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Noisy Neighbor Creates Condo Feud

Can Dog-Free Condo Deny Residency to Guide Dog Trainer?

Pumped Up Over Condo Sump Pump

Upkeep of Family Cemetery on Association Grounds

Noisy Neighbor Creates Condo Feud

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Neighbor Issues, Noise | Comments (3)

K.N. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! I feel so lucky to have found your site. I am writing to you actually regarding my best friend. She has a neighbor upstairs. Most units are 2 stories in her complex. She has the downstairs of a split unit. I have sent her your website link and begged her to check out your site and reach out for help. I fear for her mental state because the woman upstairs is VERY INTENTIONALLY engaging in excessively noisy activities early every day which is causing her terrible stress and anxiety and obviously destroying her peaceful enjoyment of her home. I know every township or county have basic guidelines regarding noise and hours of the day. Every Saturday and Sunday she begins vacuuming her floors at 7:00 a.m. sharp. I know it may be OK at 8 a.m., but any knowledge you can share would be helpful. This woman once called the police during the late night when my friend had fallen asleep with her TV on. Naturally, their relationship is awful and I know my friend is intimidated since that incident and is always as quiet as she can be. Kindly, what are the noise ordinance hours Monday through Friday and Saturdays and Sundays?

Mister Condo replies:

K.N., you are quite kind to write to me on behalf of your friend and I am truly sorry that your friend is living with neighbor-induced stress and anxiety. Neighbor versus neighbor issues are always troubling and the reality is that the Board is only empowered to do what the by-laws instruct with regards to noise. You mentioned the town of residence in your original email (which I left out to protect your anonymity) but unless the town has specific noise ordinances that are being violated, it is unlikely that you will find relief through the town. Although, as you mentioned, your friend did get a visit from the local police for a loud TV playing in the middle of the night so it may be worth looking at local noise ordinances in case they can also work in your friend’s favor.

Almost all condo documents include provisions for noise. You need to begin with what is and isn’t allowed and see what, if anything, can be done. 7:00 a.m. versus 8:00 a.m.; weekday versus weekend; exact decibel level as opposed to “reasonable amount of noise”; all of these terms are likely to be included but, even so, do not guarantee everyone’s compliance. The idea behind peaceable enjoyment is very much the Golden Rule of “doing unto others as you would have done unto yourself”. That is a basic concept of civility and cannot be legislated or mandated. However, for your friend’s peace of mind, I hope that you and she will at least review the by-laws to see if her upstairs neighbor is in violation of any of the association’s noise rules. If so, she should file a complaint, in writing, to the association’s Board and/or Property Manager. The Board will review the complaint and decide whether or not the complaint is valid and if any action should be taken. Your neighbor can truly escalate the complaint by involving an attorney and bringing suit against the neighbor and/or the association. This is both costly and ill will building and not my recommendation but may prove to be her only practical remedy.

Alternatively, your friend and the upstairs neighbor could take it upon themselves to call a truce. My experience is that feuds like this almost always have their origin in trivial matters. For instance, perhaps the upstairs neighbor is carrying a grudge from the time your friend left the TV on all night. The bottom line is that people who live in high density housing arrangements like apartments or condos need to do one of two things to enjoy their homes. They need to get along well enough with their neighbors that they don’t drive each other crazy or they need to get out of the community and find someplace with more space so they neither disturb their neighbors with their noise nor are disturbed by their neighbors’ noise. Close quarters require that everybody get along. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ July 31, 2014

Can Dog-Free Condo Deny Residency to Guide Dog Trainer?

