T.A. from Ocean County, New Jersey writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I own in an 8-unit building, 4 upper units, 4 lower units. Building is a rectangle with a large front porch spanning the front of the building with columns holding up a small roof overhang. The 4 upper units felt it would be a great idea for them to have private balconies. Everyone but me agreed to this nonsense. These 4 uppers actually took common area for their supports, etc. I have asked for my own private space as my unit is in the middle and people will stop directly in front of my only window servicing 75% of my unit and speak loudly and the sound now rebounds off the bottom of the balcony above me and right into my unit. I’ve been told no I can’t have it because it’s common area I’d need. There are 3 sets of walkways that lead to each cluster of doors so nobody would be blocked in. I’ve contacted 4 different realtors to appraise my unit since these balconies and mine has appraised $75,000 LESS than the ones above because they had the opportunity to improve and have private space. My question is is this not blatant discrimination? Can 4 owners just take common area for their own? If one person is offered the opportunity to improve their unit aren’t all owners entitled to the same opportunity? I can’t even afford to sell my place now with this $75,000 loss. I’m going to ask for mediation but I’m sure that will be a huge waste of time. I’d like to know if I have a legal leg to stand on because if I do I’ll gladly take the association to court. It’s terribly unfair. Thanks for our advice.
Mister Condo replies:
T.A., there are so many things wrong with what you have described, I am not sure where to begin! First off, let me say I am sorry that you are on the short end of these dealings. When condominiums are built, the builders have generally thought out the property and the individual unit amenities. It is fairly clear from your description of what has transpired, the units were built properly and outside decks were not considered a good idea when the units were built. The Board of Directors controls the common elements of the association. This includes the areas where these new decks were built. However, the Declaration, CC&Rs, bylaws and whatever limitations are put on the association in the form of the governing documents must be obeyed. If the additions to the units were added following those rules, there may be little you can do. However, from what you have told me, that does not appear to be the case. As for a claim of discrimination, unless you can document discrimination, I don’t see where you would have a case. Keep in mind I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column. Check your governing documents to see if the Board had the authority to alter the common elements as they have done. If they didn’t, you can demand they remove the balconies and bring suit against them if they don’t comply. Governing documents are very real and very legal. They equip you as a homeowner and an owner of record within the association to very specific rights. If these rights have been violated, it is up to you to bring the matter to the Board’s attention and take legal action if necessary. All the best!