Tag Archives: Neighbor Issues

Uncollected and Unaccounted Condo Common Fees!

T.N. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’ve lived in a 3-unit condo for almost 2 years. For the first year I tried to get in touch with its only Trustee—I wanted to become involved in the HOA and help plan an annual meeting—but he continually put me off (he lived elsewhere and rented his unit). A week or two before a new owner closed on his unit, this guy asked me to take up the mantle as Trustee (this was also the first I was finding about him selling!). He cancelled 2 meetings with me, and then on the day of his closing, texted me that he was in the city and could I take a long lunch to settle business. At this lunch meeting (which took 2hrs!), we got my status as Trustee notarized, my name on the bank accounts, and I got a giant bag full of paper records.

To say the least, I was completely unprepared for being the Trustee. After spending 8 weeks going through these incomplete and disorganized records, I came to find that for years the common bills and landscaping were paid late or not at all (apparently 2 companies quit over non-payment). I intervened with the electric company terminating our service and the city issuing a lien. After doing what I could with the records, I hired a forensic accountant to do some triage, and she was appalled at what she found. For years the association has increasingly been coming in hundreds of $$ under budget, and the reserves have been being drained and not replenished to compensate (basically as an association we have $600 to our name).

It’s also clear that he didn’t keep track of HOA dues—there is no ledger to speak of and some of the “deposit notes” are written on napkins and sundry receipts—and, from what I can tell, over the past 7 years we’re missing nearly $4K in HOA dues mostly from the unit owned by an elderly couple.

The accountant and I had a long discussion and we decided that since we have no records proving who owes what and since it’s been years, we should forgive the HOA dues, but put them on a payment plan for the 10K they owe in back assessments. The elderly couple had been claiming we were not a legit association and thus not under the same governing rules as one, so I dug up the declaration of trust and the master deed I got during my purchase for them to see (5 months in and we finally all agreed on a payment plan).

When I closed I had my lawyer look over the docs and synopsize them for me, but I didn’t really read too much about the duties of a Trustee at the time. Now I’m seeing that according to the by-laws we *have* to have 3 Trustees, each one a rep for each unit. I want to eat my own face. The new guy is busy with a PhD and has no interest in taking on this responsibility, and the elderly couple has no idea how an association is run or how HOA fees or assessments work (they called me each time they received a monthly HOA fee invoice, asking me what this bill was; they also don’t know why I can’t “get a guy” to repaint their unit, for example).

Right now, I feel like the only interested, sane, informed person trying to make sure the association doesn’t collapse (I’ve contacted several property managers who have haughtily told me they don’t manage associations this small). How terrible would it be if I remained as the only Trustee for another year, just until I get us out of this financial mess and put processes in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Mister Condo replies:

T.N., I would love to tell you that yours is the first horror story I have heard from very small (2 or 3 unit) associations but, unfortunately, the situation you describe is far too common, although not always as financially shocking to read about. The phrase “Buyer Beware” comes to mind when I read your list of wrongdoings by the previous Trustee and unit owners. I admire your realistic approach at fixing the problem but, honestly, you are the only person who can correct what is going on and, perhaps, right this sinking ship. Or you can abandon the ship by selling your unit to an unaware individual. There seems to be an endless demand for these units in smaller associations although, personally, I would never own one unless the other unit owners were family. As you have seen, most property managers are loath to manage these small associations. How can they make any money doing so? Even a modestly sized association would yield several thousand dollars per year for the efforts. Your association would have numerous management issues and they would be lucky to make a few hundred dollars a year for their time. Not going to happen. As far as you remaining the only trustee, technically, you are operating outside of the scope of the governing documents. However, who is going to challenge you? The PhD candidate with no time or the elderly couple with no understanding of what they own? I think you are free to do as you see fit. If it were me, I’d sell and consider this a lesson in something to never do again. Good luck!

