T.K. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I own a 2BR condo in a medium sized complex that has a Board of Directors but is managed by an outside company. My unit is heated with electric baseboard heating (which is connected to my electric bill) while the rest of the complex is heated by its own heating system with heating oil that is paid for out of the condo association’s budget. If I am not receiving the same services as comparable apartments, do I have legal ground to challenge the amount of my common fees and to be reassessed?
Mister Condo replies:
T.K., it certainly sounds like you have an unfair situation at hand here. Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney so please think of my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney with expertise in community association law. That being said, let me tell you what I do know.
Back when your condominium complex was built, certain decisions were made as to the mechanics of the buildings and how the common expenses were going to be handled. It is very likely that during this period the situation you are describing was decided to be the best way to heat the units. Unfortunately, that may have meant that your unit was built with its own electric heat and hot water and that your unit was tasked with the expense of paying for the electricity to create that heat and hot water. Fairness didn’t likely factor into the equation. It was most likely just the reality of the mechanics of how best to provide heat and hot water to the units that make up the condominium.
May I assume that in addition to the individual units that are heated by the association’s oil-powered heating system that other common elements (halls, entryways, club house, office) are also heated by this same heating system? If your unit is the only unit that isn’t a part of the condo that is being heated by oil I can see where there would be great difficulty in removing the heating oil bill from the community. In theory, the association would need to look at all square or even cubic footage including your unit that is part of the association. Then they would have to subtract the square or cubic footage of your unit to arrive at what is considered your portion of the heating bill. For purposes of this example, let’s assume that there are 50 units with 2,000 square feet of livable space apiece and another 5,000 square feet of community space (halls, entryways, club house, office). That would be 105,000 square feet of community space. Your share of that space is 2,000 square feet or 1.905%. If the community spends $50,000 annually on heating oil, that is a little over $950 that you contribute (as part of your common fees) to heat the entire community and common areas. This is a very crude example and is only meant to illustrate. Your actual numbers may vary greatly and would require more information than you or I could easily access.
Perhaps the electricity consumed to heat your unit could be considered as part of the community’s heating expense. It would be far easier to simply add the cost of your heating to the cost of heating the entire community. Of course, you use electricity for other things that your community does not pay for other unit owners so, again, you have a challenge. You would have to find a way to monitor your specific use of electricity for heating purposes (specific meters on your heating and water heating devices). In theory, you could be reimbursed by the association for the electricity consumed for just those purposes.
Obviously, you need to take a look at your unit’s documentation to determine if you are paying for something you shouldn’t. My guess is that your heating is not included because it is not part of the association-owned oil-powered heating system. It is very likely spelled out in the documentation for your unit. However, if it states that heat and hot water are included, which appears to be the case for the rest of the units in your association, you may have a case. As you can see, this is an accounting nightmare and you will very likely require legal assistance to make your case should you decide to pursue a remedy. It is unfair and unfortunate but certainly not unheard of. All the best!