Posted in: Board, Buying, Condominium, Governance, Legal, Pets, Rules Enforcement | Comments (3)

E.D. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can condo associations deny a Fidelco dog trainer the purchase of a condo if there is an existing rule prohibiting dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

E.D., that is a loaded question with lots of possible outcomes. Let me break it down as best as I can so you and the Board understand what is being asked and what your options are. First off, a person’s occupation as a dog trainer does not disqualify them from purchasing a condo. Denying the opportunity to purchase a unit to anyone could be seen as discrimination so I would avoid using that language altogether. The condo has established rules about dogs not being allowed on the property and that rule needs to be communicated to all “would be” buyers and they should take that rule into consideration before they purchase into an association. The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation is well known and well respected for providing outstanding guide dogs for blind and visually impaired individuals. My understanding of the raising and training of Fidelco guide dogs is that they are foster parented from the time they are pups to a little over a year old at which time they are returned to the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation where the dogs are trained to become the amazing service animals they become. It is unclear to me whether or not the Fidelco trainers bring these animals home with them or if the animals are housed at Fidelco during the training period. If the trainer will be bringing a dog or dogs onto the condo property that is where there will be a conflict between the rules of the community and the occupation of the new owner. If the unit owner were vision-impaired and required the guide dog to live a better life, the association would have little choice but to allow the dog as the individual would have certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but since this trainer is assumedly not vision-impaired but simply performing job-related duties, I do not see where the ADA would protect their right to house a dog in a community which has rules against doing so.

There is another consideration for the Board to think about. Nothing travels faster than bad news. If the Board were to hold its ground and make a big issue out of denying the sale of a unit to a trainer with the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, it had also best get ready for the potential media bashing and villainous name calling that is likely to ensue. You can probably picture the headlines and news trucks covering the story right now pointing fingers at the condo Board as mean-spirited for depriving the trainer the opportunity to train these much-needed and highly respected service dogs on the association grounds. It is not a question of who is wrong and who is right; it is a question of how the event will be perceived from those living outside of the association who don’t agree that the service dog should be banned from living there while it is being trained. If the trainer does decide to purchase a unit within the association, my advice would be to allow the service animal to be housed at the unit and make an exception to the rule for service animals only. The reality is that a Fidelco guide dog is likely to be an incredibly well-behaved dog and will only be with the community a short while before it is placed for permanent service with a needy recipient. The community gets a new resident and a good image within the city or region where the condo is located. You might even get some good press out of it to boot. All the best!

Mister Condo @ July 30, 2014

Pumped Up Over Condo Sump Pump

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal, Neighbor Issues | Comments (3)

N.P. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 6 building condo. There are 3 units on second floor and 3 units on the first floor. I am the middle unit on the first floor and I have a sump pump which services the upstairs neighbor’s pipes which go into the sump pump area in my utility room. The condo management company states that their lawyer has come to the conclusion that it is my responsibility to maintain the sump pump. However, the bylaws state under the maintenance section, for plumbing, the home owner’s responsibility is for “all portions within a unit serving only the unit, including fixtures and appliances attached thereto.” Since the sump pump serves two units, I don’t see how I am responsible. Am I misreading the bylaws? Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., I don’t think that you are misreading the bylaws from what you have told me. However, there would appear to be some grey area between the black and white that has allowed for the association to question and even challenge you over the maintenance of the sump pump. There is no doubt that the sump pump is housed in your unit and you would not want the sump pump improperly maintained or malfunctioning. If the association is not going to provide periodic maintenance and now has a legal opinion to back that up, my advice would be to hire your own attorney and investigate your options. If your attorney agrees with you, a lawsuit is likely. If your attorney agrees with their attorney’s interpretation of the bylaws, you might just want to accept that it is in your best interest to keep the sump pump properly working and maintained. Either way, it stinks! (Sorry, no pun intended but I couldn’t help myself!) I am guessing that it is not going to be that expensive to maintain the pump. Also, be sure to replace the pump at the manufacturer’s suggested interval. Just because an old pump is working doesn’t mean it should be replaced. Once the life expectancy is reached, it is time for a new pump. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ July 29, 2014

Upkeep of Family Cemetery on Association Grounds

Posted in: Beautification, Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, HOA | Comments (3)

J.L. from Tolland County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m presently working with an association that was developed on an old family farm. On the farm lies the family cemetery with a historical marker on it. Presently our landscaper takes care of the family cemetery out of the kindness of his heart. My question is; in this type of situation, who is ultimately responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery?

