make sure the next management company is a better fit for the association.

Finally, consider selling before it gets any worse. This is going to be an expensive and drawn out process. If you don’t have the constitution for it, get out while you can and consider moving into another condo without these problems. Even if you talk a loss to sell your unit, you may be coming out ahead of a $60K special assessment and who knows what else if a legal battle ensues. When money is needed from a community association there is only one source: the unit owners. You might just do better to cut your losses and move on. Good luck!

Who Sets the Condo’s Percentage of Rental Units?

J.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Supposedly, the percentage of renters in a Connecticut condo association has been changed to allow up to 50% of the units to be rented. If this is correct, where can I find a copy of the law, and who sponsored it? The more renters allowed will increase our insurance costs, change the demographics of the community and discourage most people from buying units in the complex.

Mister Condo replies:

J.H., I am not aware of any law in our state that allows up to 50% of units in any condo association to be rented. Rental restrictions or rental caps are usually outlined in the condominium’s governing documents, if at all. Many associations refer to FHA guidelines (set by the federal government, not the states) so they can maintain or obtain FHA qualification for mortgages to be obtained by unit owners. If associations allow more rentals than the FHA guidelines call for, it becomes unlikely that unit owners will be able to get mortgages within the association as the association as a whole becomes ineligible in the eyes of the FHA, and, therefore, those banks that offer FHA-backed mortgages. All that being said, you need to look at your governance documents to see what, if anything, they say about limiting the percentage of rental units. If the documents are silent on the subject (many are), you might like to see what restrictions may have been placed on the units over the years. Keep in mind that the entire body of unit owners needs to vote on such restrictions. I agree with your assessment of what happens when communities become dominated with rentals However, there are many community associations where investors have purchased a majority of units with the only intention is to rent them out and eventually sell the units at a profit. If you live in such an association, rental restrictions would be hard to implement. Good luck!

Condo Vendors Work for the Board; Not the Unit Owners!

L.K. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A company was hired by the Board to do an assessment of the complex and provide a report to the board in order to get a loan. I called the person who did the report to ask some questions and he said he had been instructed not to answer questions from unit owners. All questions have to go to the Board first. No direct contact is allowed. Can the Board restrict unit owners from talking to a vendor hired by the Board and paid for by unit owners?

Mister Condo replies:

L.K., even though it might seem contrary to reason, the vendor was hired by the Board, not the unit owners. The vendor reports only to the Board. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to see the report once it becomes part of the association’s records but until then, the vendor, in this case it sounds like a Reserve Study expert, is correct not to interface with unit owners as it might color the report made to the Board. The Reserve Study specialist needs to be completely objective and present his or her findings directly to the Board. Your observation that unit owners have paid for this contractor is not technically correct. Yes, you and your fellow unit owners all pay your common fees but the governance of those funds is the exclusive purview of the Board. This is very similar to paying your taxes to the town or city in which you live. People that work for the town or city are not your employees, are they? No, the same is true for folks employed by the association. They work for the Board and are responsible only to the Board. I hope your Board makes good use of your new Reserve Study. Good luck!