Headlines

Condo Reserve Fund Mortgage Advice

Rescheduling the Condo Annual Meeting

Aluminum Wiring at Condo Unit of a Hoarder

Unit Owner Refuses to Issue a New Check for Common Fees to Replace Lost Check

Condo Reserve Fund Mortgage Advice

Posted in: Board, Common Fees, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Reserve Fund | Comments (0)

T.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

From the point of view of a financial institution funding mortgages to acquire individual condo-units, what, in your opinion, is a good level of reserves for a condominium complex in terms of multiple of monthly operating expenses? How about % of assessed value of complex?

Mister Condo replies:

T.C., I am neither a lender nor a Reserve Study specialist so I can only provide my opinion on this topic which is what you have asked for so I will oblige. My opinion is that there is not a “One Size Fits All” answer to your question. The proper level of Reserves for a condominium complex varies by association and has so many factors to take into consideration that I do not think it can be boiled down to a percentage of complex value or a relationship to monthly operating expenses. I think that is one of the reasons that the Fair Housing Administration (FHA) has struggled in providing proper guidelines in this area. The FHA insures or backs many of the lenders that provide mortgages on condominiums. They have requirements that include how many renters occupy units, how many units are in delinquency with regards to their common fee payments, and even a suggested 10% minimum contribution to the Reserve Fund from the monthly common fees. Even with all of those safeguards I think there is still great volatility in the market due to an ever changing job and real estate market and large swings in the actual value of individual units.

My instinct is that that each association requires a full listing of all of its common elements and that each of those elements needs to have an age and an assigned value for replacement. Further, to show that it is financially viable for future investment, I think there should be a plan in place to fund these known future capital expenses. An association with lots of common elements – pools, tennis courts, club house, etc. will carry a much higher burden than an association with nothing more than their buildings and parking lots to maintain. The only thing in common is that they both need to have a solid Reserve Strategy in place to make sure there will be enough money to replace the common elements when they need improvement. Otherwise, the association is planning to levy large special assessments or take loans when this money is needed. Both of those scenarios will stress the unit owners’ ability to pay their mortgages as well as their common fees. Failure to do both could lead to foreclosure of the unit owner and make for a bad investment which I have witnessed at many condominium associations.

Mister Condo @ April 24, 2014

Rescheduling the Condo Annual Meeting

Posted in: Board, Communications, Condominium, Governance, Legal | Comments (3)

D.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a proper procedure for rescheduling an annual association meeting on the day of the meeting? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

D.L., there are a few reasons that I can think of for needing to reschedule an Annual Meeting on the day of the meeting. Once the annual meeting is announced all unit owners have a right to attend and should plan on doing so. If the meeting needs to be rescheduled for whatever reason, all of the events that lead up to the meeting are reset to Day 1, meaning a new notice of meeting must be issued and all unit owners given adequate time to prepare to attend the new meeting. In Connecticut, that means at least 5 day’s (one week’s) notice. It is not unusual for the association to give 10 day’s notice just to make sure unit owners who are able and wish to attend can adjust their schedule. Even if well-intentioned, it is not proper for a meeting to be called for on a Monday and then rescheduled to Wednesday of that same week. In that instance, adequate notice was not given and the meeting can be challenged by unit owners. It is always best to follow the proper procedure if a Board or Annual Meeting needs to be rescheduled. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ April 23, 2014

Aluminum Wiring at Condo Unit of a Hoarder

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Disaster, Financial, Governance, Insurance, Legal, Neighbor Issues, Rules Enforcement | Comments (0)

P.D. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a hoarder compounded with aluminum wiring.  Is there a precedent for how to deal with this problem?

Mister Condo replies:

P.D., my short answer is “Yikes”! You have two very different and potentially very serious issues here. I am not sure which one should be tackled first but my instinct is that a lot of this will boil down to the association’s right to access the unit for inspection and/or remediation. As you know, I am not an attorney but this is a situation where you are very likely going to want to seek the advice of qualified counsel as you may find yourself in need of assistance from the courts in dealing with the hoarding issue, especially if you require access to the unit to remediate the aluminum wiring issue.

Hoarding, as such, is often not addressed in association governing documents. However, access to unit for safety purposes often is allowed provided adequate notice is served. Boards can generally take action against unit owners who create an unsafe environment within their unit. Hoarding can usually be demonstrated to create a fire hazard and/or a general health and safety concern. The Board may be able to order the unit cleared of debris to create a safe environment for all unit owners.

