U.S. from Hartford County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
The Board of our condo association recently discovered that our Property Manager is billing us for cell phone used by the Property Manager. The Board asked why is this happening despite the fact that the Contract does not specify that Association is obligated to pay for such expense. The Property Manager answered: “As for the Telephone/Pager charges, I confirmed with accounting that this is the annual reimbursement for a portion of the Property Manager’s cell phone expense. The Management Contract does not contain any language one way or the other on cell phone reimbursement, however this is the way it is handled at the associations we manage, unless specifically stated otherwise.” Does this explanation have any legal merits? Thank you for your help.
Mister Condo replies:
U.S., as you know I am not an attorney so, please, consider my reply as friendly and not legal. If you feel you need legal advice, kindly consult with a qualified attorney. That being said, the contract between an association and a management company or manager is just that: a contract. Contracts spell out a great many things but, on occasion, leave room for interpretation which is where attorneys and, sometimes, the courts get involved. Since most management company contracts have a lot of information about communication requirements for the manager, it is a bit surprising that modern communication tools like cellular phones and smart phones aren’t outlined. However, just because they were overlooked doesn’t necessarily preclude them from being part of a reasonable expense on the part of the manager. I am guessing that the contract does allow for reimbursements to the manager for expenses made on the part of the association up to a reasonable amount (generally less than $500 without Board approval). Now that the expense of the cell phone is a known item that the property manager intends on charging to the association, my advice is to amend the contract upon its renewal to include either a set amount or stipend for the cell phone and specifically forbid any other cellular telephone expenses from association reimbursement. Also, I would detail the difference between paying for cell phone usage (the monthly cost for voice, text, and data services) as opposed to the cost of the cellular phone itself, unless the association would like to pay for the latest and greatest IPhone or Android phone hitting the market on regular intervals. If this plan is unacceptable to the association or the manager, either is free not to renew the management contract. Good luck!