Cheers!

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., that is very kind of your association landscaper to take care of the family cemetery. My advice is to check with the original development plans for the association to see if, in fact, any mention of the cemetery and/or its upkeep is listed as provisions for the development of the association. It is quite possible that there is a clause in the original documents that states the cemetery shall remain a cemetery for life. It may also include a provision for the association to provide upkeep, in which case, the association should add that care to the landscaper’s contract. If the documents make no mention of the cemetery and/or its care the association may be free to remove the grave and inter the contents elsewhere such as a more suitable public cemetery or such. Alternately, if the grave adds a touch of history to the common area and is of interest to the association, the association could simply vote to upkeep the cemetery and add the upkeep to the landscape contract. If you are uncertain as to what the documents state, I would advise consulting with an attorney to make sure the association doesn’t break a covenant with the original land owner. That could be a costly and painful mistake for the association and the living members of the deceased family members buried in the cemetery. At the very least, you have described an unusual problem. I wish you good luck in finding a suitable solution.

Mister Condo @ July 28, 2014

Voting Rights Blocked By Condo Property Manager

Posted in: Board, Common Fees, Communications, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal, Management | Comments (3)

M.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The property management company is not submitting my monthly condo fees in a timely manner.  They are holding onto it until a month goes by. Fees have been sent 1 week prior to first of the month. When the owners are involved in a vote, the property management company has told several owners that their condo fees are not current and could not vote on matters. We are afraid they will say they never received our check for monthly condo fees. What do we do? Must I send a certified mail with the condo fees to them so they cannot contest that it was submitted by the date required?

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., you have described a serious problem here, my friend. You have spoken about the management company but not the Board. Your management company is overstepping their authority on several issues here and, if it were my association, I would demand they be removed at once. However, the Board may need to educate themselves on how to run the association before doing so. Let’s start with what I am seeing is wrong from your letter.

“…the property management company has told several owners that their condo fees are not current and could not vote on matters.” That is just dead wrong. Being in arrears does not preclude a unit owner from voting on any association matter that requires a vote. The property management company is giving bad advice to the Board and unit owners here as well as violating state law by denying unit owners the right to vote. I cannot imagine any state-certified Property Manager doing this but they should be removed from duty for this outrageous behavior and complete lack of knowledge of the law. By the way, if this property manager is not licensed, you should report them to the state’s Department of Consumer Protection who will take action against them for practicing without a license. The website you need is http://www.ct.gov/dcp/site/default.asp

With regards to the monthly common fee deposit and recording, there are a few things you can do. First off, you can demand better accountability from the property manager. You can send the fees via certified mail as you suggested or you can simply pressure the Board into hiring a new Property Management firm which is likely going to be necessary any way based on the first part of my response. The bottom line is that this is an Accounting 101 problem and is easily remedied with adequate bookkeeping.

As you can tell, I am quite incensed by the scenario you have described here and I realize there are always two sides to every story. However, there is no reason that you or any condo owner should have their right to vote blocked by an unknowledgeable, untrained, or downright misinformed Property Manager. You have rights under the law and you should expect those rights to be honored and upheld by a paid professional like a Property Manager. Please share my answer with your Board and encourage them to take appropriate action at once. If they don’t, don’t hesitate to bring action against them and the Property Manager for violating your rights. You’ve paid for them and you’ve earned them. Many of us at the Connecticut Chapter of CAI have fought hard for you and for manager licensing so that things like this don’t happen. I wish you all the best in remedying this situation.

