L.F. from Hartford County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
My condo association has neglected repairs to the walkways and alcove between the 2 buildings. Rain water enters the alcove and puddles restrict you from getting your mail. The walkways are cracked with large crevices. The parking lot has huge pot holes and the front steps are sinking into the ground. I had to call for an ambulance and the EMTs complained and nearly tipped over the neighbor. I have sent a letter and discussed this at the Association meeting 2 weeks ago. No response.
Mister Condo replies:
L.F., that is a really troubling problem that your condo is experiencing. I am sure you and your neighbors would like to see these issues corrected as soon as possible. I am certain that these conditions did not occur overnight. In fact, it likely took many years for the situation to get as bad as it has. 2 weeks isn’t enough time to gauge your Board’s response to the problems but let’s explore the forces that are likely at play here and how your vigilance can help correct the situation.
Neglected repairs are a very visible sign of financial problems at condo associations; not just here in Connecticut but across the country. When condominiums are shiny and new, the grounds are usually immaculate with lush greenery and beautifully paved roads and freshly poured cement walkways. They are picture-perfect ideals of a community that anyone would want to live in. Then comes the reality of aging common elements and the underlying beast begins to show its head. A pothole in the parking lot, a crack in the sidewalks, a few shingles blown from a roof, or small sinkholes that collect rainwater as you have described. What then? Who is responsible for the repairs? More importantly, where is the money going to come from? And that is where the real problem usually lies.
Does your association have a Reserve Fund? Is it adequately funded? Does the Board have the ability to write a check and make these problems go away? Unfortunately, the answer is usually that there is not enough money in the budget to pay for the necessary repairs because adequate amounts have not been charged to unit owners over the years. The only way to raise the needed capital is to levy a special assessment or take out a community association loan, neither of which is very popular with unit owners (including Board Members) as, either way, unit owners will have to foot the bill. This leads Boards to postpone or, in your case, not address major failures of the infrastructure.
The association needs to have a few things happen to correct the immediate problem and the long-term problem. Immediately, repairs need to be made to uneven and dangerous surfaces. That may require an engineering opinion and milling and repaving, neither of which is inexpensive. If there is no money in the Reserve Fund for the project, unit owners should be told to expect a special assessment in the very near future.
To get back on track for the long term, it sounds like your association would benefit from a Reserve Study and implementation of regular contributions to the Reserve Fund in the form of increased common fees. If your Reserve Study were to show that your smaller Association needed to budget $10,000 per year in Reserves so there will be money available for future maintenance projects, your monthly common fees might increase by $40 – $50. That money is earmarked for the Reserve Fund and it assures unit owners that there will be money in the Reserve Fund so that these repairs don’t mount up again and again. I wish you speedy repairs and the best of luck!