G.D. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
We live in a small complex on a small piece of property. As such, we do not have much private space for unit owners. We have a grass area at the end of our driveway that was used this weekend by one unit for a large party. He e-mailed one board member and said he was having the party – and was told the party needed to be kept behind his unit or inside and that noise levels needed to be maintained so they did not disturb other unit owners. The party was attended by more than 20 young adults – all drinking on our property. The unit owner was told he did not have permission to be there, but stayed anyway. He insisted it was “common property” and that he had a right to hold this party there. Guests needed to walk down our driveway past our windows (which resulted in closing our blinds for privacy). As the party got louder he was told he was in violation of two rules and was disturbing the peace and quiet of other residents. This unit owner had the same party last year but with more people and they were out of control. Can we legally tell him that our property is off limits for this type of gathering and that it should be held at a public beach or park? This situation has created a loud argument both last year and this year. Our annual meeting is coming up next week and I know it will be another meeting with an argument. Most of our Board looks the other way when we have an issue that needs attention.
Mister Condo replies:
G.D., condominium association rules are only as useful as they are enforced and enforceable. I am sorry that you and some of your neighbors had your peace and quiet disturbed for this weekend in question. The lack of larger common grounds and lack of rules enforcement will likely lead to further abuses of this type. If the Board is unwilling to enforce the rules, you really only have a few choices. First, you can simply elect new Board members who will enforce the rules. In a small association like yours, it can be challenging to find volunteers who are willing to serve and also play sheriff. Second, you can sue your association for not enforcing its own rules. The association has a duty to enforce the rules of the association. Their failure to do so is a breach of duty and you can seek legal remedy. Again, in a small association like yours, the Board will need to spend money to defend itself and you could find yourself on the receiving end of a special assessment or increased common fees to cover the increased legal expense of a lawsuit. Finally, you could offer to work with your Board to avoid such situations in the future. The unit owner claiming access to the common grounds is partially right and may be fully right if your by-laws do not speak to things like how many guests can a unit owner have on the property at one time (try limiting it to 3 or 4; not 20!) or what types of activities are allowed or prohibited on the common grounds. In other words, there needs to be clearly stated rules and those rules need to be clearly enforced. Keep in mind that the rules apply to all unit owners. You cannot selectively enforce the rules against just one unit owner. Or, the community needs to look the other way when these rules aren’t enforced because the community doesn’t have the determination to do so. Again, in a small community like yours, the idea is that unit owners behave themselves. These are folks you see every day. They are neighbors. You don’t want to create a hostile environment where neighbor versus neighbor becomes the daily rigor. Good luck!