Mister Condo @ July 25, 2014

Condo Special Assessment Misappropriated

Posted in: Assessment, Board, Common Fees, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal | Comments (4)

J.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We were charged for a special assessment that was for 5 years. At the end of the 5 years, the association kept the additional money and applied it to our so called short fall that we were never notified about. Can they apply money from a special assessment to cover general expenses without a vote or notification? Also, the LLC owns 21 units and only 6 are owner-occupied so every time there is a vote we are outnumbered, what can we do? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., special assessments have their own set of rules as do what happens during the developer transition of a condominium. Since the LLC still owns a majority of the units, I asked an attorney friend of mine who specializes in this area of law for some legal help in providing this answer. Here is what the attorney had to say:

“The declarant owes fiduciary duties to the unit owners while it controls the board, which includes proper management and disclosure of the association’s finances. The declarant is free to exercise its voting power as long as it is honestly serving the association’s best interests and compyling with the governing documents. It’s legal to impose a special assessment to cover a shortfall in the operating budget so long as the procedures in the declaration and bylaws are followed. Notice is always required, but a vote of the unit owners will usually be unnecessary if the assessment is small relative to the annual budget. You and the other unit owners should talk to an attorney to determine whether the declarant violated any procedural requirements or improperly caused the financial problems.”

That sounds like good advice to me, J.M.! Good luck!

Mister Condo @ July 24, 2014

Communication Issues May Lead to Condo Foreclosure

Posted in: Board, Common Fees, Communications, Condominium, Financial, Foreclosure, Legal | Comments (6)

B.L. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I was sent to 2 foreclosures for inaccuracies by the Property Management Company yet I have never owed one dollar for common expenses. The property manager and Board took my parking space. In more than 20 years living in my condo, my unit door has never been painted. They towed my car from the parking space in front of the building (common spaces) the same week. I was parked there for 10 minutes. They did not give me any notification, warning or hearing. Without parking space I had to park on front of the building, but got more than 2 thousand dollars in tickets from the Property Manager. There have been many abuses and harassment so I sued. I am a plaintiff on a docket and I need a good attorney. I have proof of everything. Could you recommended an attorney and give me advice? Thank you for understanding my English.

Mister Condo replies:

B.L., from what you have told me, you were right to bring suit against those who have wronged you. I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly and not legal. You most certainly should seek competent legal advice and quickly. Most certainly, the folks you have named in the suit will do the same and you want to make sure the justice system works correctly for you.

As friendly advice, let me start by saying there is clearly a major communication problem here. Property Managers rarely take measures as drastic as foreclosures without good reason. Even if the reason is an accounting inaccuracy as you allege, you should have been given ample opportunity to present evidence (copies of checks, bank statements) that showed you were not delinquent in your common fee or assessment payments. Do you live in the condominium unit and receive mail from there? Has there never been any attempt prior to this to collect the monies the association felt it was owed? My guess is that these requests for documentation went unanswered leaving the association and property manager with no choice but to take legal action against you. Fear not, all is not lost.

First and foremost, get the financial end of this problem taken care of as quickly as possible. An attorney may be the best resource to guide you through this process. Please understand that the association does have the right to foreclose on your unit for the reason of unpaid assessments. If you have a first or second mortgage on the property, your mortgage company may also foreclose against you or, at the very least, be a part of the foreclosure action so that they get as much of their money back during the foreclosure process as possible. Additionally, the foreclosure may appear on your credit report which could be a burden for you to carry for years to come. Please, get this taken care of immediately.

Next, comes the issue of abuse and harassment. Again, you need to speak with an attorney about these issues but, once again, it would appear that there has been a communication problem on top of some governance issues. You have rights as outlined in your condominium documents, as well as State, and Federal law. Your lawsuit against the association should include all of these issues and you may be entitled to financial relief or a judgment against the association. Your attorney will best advise you of these rights.

As for which attorney will best serve your needs, I have a few suggestions. Attorneys that specialize in community association law can be found at the CAI Connecticut website at http://caict.org/vendor_directory.htm#attorneysid. I would definitely start there. As for the harassment charges, you may wish to seek out a local attorney with expertise in such areas. A quick internet search on Google brought up several likely candidates but I have no personal recommendation for you. I do wish you the best of luck in clearing up this matter and getting back to enjoying your condominium in peaceable fashion. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ July 23, 2014

How Many Lawsuits Against HOAs and Condominium Associations?

