Headlines

Unlicensed Contractor Hired by Condo President

Inconsiderate Condo Neighbor Constantly Running Washing Machine

Oversized Vehicle Blocking Access to Condo Parking

Storage Containers, Previously Allowed At Condo, No Longer Allowed

Unlicensed Contractor Hired by Condo President

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Volunteer | Comments (2)

K.B. from California writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What if the President of our association knew all along that he hired an unlicensed contractor? I just found out that this guy was paid close to $11,000 in 4 months and I have yet to figure out what he actually did. The person heading the yearly audit requested from our Association President requested the detailed account of the work performed and was denied. The reason? The president called the request a distraction.  What should we do?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., greetings from across the continent! Charges of fraud or embezzlement are words you never want to hear from within your own condominium or homeowners association. If there is any good news here it is that, so far, you have only mentioned $11,000. I have seen some associations get taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reality is that unless certain safety steps are in place before the fraud or embezzlement occurs, the community is usually left picking up the pieces and trying to restore an air of fiscal responsibility. Most associations subscribe to some very basic safeguarding principals that make fraud or embezzlement very difficult. However, that requires an active Board and good accounting practices to be in place. If your association is lacking either of those, you may have just scratched at the underlying problem.

Who signs the checks at your association? Most associations have a Treasurer and a second Board member sign larger checks. It is not uncommon to have a property manager with the ability to issue checks under a set amount ($5,000, for instance) so the day to day business of the association can be conducted. If your association doesn’t have simple anti-fraud measures in place it is time to do so. CAI has published a great (and FREE!) guide for you to download at http://www.caionline.org/info/help/Documents/Preventing%20Fraud%20and%20Embezzlement.pdf. I highly recommend your community use it.

Hiring unlicensed and/or uninsured contractors is a bad business practice. It opens the association up to all sorts of potential problems and lawsuits. If this was an oversight in the hiring process, it should be corrected at once. If the President is acting independently and without the support or oversight of the Board, the President may be part of the problem. The usual method of hiring a contractor involves the Board preparing a Request for Purchase (RFP) for the work that needs to be done. It is usually sent to three or more contractors for bid submission which should include a requirement for their license and insurance information. Finally, the bids are reviewed and a contractor is selected. There are exceptions to this standard but this method should be used whenever practical and possible as this is a best business practice which the Board is bound to follow as part of their duties.

The final issue here is the president denying the auditor a detailed description of the work that was done. This is a tremendous red flag and one that merits further investigation. If the president is unwilling to give this information, I would suggest that it is time to vote him out of office. Fellow Board members can remove the president or this person can simply be voted out of office at the next election. Since there have been no formal allegations of wrongdoing, and you have not detailed any money missing, I would advise that this is likely a case of someone doing the job the way they see fit versus the way it should be done. Simply vote this person off the Board and let the Board return to doing their job of governing the community. Hopefully, they will select a more fitting choice for the president and implement anti-fraud and best practices in their next session of community governance. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ October 20, 2014

Inconsiderate Condo Neighbor Constantly Running Washing Machine

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Neighbor Issues, Noise, Rules Enforcement | Comments (4)

C.W. from Maryland writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 55+ condo in Maryland. The family above us has a washing machine that is so loud when it’s used that it shakes my bedroom windows. I have spoken to them quite a few times about this with no results. They now run the machine every Friday, Sunday, and holiday sun up until sun down. What can I do about this? P.S. – I have spoken to property management of this. They say there is little they can do.

Mister Condo replies:

C.W., I am sorry for your noisy neighbor’s inconsiderate behavior. The property management may be correct that there is little they can do. However, there is plenty that you can do to correct the problem! It begins with the rules and regulations regarding noise in your condo. Check your condo docs for this information. You will find it under peaceable enjoyment and rules about allowable noise and hours that noise is allowed. Usually, there are clauses about acceptable levels of noise and acceptable hours of noise. From what you have told me, this unit owner is in violation of one or more of these restrictions.

That being said, your first line of defense is a letter to your Board insisting that they review your complaint and take action. You need to mention that you have already spoken with your neighbor and they have refused to correct the situation. For the life of me, I cannot imagine a reason to run a washing machine from “sun up until sun down” but clearly that is in retaliation from you asking them to keep the noise down. Washing machines require electricity and water to run. If the association is providing either as part of the common fees, they may be cited for using an excessive amount of common resources to boot.

If your association does not have rules for dealing with noise issues, you need to encourage your Board to adopt them immediately. I published a column on this not too long ago. You can find the suggested regulations here: http://caict.org/askmistercondo/condo-noise-rules/. Once the regulations are in place, report each and every violation until the noise is manageable. It may take violation letters, fines, and more to get your upstairs neighbor to keep quiet but, trust me, it can be done. I wish you the best in restoring the peace and quiet to your unit.