Aluminum wiring remediation is necessary to avoid potential electrical problems and fire hazards associated with the wiring. Obviously, you will need access to the unit to perform this repair. My guess is that you will need to get the unit in reasonable order so that workers can get the job done.

Neither of these projects will be simple and correcting the hoarding issue could even be quite costly from a legal perspective. You asked about precedents and there are several I have read about online. Search for “Hoarding and condominiums” and you will see what I saw. There is an excellent article at this website – http://www.meeb.com/more-condominium-communities-are-struggling-with-hoarders-and-the-problems-they-create/ which I highly recommend.

This is a difficult problem and I do not envy you your task. Speak with association counsel before you begin and be prepared for lots of little setbacks along the way. However, with patience and proper procedure followed I am confident that you will correct both problems. All the best!

Mister Condo @ April 22, 2014

Unit Owner Refuses to Issue a New Check for Common Fees to Replace Lost Check

Posted in: Common Fees, Communications, Condominium, Financial | Comments (4)

N.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo owner paid monthly dues, but check was lost. Now the condo owner will not replace it. How do we get this condo owner to issue a new check?

Mister Condo replies:

N.W., sorry to hear that a common fee check was lost and that the unit owner who issued the original check will not simply issue a new one. Needless to say, there are many ways a check can be destroyed or misplaced before it is cashed and the issuer of the check will not be able to prove that payment on their account was made without an archived version of the processed check which will not exist due to the fact that it was lost. I would notify the check issuer in writing that the check was lost and that they are free to issue a “stop payment” order on the check and to kindly replace the lost check with a new check. If that doesn’t work, the late fee for the missed payment will certainly get their attention and will get them to issue the new check. If the association is feeling that it wants to protect the issuer’s payment history with the association, it may wish to waive the late fee as an act of good faith but there would be no way for the lost check issuer to prove that their payment was made on time – because it wasn’t! I respectfully disagree with your opening statement that the owner “paid” their monthly dues. The act of issuing a check is not the same as making payment. Payment occurs when the funds change hands. So far, that hasn’t happened. All the best!

Mister Condo @ April 21, 2014

Florida Condo Renter Questions Who the is the Real Landlord

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal | Comments (5)

J.D. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I began renting a one bedroom condo in late November, located in New Port Richey, FL. I was not given a lease nor provided with one even though I have asked for a lease several times. As I was unemployed at the time, the “landlord” agreed verbally that I could pay the rent every two weeks. I have been doing that and have not missed a rent payment. Over the course of the past few months, I have come to find out that my “landlord” does not own the condo, nor does the Association. The Pasco County Tax Collector shows the owner of record is Estate of Frank A. Belli, c/o Citimortgage. 

When I questioned the “landlord” about this he said according to the Association’s attorney, they can rent out the property and that I was not a “squatter”. The “landlord” has become verbally abusive in his demands that the rent be paid the first of each month, completely ignoring the fact that he agreed verbally. I know I should have gotten the agreement in writing, but “landlord” won’t provide any written agreements.

If the “landlord” and the Association do not own the property, can they rent it out? Should I continue to pay rent to the “landlord”? Should I contact Citimortgage to inquire about the validity of the rental situation?

I do not feel comfortable in this situation and am also concerned that Citimortgage may ask me to move out. I just recently began working and am trying to get back on track financially. When I have asked to speak to the condo board about my situation, landlord refuses to provide information, other than the treasurer is his girlfriend and the president is a friend.

This whole situation is not on the up and up. If I could move, I would, but right now I can’t afford a security deposit, first and last month rent. Any suggestions on what I can do to protect myself and find out if I continue to pay landlord?

Thank you very much for your assistance.

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., what you have described here is not all that uncommon in your state from what I have read. When associations find themselves owed large sums of common fees from unit owners that have become delinquent, the association has a right to lease out the unit and collect their fees. This makes sense from the association’s point of view. They are simply collecting monies that are owed to them by using their legal right to do so. However, your lack of a lease does concern me and your landlord’s abuse seems completely unnecessary and may even border on harassment. However, you also need to remember the Golden Rule; he who has the gold makes the rules! In this case, your landlord has the gold by controlling your ability to live in the unit. You can sue and claim foul but you may also need to be prepared for a legal battle and maybe even need to vacate the unit. Neither sound like a very good option for you as you are don’t have the financial resources to make that move.

