Tag Archives: Legal

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 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!

When Do Monthly Condo Common Fees Begin?

G. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Good Day, Mister Condo! Do I need to pay monthly dues even if I sign the certificate of acceptance but have complained (fixture of toilet bowl is not working)? I don’t have a key yet but I have signed an agreement. What will I do?

Mister Condo replies:

G., I am sorry for your situation. Quite honestly, your best bet would have been to not sign any contract until the unit was in good working order and to your liking. Once you have signed the agreement to purchase the unit, you are on the hook for the common fees that accrue from that day forward. So, even if the toilet bowl isn’t working properly, you still have to pay your common fees. If you don’t, the association will be forced to take collection actions against you which can be quite costly. You don’t want that to happen. Pay your fees and work with the association to get your toilet fixed. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy your new unit once that repair is made. All the best!

Florida Condo President Facing Multiple Challenges

R.H. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My 24-unit condo by laws say that an audit must be conducted once a year. Florida statutes say every 3 years. In addition, the property manager pushed through a specific contractor and that was 3 times the price but the other directors back her up. I am the president but I can’t get any info from her because she is aggressive and doesn’t let me say a word without attacking me verbally. I am now taping the meetings. A woman is unofficially taking notes but doesn’t sign them. They are not a good synopsis. What do I do?

Mister Condo replies:

R.H., thank you for your service to your community. I am sorry it isn’t a better experience for you. Let’s try and break down a few of the symptoms and see if we can’t get you on the right path. The audit requirement in your governing documents likely override the state requirement as they call for more frequent auditing. If your bylaws called for audits every 5 years, then the state law would supersede your documents and you would need to audit every three years. The contractor performing the audit is hired by the Board. As long as the rest of the Board is OK with this auditor then there may not be too much you can do about it. Ideally, hiring an auditor is no different than any other vendor. Bids should be collected and a contractor selected. If your Board doesn’t function that way, there may not be too much you can do about this particular vendor. Unofficial notes are not the proper method of taking Minutes of meetings. Are there formal Minutes of your meetings? If not, the association is opening itself up to all kinds of troubles. Minutes are the official and legal records of your meetings. The Board Secretary has the responsibility of keeping these vital records. As President, you are functioning as the executive of the association and it is important that you know what needs to be done. If any vital functions are not being handled correctly, you may need to offer assistance or seek new volunteer leaders from within your community to get the job done. Typically, property managers work closely with their Boards to manage the association. The adversarial relationship you have described to me makes me wonder why the association would renew their agreement with the manager. I would encourage you to take a good look at the management company agreement and get competitive bids for when the renewal comes up. There is no reason for the association to continue using a manager that doesn’t work well with the Board. However, if the rest of the Board is satisfied you may find them reluctant to change management companies. I wish you all the best.

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!