Delinquent Owner Causing Big Mess at 3-Unit Condo

S.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 3-unit condo that was converted from a single-family home 2 decades ago. When I closed on my condo, I was required to give the HOA a sum of money to cover my share of an estimated driveway repaving that was planned in a year (I have this in writing in my P&S and the closing papers). Before that could happen, and almost right after I moved in, the roof sprung a leak. Being tapped out on my recent purchase, I told the Trustee they could use half the money I put in for the driveway and I would pay half out of pocket for my share for the roof; when time came for the driveway in the next year, I would pay the difference. As it turned out, my half share of the roof and the whole share of the driveway amounted almost perfectly to what I put in at Closing. Now that it’s time, I’ve been asked to pay the whole amount of my share for the driveway out of pocket. The Trustee is saying she used the rest of my sum to cover a unit that couldn’t pay for the roof (they’re on a payment plan but it’s going to take them 2 years to pay the HOA back!). I asked if I would be reimbursed and was told no. I’m arguing that I was assessed at Closing and paid my share. She’s arguing that once the money went into the HOA reserves it became common funds for her to use as she saw fit. Can she really make me pay twice and not reimburse me given that the offending unit is paying back the funds albeit slowly?

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., ouch! Small condos like yours can have some mighty big problems when unit owners don’t have the money to sustain maintenance and repair items equally and as outlined in the governance documents. You may very well have the right to sue your association to get your money back but the real question is one of value. Would it be worth it? Probably not. As the funds from the delinquent unit owner come in, the association is made whole. In theory, that would be the time for you to pay for your driveway as originally agreed, less the money you already paid for the driveway. Your trustee is wrong in assuming that any money put in the Reserve Fund can be used at the Trustee’s discretion. However, to enforce your rights as a unit owner, you will have to sue. Again, it is a question of value. In a small association like yours there is rarely any tangible amount of money in the coiffeurs to make a lawsuit worthwhile. It is in everyone’s best interest that you get along. Play nice and ask for fairness. If you can’t get the trustee to play nice, consider selling. It would likely be easier in the long run than doling out good money on a lawsuit that may not yield any money to you at the end. It’s your choice. Good luck!

Condo Owner Harassed by Board President and Other Unit Owners

D.T. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How to bring about a board meeting to discuss being harassed by the president of the condo board and other owners?

Mister Condo replies:

D.T., I am sorry that you feel you are being harassed by unit owners or Board members at your association. Typically, you would simply hire your own attorney and bring a lawsuit or criminal charges against the Board members or unit owners that are harassing you. You don’t have the ability to call a Board meeting but you could attend an upcoming Board meeting and ask that the issue be addressed by the Board. The Board does not have the ability to intervene on legal matters. In other words, if your attorney thinks you have a case for harassment, the matter is settled through legal channels, not community association governance. I hope you have a positive outcome. Good luck!

Can Condo Owner Park in Guest Parking Space?

R.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Each building has 36 tenants. Each owner has their own parking space. We also have guest spots. One owner has a spot they don’t like and parked in a guest spot nearer to them. Is there a rule against that? Thanks

Mister Condo replies:

R.C., you tell me! Is there a rule against that? A simple examination of your condo’s governing documents will tell you who can use the guest parking spaces. Typically, the spaces are reserved for guests but many condo documents say nothing about who can or can’t park there. In other words, if there are no rules about how the community association-owned parking lots are used, there may be no issue with your neighbor parking there. On the other hand, if there are rules or the Board decides to create rules about how the spaces are used, it is possible that neither he nor any other resident will be allowed use of these spaces. It seems to me that they were intended to be used as guest parking spaces and that is likely their best use. Good luck!

Failed Condo Water Heater Creates Question of Responsibility

M.A. from New Haven writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My hot water heater leaked into the condo below me. I had the heater replaced. Am I responsible for the damage caused to the ceiling of the downstairs condo unit?

Mister Condo replies:

M.A., I am sorry for you and your downstairs neighbor’s damage and problems. Whether or not you are responsible depends on a few things. If your association provides and enforce maintenance standards for common wear items like water heaters and you didn’t violate those standards, then the association may have insurance to help cover the cost of your neighbor’s damage. Your neighbor should have his or her own homeowner’s insurance policy which should cover some of the damage, less a deductible, that could be passed on to you or the association. Your own homeowner’s insurance may offer you some coverage against these costs as well. If you didn’t follow any published maintenance standard for replacing your water heater (typically every seven years or so) then you may be on the hook for the damage. I am not sure what you have been asked to pay but make sure all of the players involved have checked with their own insurers before you start parting with any cash. If it turns out you are being asked to pay money that you do not agree with, you may wish to speak to an attorney who can tell you what your legal responsibilities are. Good luck!