If I were you, I would very likely pay my rent when the landlord is asking for it and understand that your housing situation is less than ideal and you need to save up for a new place. If a legal battle ensues between the estate of the previous unit owner, the current mortgage holder, the association, and whoever else may claim an interest in the property, you would likely receive a notice to vacate. At that time, you would know what date you were being asked to be out of the property and you should plan accordingly. Moving forward, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to get a written copy of your new lease and to have that lease reviewed by a competent attorney if you want to protect your peace of mind. I’d hate to see you jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. We all deserve to have a place we can comfortably call home. All the best!

Mister Condo @ April 18, 2014

Condo Owner Getting Snowed with a Snow Removal Special Assessment

Posted in: Assessment, Board, Common Fees, Condominium, Financial, Governance | Comments (7)

T.R. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo Board of Directors just assessed each unit $200 for snow removal. They said it was because they didn’t budget enough for all of the snow we got this last year. I don’t think that is fair. Do I have to pay the $200?

Mister Condo replies:

T.R., we sure had a lot of the white stuff this year, didn’t we? Local and state municipalities had to find creative ways to pay for keeping the highways and byways of our great state clear from snow and open for business. Many condo associations faced the same challenge. Even in the small association where I live, we went more than 30% over budget in snow removal this year. Back when your budget was prepared a certain amount was allocated for snow removal. Since that amount fell short, monies were “borrowed” from elsewhere in the budget to cover the snow removal cost. Those monies now need to be returned so the other bills of the association can be paid. If the Board determines that the best way to do so is to levy a special assessment then that is how it must be paid. Honestly, $200 sounds like a very reasonable number given the amount of times you probably saw snow plows hard at work on your property. It is very likely that the real number is even higher but the Board found a way to balance the books without passing the full amount of cost on to you at this time. Don’t be surprised if your common fees are increased next year due to the increased projected cost of next year’s snow removal. Let’s home Mother Nature treats a bit better next winter. All the best!

Mister Condo @ April 17, 2014

Handicapped Parking at the Condo

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Parking | Comments (3)

P.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo association identify 1 handicapped parking spot for 1 particular unit and not make any other spots available for handicapped parking? Also, 1 handicapped spot for that individual but there are 23 stairs leading to his condo unit, no ramp no elevator.

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., depending on their classification as private or public places, condominiums have a lot of flexibility on parking that they control. There are laws, local, state, and federal that may come into play so it might make sense for the association to consult with their attorney before they make decisions that can be challenged in court or may even violate the law. The federal law in question is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires that reasonable accommodations be made to provide access for folks with disabilities. The act doesn’t always spell out what “reasonable” is and it also does not state who has to pay for modifications like ramps or lifts that could replace stairs. Obviously, it is in everyone’s best interest to make parking and unit access as simple as possible for a resident with disabilities. However, it isn’t always as simple as installing a ramp or designating a parking space. My advice is to consult with an attorney who specializes in this specific area of law. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ April 16, 2014

Proper Procedure for Conducting the Condo Board Meeting

Posted in: Board, Communications, Condominium, Governance | Comments (5)

J.D. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the proper procedure for conducting a condo board meeting? Should there be time set aside during the meeting for addressing owners’ concerns? Can owners voice their concerns during the meeting?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., thanks for writing. Here is a proper response to your proper procedure question. The answer lies in the meeting agenda and the methodology of how the meeting is conducted. In Connecticut, the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) provides a solid guideline for how your Board meetings should be conducted. However, there is some flexibility in how rigidly the meeting conforms to Roberts Rules of Order; strict parliamentary procedure does not need to be followed. That being said, the meeting agenda needs to be published and distributed well in advance of the actual meeting. There is an order of how information will be shared and discussed that is outlined in the agenda. While unit owners do not have the right to speak or vote at a Board meeting, they do have the right to attend and listen to what is discussed with the exception of items that fall under Executive Session (another topic for another day). If an owner contacted the Board or Property Manager with an item that requires the Board’s attention, there should be an agenda item addressing that concern. If it is an existing agenda item, the concern might be mentioned while discussing the item under Unfinished Business. If it is a new concern, it might fall under New Business. Concerns from unit owners should be presented to the Board in writing so there is a record of the concern. The Board is not required to allow unit owners to address the Board at the meeting. However, it may wish to do so if the unit owner can bring additional information to an agenda item topic that will educate the Board. For instance, a unit owner stopping a Board member in the parking lot to complain about the disrepair of the parking lot is not the same as a unit owner writing to the Board and requesting that the parking lot be repaired. The Board is not required to act on all agenda items; things can be tabled, moved to committee, voted upon and acted upon, or removed from further consideration. The minutes of the meeting should reflect this. Just like the agenda, the minutes of the meeting need to be made available to all unit owners. Hope that helps!

