M.A. from Fairfield County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I serve on the Board of my condo. We have a new resident that asked for and received permission from the Board to construct a sunroom addition on to their Unit. Unfortunately, they went ahead and added an unapproved deck off the approved sunroom without permission or knowledge of the Board. The Board has given them 2 weeks to take it down. They haven’t and now they keep coming up with new ideas and plans to make it work. What shall we do?
Also, another new owner wants to install a hot tub on their deck. We have nothing in our bylaws or rules and regulations about hot tubs. The Board does not want the hot tub but we are unsure how to tell them “no” and what legal grounds we have to stand on.
Mister Condo replies:
M.A., ah, yes, the joys of serving on your condo Board when it comes to making decisions that affect your neighbors in a negative way. Thank you and the rest of your Board for your service. Let’s talk about sun rooms, decks, hot tubs, and other things that condo owners want but can’t always have.
Architectural compliance is the term most commonly associated with how the Board decides what is and what isn’t allowed. Almost every condo has the clause in its documents and it is what empowers the Board to keep the community in uniform shape. It covers everything that is part of the buildings, including the materials which can be used and what, if any, modifications are allowed. It is also where the Board gets its authority to grant permission or deny requests for modifications. In the event of the unapproved deck, the Board has every right to stand its ground and demand that the deck be removed. That isn’t to say that the homeowner will comply. They may try to stop the Board’s action, hire an attorney to bring suit against the Board, and so on. It can get quite ugly so get ready for a bumpy ride. The bottom line is that the deck wasn’t part of the approved sunroom addition so, legally, the Board is on solid ground. That being said, your new neighbor is likely to be out a good bit of money for the new deck which they will have to remove. They are making every effort to bring that deck into compliance and there may be a “win/win” scenario available so I would definitely hear them out. However, the wisdom of the Board and architectural compliance will be the ultimate deciding factors.
As for your deck-mounted hot tub-seeking resident, architectural compliance may or may not be your ally here. If your documents do not expressly address the issue, you are facing a bit of a sticky wicket. I understand hot tubs can be quite heavy when full of water. That weight could cause an undue amount of stress on the deck, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Check your local ordinances. It may be against your town’s building code to install a hot tub on a deck. If so, problem solved. If not, consider putting the item on an upcoming Board meeting and cast a vote as to whether or not to allow them. If there are enough votes against it, you can pass a rule that bans hot tubs. That rule can be questioned by the resident at the next Annual meeting or they may choose to sue the Board over the decision but both of those things require a lot of effort, which the resident may not wish to exert seeing as he can’t go relax in his deck-mounted hot tub when he is through. Pardon my joke.
The bottom line is that architectural compliance is in place for a reason. It assures all condo residents that the standards they purchased when they moved in will be enforced. It keeps the common areas uniform, safe, and appealing. Building modifications, in any form, run the risk of losing the ability to assure architectural compliance. It is one of the Board’s most important responsibilities. Good luck!