Neglected Condo Roof is Only the Tip of This Problem

M.L. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m in a condo association of two just outside Boston. We split common expenses 60(upstairs)/40(me). We need a new roof and upstairs neighbors are stalling and finally admitted they don’t have the money. This repair is long overdue and I am concerned that deferring could lead to damage. What are my options?

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., I am sorry for your problem. 2-unit condos like yours can be the perfect arrangement for some and a horror show for others. Your situation, I am afraid, is a bit of a horror show. I am not a lawyer and offer no legal advice here. However, I suggest you speak with an attorney from your area to see what other legal remedies you might have available to you. Your only real option, in my opinion, is to sue the other owner. But that won’t necessarily solve your problem seeing as you already know they don’t have the money. The truth is they can’t afford to live in this condo since they can’t shoulder the financial burden of doing so. In my opinion, your best bet is to sell and leave this problem to someone else. If you wish to fight the good fight and stay, you can either live with the problem roof or you can begin a lawsuit that will likely end in them losing their home through foreclosure and might still not get you the new roof you need. That is a very ugly, complicated, and nightmarish way to live for the next year or two that this would take to unfold. If it were me, I’d put my unit up for sale and spend my time and energy elsewhere. Good luck!

Upstairs Condo Neighbor Needs Downstairs Condo Neighbor’s Cooperation

P.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My neighbor upstairs wants to renovate their bathroom to make it more accessible to their elderly father. She wants to change the plumbing and needs to come through my unit to do so. I am not really comfortable with this as my ceilings have recently been painted and plastered and I do not want a patch up after they drill holes in my unit. Not sure what to do.

Mister Condo replies:

P.K., I feel your pain. You want to be a good neighbor but you also want to protect your home and investment. There is no right or wrong answer here. If the governing documents don’t prohibit the type of modification your upstairs neighbors are seeking, this will largely come down to how cooperative you want to be. I guess my best advice is to ask yourself if the situation were reversed, how would you want your neighbor to respond. Typically, you can stipulate that the ceilings in your home will need to be left in the same condition they are currently in. In other words, if a patch job isn’t going to suffice, you can explain that you just had all of this work done. While you are willing to accommodate the construction, you expect more than just a “patch and paint” at the end of the project. If your neighbors are serious about needing/wanting their modifications, they may be willing to agree to you terms. After all, being a good neighbor works both ways. All the best!

Seasonal Condo Landlord Faces Pushback from Year-Round Owners

S.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought a condo as a vacation home in Maine. There are five units. As I live in Massachusetts, and still work full-time, I am only able to use it intermittently in the summer, and then I rent it out November – May. There is another owner that rents hers year-round, and a third that comes intermittently in the summer and closes it up for the winter. That leaves two other units that are owner-occupied year-round. One of them is proposing that the non year-round owners pay an extra percentage or dollar on the monthly condo fees “for months when owners are not here to cover all the management/maintenance issues that fall to those who live here full time”. Can they do this? I would agree that the year-round owners are the ones who have to call the repairman, or may sweep up between cleaning lady visits, or admit inspectors to our units if required, but should they/can they be compensated through additional fees?

Mister Condo replies:

S.M., unless your governing documents allow for such a fee (unlikely), then the only way to add one would be to modify the documents. Since three of the five unit owners would likely vote against such a rule, it is unlikely to pass. That being said, there may be some validity to what the other year-round unit owners are asking and since it is such a small community, you might want to find an agreeable solution to keep peace and harmony in the community. Personally, I would argue that the year-round unit owners are benefitting by being the ones making the calls to repairmen and keeping their homes in good working order. If they need additional “sweeping up” between cleaning lady visits, perhaps it is time to schedule more cleaning lady visits, an expense shared by ALL unit owners, even those not there year-round to benefit directly from the additional cleaning. Other than that, I think they should review the governance documents and realize that the real estate purchase they made entitles them to the common services as outlined. Anything above that is an unreasonable expectation on their part. Good luck!