Mister Condo @ April 15, 2014

California Condo in Hot Water Over Hot Water!

Posted in: Board, Common Fees, Condominium, Disaster, Financial, Governance, Legal | Comments (0)

D.M. from La Habra, CA writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In my condo, we have boilers to generate hot water to the condo complex.  My boiler has broken down many times and after the recent earthquake in the City of La Habra, I have not had hot water for 4 days. Can I advise my HOA to apportion some amount of my monthly dues for this extreme alteration in the promise to provide basics and amenities in a condo complex?  The hot water issue is still not fixed…

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., the earthquake your region suffered made the news all around the country, including here on the East Coast. I am sorry for your hot water inconvenience but I am glad that is the only damage you are reporting. Association-provided amenities such as hot water are an important part of your association’s obligation to you and all of the other owners of the units. However, I highly doubt a financial compensation is likely to be offered by the Board and they are certainly under no obligation to offer money in lieu of services. The earthquake, in particular, is an act of Nature and can be easily argued to be out of the control of the association.

My larger concern is that this is not the first time the boiler system has broken down and not the first time the association has failed to provide a contracted service. What often happens is that the originally installed boiler system has become too old to function reliably. In associations where proper financial planning was in place, a new boiler system is purchased so that hot water can be reliably produced. In associations where proper financial planning was not in place, the Board often finds itself applying repairs and short-term fixes to the aged boiler system and it frequently breaks down. I am guessing that is what is happening in your condo.

The solution is often for the Board to go ahead and replace the old boiler system with a new one. However, that costs a significant amount of money and the unit owners are the ones who will foot the bill, either in the form of a special assessment or increased common fees to support a loan which may be necessary to make the purchase. Neither situation is ideal but it may be the only way for the association to fulfill its obligation to unit owners to provide their hot water. Otherwise, the situation you have described is likely to continue. At some point, a group of unit owners might actually band together and sue the association for not fulfilling its obligation to provide hot water. Hot water, by the way, is exactly what the community could find itself in if that happens. Not only would the association have to pay for the new boiler system but a lawsuit as well! Good luck!

Mister Condo @ April 14, 2014

Condo Parking Complexities

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Parking | Comments (5)

J.N. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are you aware of any laws or regulations regarding the size of condo parking spaces? My two parking spaces are just under 8′ wide each, as are most of the spaces in the lot my neighbors and I share. As the community has repaved each of our other 7 parking lots, the space widths have been increased to 9′ over the years to accommodate larger vehicles like SUVs that didn’t exist 40 years ago when they were designed.

When our board created a plan to increase my lot’s parking spaces to 9′ wide last year, a slim majority of my neighbors opposed the plan because it would eliminate too much grass. The board decided to delay repaving the lot as a result, but the issue will come up again this year. I’ve read that Connecticut law governing commercial parking says any space under 9′ wide has to be marked “Compact” and anything under 8′ is illegal.

Our bylaws say, “The Association shall maintain upon the common property parking spaces in the ratio of not less than two per residence.” Since the bylaws don’t define the size of a parking space, is there any universal standard for what constitutes one?

Mister Condo replies:

J.N., I am not aware of any laws that regulate the size of condo parking spaces. I think that the commercial guidelines that you mention make sense but, as you know, condos are generally not considered commercial but rather private residential and are not likely to be governed by commercial guidelines. They are, however, governed by their own governing documents, which you have stated requires not less than two per residence. You go on to state that the by-laws do not define the size of a parking space so, again, this is a private matter.

Your Board of Directors is the governing body tasked with maintaining, protecting, and enhancing the common elements of the association, including the parking lots. Sounds to me like they have already made one decree whereby wider spaces were created. They can certainly do that again but they have to balance the desires of the folks who do not want to see more of the common ground paved in order to create additional square footage of parking. This is a purely political problem at this point. Your elected Board members can either do nothing and allow the parking to stay as it is or they can take a vote to try and pave more of the common area and increase the lot size and widen individual parking spaces. This is where your vote counts. Be sure and make this an election issue and see how many of your fellow unit owners feel as you do. If enough feel the parking space widening is the way to go, your Board just might vote in favor to make it happen. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ April 11, 2014