S.T. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I had to pay $1500 for roof repairs last year. Supposedly, the management company did something funny and the funds are gone for this assessment. The Board of Directors wants to reassess each unit again to pay for this repair. I already paid for repairs that were not done. What is my legal right here?
Mister Condo replies:
S.T., I always hate to hear about special assessments at condos as it usually indicates that an association has not saved enough money over the years to handle routine repairs and maintenance of “known to wear” items like a roof. On the flip side, if the common fees were high enough to have adequately funded the Reserve Fund for such repairs, unit owners might not be happy with the amount of fees they have to pay each month. It’s kind of a “Catch 22”. Your assertion that the management company did “something funny” concerns me as well and my guess is that there is an explanation that the Board is aware of that they have not satisfactorily conveyed to you. I cannot say I blame you for being upset about having to pay a second time for repairs that were not completed after you initially paid.
As you know, I am not an attorney so I cannot give you legal advice. If you need legal advice, I encourage you to seek the advice of a lawyer who specializes in this area of community association law. However, I am happy to offer practical advice to help you understand the inner workings of the association so you can ask the proper questions to find out where the money went and why more is needed. The Board, and the Board alone, has the ability to levy assessments on unit owners for repairs to common elements. Your condo documents clearly spell out who is responsible for what. If your roof is deemed as a limited common element (i.e. – you own it), you may need to pay for its repair. If it is part of the community’s common elements (i.e. all roofs are considered common) an assessment for the repair would be to all unit owners, with you paying the same percentage of the assessment as you would your common fees. Assessments can be made in a variety of ways but from what you have told me the assessment was made and deemed to be for the express use of repairing the roof. That money should not have been used for anything else. If it was diverted (“something funny”, as you say) and used for another common expense (let’s say for this year’s snow removal which went over budget in many condos) then a new assessment should be levied for the snow removal and the monies returned to the roof repair project as originally designated.
Special assessments need to be applied for the items for which they were assessed. If they aren’t used in that way, a unit owner can call foul and bring action against the Board seeking relief from the assessment. However, unless the money was used completely inappropriately (the association threw a big block party instead of tending to capital maintenance issues) the complaint may fall on deaf ears. Associations need money to pay for the association’s bills which are created by the expenses of purchases of goods and services for the benefit of all unit owners. Whether those expenses are insurances, utilities, common ground maintenance, snow removal, roofs, paving or anything else the association consumes the money all comes from the same place – the individual unit owners who contribute in the form of common fees and special assessments. That being said, the Board needs to practice good governance or face the consequences of angering the unit owners like yourself to the point where they take action against the association in the form of lawsuits or by recalling or voting out the Board members. Of course, if you are going to vote out one group of volunteers you need to be ready to vote in another group. In associations where the money is tight and the need for capital improvements is high that can be very difficult to do. Good luck, S.T.!