J.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Last year our association was turned over from the builder to the owners. Our board consists entirely of older members (55+). Recently they have been making changes to the condo by-laws, which appear to be discriminatory against the younger owners. 1) Our development has two common areas. Our unit (we were one of first owners in the development) directly abuts one common area (the price of our unit was $10,000 higher than others to reflect this). We have two children who, infrequently (1-2 times per week, at extremely reasonable hours, 4:00-6:00 pm…they go to bed at 7:30), play in the common area. They have played here for years, without injury or incident (no damage). We recently received a letter stating that children were no longer permitted to play in this common area, but had to use another one further down the street, under high tension wires. We are one of 3 owners with children (one of the other owners has a son who is there infrequently as they are divorced). 2) In the same letter, we were informed that pets could no longer be walked in the common areas due to the impact of urine on the grass. Our grass is not maintained in any way other than cutting and a once-a-year fertilization (no watering whatsoever, other than rain). There is literally no grass in the area directly behind our unit. Instead two areas were termed “dog walking areas.” One is in the woods, near rocks, under high-tension wires, with zero lighting. The other is 1/4 mile down the street…a street through a wooded area that also has no lighting…nor does the actual area where dogs are to be walked.
I am wondering if you had any advice as to how to address these changes with the Board…as well as if any housing laws would outlaw either of these changes. Thank you.
Mister Condo replies:
J.J., as you know I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, kindly consult with a local attorney in your area who may be familiar with housing laws for your state. You mention that your Board consists of folks who are over the age of 55 but you don’t mention if your community is age-restricted (built exclusively for folks aged 55 and over). For the purposes of this answer, I am going to assume that the community is open to folks of all ages.
Community associations should not pass any rules that discriminate against any particular group, as the federal Fair Housing Agency (FHA) does not take kindly to discrimination. In other words, making rules that limit play areas is perfectly acceptable. Making rules that limit where “children” can play discriminates against children and may be unconstitutional. That being said, it is also perfectly typical for associations to ban playing on any common areas. In fact, many community association insurers insist that associations post rules prohibiting skateboarding, bike riding, ball playing, etc. in an attempt to limit potential claims. You might want to ask the Board why they chose to designate the common area near your home a “no play” zone. At the very least, the rules should be amended to remove the word “children” as that is discriminatory.
As for pet-walking restrictions, you will need to follow the Board’s rules on where you can walk your pet. The common areas are under the Board’s control. Of course, you and your fellow homeowners are the one who have elected them to conduct the business of the association. If they are not properly representing the interests of you and your fellow homeowners, it is time to elect some leaders who will. You mentioned that all of the Board members were over the age of 55. Why not elect some younger folks who can represent the needs of younger families. Perhaps you should consider volunteering to serve. If you don’t get involved in the Board, those in charge will continue to make rules that best suit their needs. Good luck!