C.J. from New Jersey writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
The people in my building are mature professionals, meaning we do not have many children in the building. While it is not predominantly a senior population, we have had 3 instances where an older homeowner develops dementia and becomes less capable of paying their maintenance fees. One gentleman lives alone and has no family he (or we, the board) can call upon to help him. The board president has asked him if he needs help but he says “no”. He recently suffered a stroke but is back home. One day a couple of weeks ago he wasn’t feeling well and could not make it from the lobby to his unit. We asked him if he wanted an ambulance but he was adamant about not going to the hospital. He brought him upstairs to his unit but the conditions were unsafe. Clothing and other items were strewn about and he could easily injure himself and no one would know he is hurt. We are concerned for his safety, as well as the financial health of our building. He has fallen 4 months behind in his payments but will not accept anyone helping him pay his bills. What recourse does the association have in a case like this if he ends up in a nursing home? As our population ages this can become a bigger problem. Thank you.
Mister Condo replies:
C.J., I salute the caring attitude towards this elder community resident. You and your fellow Board members are to be commended for giving this matter some thought and thinking about devising a plan now, before this situation becomes regular happenstance. As you know, I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in community association law in your state. Please consider my advice as friendly and seek legal counsel if you deem it necessary.
My first thoughts are that unless your community association documents provide for elder care (I strongly doubt that they do), the Board is treading into dangerous territory by getting involved in the well being of its unit owners. The association should not take on the liability or responsibility of making sure unit owners are in good health or of sound mind. That being said, the association should also protect itself from delinquent common fee payments. The example you give is quite typical with elder unit owners, in my experience. However, to treat one unit owner any differently than you would treat another unit owner is setting the association up for a discrimination lawsuit at some point in the future.
For instance if Unit Owner A loses a job and falls behind in common fees and you take collection action against him at 60 days delinquency while allowing Unit Owner B to fall 120 days behind without taking collections action, you can see how Unit Owner A is likely able to file a discrimination claim. That’s just bad business for the association, whose only real purpose is to protect and enhance the association; not the individual residents.
That may sound cold and uncaring but the reality is that the association is a not-for-profit corporation. It has stated purpose, rules, and by-laws in the condo documents. That is the only duty of the association and the charge of the Board of Directors. Any activities that go beyond the scope of the stated purpose of the association, and that puts the association at risk, should be avoided at all costs, in my opinion. There are numerous assisted living facilities in your state and while it is not your job to see that any particular resident gets the help they need, it is likely that if the association follows its protocols for collections, foreclosures, and such, individuals who need assisted living care will likely get in the long run. It may not be a neighborly way to approach it but you have already tried neighborly and have been told by the resident they don’t want your help. My advice is to stick to the governance of the association as required; the rest will sort itself out. Good luck!