Family Not Welcome in Older Condo Community

D.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My husband, me, & our preschool child live in a privately-owned condo rental. A senior neighbor advised me that there are no kid bicycles allowed here as well as toys & they will be disposed of. Next, the condo manager came by and accused us of not supervising our child and that he was in the street, also parking lot. Allegations not true. Then another Senior resident came knocking with the condo rules. I read them and gave them back. I received a copy of my own rules and did note it stated there are to be no bouncing balls or bicycles in the common areas. My son and I have been yelled and screamed at by neighbors for absolutely no reason at times so it’s obvious they have a problem with us but we are pretty good people who keep to ourselves. I was told by a senior resident that all the neighbors here do not like us living here. He stated it was because of our little boy. Our car broke down on a Saturday and we went to take the bus, I noticed that I was being followed part way to the bus stop by one of the neighbors. I also noticed that she was on the phone. I told my husband I’m sure she was calling the association and letting them know that our car was broke down. I can’t prove that but we did within about 48 hours receive a notice that we were going to have our car towed within 24 hours because it was not running. There are several other cars in our area that are out of compliance with their rules, they have not received any notification to move their cars and they are also good friends with management. Is it legal for them to tow our car only and not tow other cars that are not following the same rules? We were told to just move if we didn’t like the rules, this was by the manager. We never said this and my husband has responded to them via letter. They have now been threatening to tow the car for 2 weeks at least. But they still have not. We are in process if attempting to sell it as per our mechanics advise. Any help would be appreciated.

Mister Condo replies:

D.S., it certainly sounds as though you and your family are not being welcomed in this particular community. Is this an age-restricted community, meaning it was designed for older residents (aged 55+)? If so, I can see where the presence of a child and a young family is not welcome here. Regardless of the reason, you are on the enforcement side of rules violations and I am guessing that will continue unless you are able to fully comply with the association’s rules. That can be quite the challenge with a young child and a broken-down vehicle. As for the enforcement of the rules, that is the association’s duty. Rules are typically enforced at the request of a fellow unit owner who complains about the violation or by the Board or Manager if so empowered. If you observe other violations, you would likely notify your landlord who would inform the association. The association could then take action against the rule violators if they so choose. It is possible that may have a discrimination complaint against the association but I cannot offer legal advice in this column. If you feel you have a case for discrimination, you should contact a local attorney who could better advise you of your options. If I were in your position, I would speak to my landlord and let him know how you are being treated. I certainly wouldn’t renew my lease and I would consider moving out as soon as possible. There is no reason for you to not enjoy your rental home and I am sure you can find a more family-friendly community. All the best!

Violent Condo Resident Danger to Himself and Others

A.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I reside in a 4-unit condominium, all owner occupied, in Massachusetts. We are a self-managed property and three years ago a new resident purchased one of the units; this owner’s Master Deed is both in their name and his mother’s; his mother does not live on the premises.

Since this individual has moved into the Association there have been significant violations of bylaws as well as safety concerns that have involved the police: spray painting the exterior of his door with red spray paint, stating obscenities; screaming for hours on end at night while also causing physical destruction within his own unit; threatening to murder people; leaving pools of his own blood in common area; taking a baseball bat to the fire alarm; and a series of other disconcerting behaviors.

We, and our neighbors, routinely call the police and they have taken him into custody on some occasions and not others. In some cases, unfortunately, association members have not called the police out of fear of escalating the situation (fears include that this individual could hurt himself, others or cause damage to our property). We have attempted to engage the parent, who is also on the deed, who only assures us that this individual is harmless.

While we are not certain that this individual is mentally ill, we assume that the presenting behaviors are indicative of such, so we are at a loss as to how to protect ourselves and our property while also being mindful of the law.

What can we legally do?

Mister Condo replies:

A.O., there isn’t too much that you can do other than what you have already done. There are no laws that prohibit mentally ill people from owning real estate. The police have been called (as they should be) and have taken appropriate action as they deem fit. That takes care of the criminal activity. As for the violations of rules and by-laws, the Board should be taking whatever action is appropriate to protect the association. However, if you have a violent or mentally unstable resident in your building, there is little that can be done by the Board. Ideally, this person would leave your condo and get the help they need. Until then, I am afraid the only other option you have is likely to put up with the behavior or sell your unit. I know which one I would do. Good luck!