Posted in: Condominium, Legal | Comments (4)

K.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the number of lawsuits filed against HOAs and condominium associations?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., I am not sure that there is a place to get that exact information, whether it is for our state or for the entire country. That is because not all lawsuits make it to trial; many are settled beforehand. It is also a difficult subject to quantify because there are far more cases of HOAs or condominium association suing individual unit owners, usually for non-payment of common fees or assessments. Suffice it to say, the courts see more than their fair share of condominium and HOA related lawsuits every year. I am guessing that your question has a little more to do with governance issues where an individual or group of individual unit owners brings a suit against the Board of Directors for questionable or illegal activities. I have not seen specific numbers but I know there are quite a few but not so many as to make the news on a regular basis. They usually happen when there is a significant disagreement in costs (insurance claims, for instance) where a unit owner is on the short end of an unexpected expense. True lawsuits of abuse against the unit owners by a tyrannical Board of Directors are rare and the typical remedy is to simply vote the offensive Board members out of office and replace them with volunteer leaders who will do a better job. The other lawsuit which is not uncommon is when the newly formed association finds itself at odds with the developer of the new condominium. It is not uncommon for construction defects and missed deadlines to occur which result in lawsuits. I hope you do not find yourself involved in a condominium association or HOA lawsuit but if you do, you will find a list of expert attorneys who specialize in community association law at http://caict.org/vendor_directory.htm#attorneysid. All the best!

Mister Condo @ July 22, 2014

Condo Unit Mortgages and the Board’s Right to Know

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal, Mortgage | Comments (6)

M.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do owners that carry a mortgage have to give that information to the board? Several people are objecting to releasing private information.

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., most condominium associations that I know of do have provisions that allow or require unit owners to divulge first and second mortgages on the units within the association. There is good reason for this. Since the mortgage company has a lien on the title they also have a legal right to be notified of actions taken against the unit. For instance, if a unit owner falls behind in common fees or fails to pay a special assessment, the association may need to take foreclosure action or place a lien against the unit. As a mortgage holder, the lending institution must be notified of such an action. The only way for the association to notify the lien holder is for the unit owner to provide that information. While I can certainly understand the concern for privacy this is a business and legal issue and has nothing to do with the Board wanting to know. The law says they need to know so it is in everyone’s best interest that the unit owners comply with the request to divulge the information. All the best!

Mister Condo @ July 21, 2014

Condo Nosey Neighbor Strikes Again!

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Neighbor Issues, Parking, Rules Enforcement | Comments (5)

J.W. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo! I am staying with a friend temporarily at her condo and recently she was told we weren’t allowed to park in the driveway? She owns the condo. LOL. The driveway is 2 cars wide and goes to her garage. Can her local HOA enforcement nosey neighbor make this sensationalist claim? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

Hi, J.W.! Welcome to the condo world where your nosey neighbors can act as condo cops when they want to. The upside is that there is always someone watching over the place which deters crime and unwanted activity. The downside, as you have seen, is that you can also run into folks who are overzealous in reporting perceived violations. Let’s see which one you have here.

Have you or the friend you are living with reviewed the condo rules about parking? Most condo driveways are only wide enough for one car but it is possible that your driveway accommodates 2. Some condos allow garage parking and only one other car parked in the driveway. If that is the case and you are violating the rule then it really doesn’t matter that they both fit; the rules should be followed by you just as they are by everyone else who lives there.

On the flip side, if the rules are silent on the number of cars allowed in the driveway you probably needn’t worry. Nosey neighbors come with the territory when you get into any high density housing situation like a condo. As long as you are not breaking the rules, you have nothing to worry about. If you are breaking the rules, correct the behavior (i.e. – park in a visitor’s space, garage one of the cars, whatever it takes) and let the nosey neighbor worry about something else. Perhaps a neighbor will walk a pet off leash or carelessly litter. So many rules to break, so little time… All the best!

Mister Condo @ July 18, 2014