G.A. from Hartford County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Due to lack of funds, my condo association has not kept up the property. So, I paid out of pocket to have the common areas of my six-unit building painted. Only one owner in my building is delinquent in paying their fees, and already has a lien on their property. Can I personally sue that owner? Has that been done before?
Mister Condo replies:
G.A., paying for common element maintenance out of your own pocket is never a good idea. While I appreciate your desire to have the property looking good, you went about it the wrong way and you cannot personally sue the delinquent unit owner as you have no legal standing to do so. There are several items to discuss her but the real issue here is basic community association governance. Let’s discuss what needs to be done so you don’t put yourself at further risk.
The condo association is governed by a Board of Directors. Your condo documents spell this out as well as what happens when unit owners become delinquent in assessments or common fees. Generally speaking, once a unit owner falls behind on common fees, collection procedures begin. This can include placing a lien on the property and, if the lien is not satisfied, a foreclosure whereby the unit is liquidated and the association collects what it can of the delinquent fees and legal costs for pursuing those fees. Since the Board is comprised of volunteers, this process is usually turned over to an attorney who specializes in such matters.
The issue of painting and other building maintenance is the responsibility of the Board, and only the Board. As an individual unit owner you do not have any right to paint or alter the building’s exterior in any way. This is why you are particularly vulnerable for not getting reimbursed for the painting that was done. You entered into a contract with a painting vendor to paint the building. Unless you did so under express request from the Board, you did so on your own. You might be able to get the Board to agree to reimburse you for this but they are under no obligation to do so. The correct procedure for having the building painted would have been for the Board to vote to paint the building. If there was no money available to do so, all unit owners should have been assessed for the painting, following the proper procedure for levying a special assessment (unit owners get a vote). If the assessment passed, the building would have then been painted. The unit owner that was delinquent very likely would have voted against the assessment and will likely argue that if the association moves to collect an assessment from him after the fact.
So, in conclusion, A.B., this is an ugly situation at best. At least, you have new paint on your building. My advice is for you to never do anything like this again. Even if the parking lot needs to be repaved, even if the roof need to be repaired, even if the windows have clouded over and need replacement; do not reach into your own pocket to pay for it. Follow the proper channels as outlined in your governance documents. A Reserve Fund needs to be established and contributed to regularly. It would not surprise me if your common fees need to double or triple to do so. The Board needs to take collection actions against any and all delinquent unit owners and financial solvency needs to be resolved. I wish you good luck in getting this association back on track!