Mister Condo @ October 17, 2014

Oversized Vehicle Blocking Access to Condo Parking

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Neighbor Issues, Parking, Rules Enforcement | Comments (3)

M.A. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a landlord rent a parking space to an oversized vehicle like a Suburban and disable accessible parking to other tenants?

Mister Condo replies:

M.A., there are really two questions here with two different answers. Both answers depend on your rules and by-laws about parking. In theory, a landlord is a unit owner with one or more deeded parking spaces. Parking spaces are intended for the use of the resident of the unit. Some by-laws state this specifically; many say nothing more than the one or two parking spots that are assigned to the unit. If the by-laws are silent on the use of the parking space, the landlord may be able to rent out the space without violating any rules.

Disabling accessible parking to other tenants is another story. If an oversized vehicle is taking up space larger than the assigned parking space, the Board may be able to ask to have that vehicle removed from the property. Again, the by-laws may speak as the size of the vehicles allowed to be domiciled on the grounds. Many condos have specific wording that bands commercial vehicles and/or size of the vehicles allowed.

If you by-laws do not address either of these issues, you may need to have the Board implement new rules. There is a procedure for modifying rules that needs to be followed but it shouldn’t be too hard to legislate the size and type of vehicles allowed. Keep in mind that this rule will affect and apply to all unit owners. The Board cannot discriminate against his one unit owner. Banning oversized SUVs can be challenging because they are quite popular with so many people. However, if the Board is resolute and willing to take the proper steps, you should be able to solve this problem. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ October 16, 2014

Storage Containers, Previously Allowed At Condo, No Longer Allowed

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

G.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Condo has rule not allowing storage containers on balconies however previous board allowed tan basic containers for the last 7 years. Current board was fine with them the last 2 years and now is sending letters of violation to owners to remove the containers. We don’t know if the approval was recorded at a Board meeting. Has the Board “waived” the rule since it was not enforced the last 7 years?

Mister Condo replies:

G.S., your question is quite similar to yesterday’s quandary with regards to how long the Board has to enforce a rule. The answer is that unless you can find a specific minute meeting where the rule was overturned, the Board can begin enforcing the rule at its discretion. Storage containers on balconies are generally not allowed as they are considered an eyesore. However, more decorative containers that double as deck furniture may be allowed depending on the rules. The problem with allowing one type and not another is simple enforcement of the provision. Before you know it, a unit owner has the equivalent of a storage shed on the property and selectively enforcing the rule is problematic for the Board. It is easier to simply enforce the existing rule of no storage containers than it is to enforce a rule against certain allowed containers. You are free to question their ruling but as long as they are consistently applying the rule, my advice is to follow the rule. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ October 15, 2014

How Long Can a Condo Board Take to Enforce Rule Violation?

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Rules Enforcement | Comments (6)

C.P. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am looking for a citation that says if the Board hasn’t enforced a rule within a reasonable time after a rule violation has occurred; it waives its right to enforce the violation against that unit owner. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

C.P., I am not aware of any such provision as a matter of law. However, rather than simply tell you I wasn’t sure, I reached out to an attorney friend of mine who practices in this area. Here’s the advice the attorney offered:

“There is no specific deadline for enforcing a rule. Generally, a board has very broad discretion in deciding when to take action against a violator, if ever. If a unit owner sued to challenge an enforcement action as untimely, a court might consider an argument that the Board waited too long to act, especially if the unit owner could prove he specifically relied on that inaction with the Board’s knowledge. But this would be entirely within the judge’s discretion and this argument has apparently never succeeded in the Connecticut courts.”

That sounds like some good advice to me, C.P.. All the best!

Mister Condo @ October 14, 2014

Increasing the Number of Condo Board Members

Posted in: Board, Communications, Condominium, Governance, Legal | Comments (4)

R.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We now have 3 board members. We want to increase it when the developer is finished. Can the board increase its size to 5 members from 3, or does it need a vote from the homeowners?

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., once the developer is gone and the association begins self-governance, there are a different set of rules in play. I asked an attorney who specializes in condominium development law for an opinion. Here’s what the attorney had to offer:

“The answer depends entirely on what your Declaration and Bylaws say about how they can be amended.  The size of a board is usually specified at the beginning of the Bylaws, which older condominiums often require unit owner approval to amend.  Newer condominiums typically allow two-thirds of the board to amend most kinds of bylaws on their own.  Even if your documents will allow the board to increase from 3 to 5 members without a vote of the unit owners, a properly-notice meeting would still be appropriate to solicit their input.”

Sounds like good advice to me, R.M.. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ October 13, 2014

Hoarding Condo Unit Owner Leaves; Rubbish Remains!

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Disaster, Governance, Legal, Neighbor Issues, Rules Enforcement | Comments (4)

C.V. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The next door neighbor ended up having to leave her condo and go into assisted living 2 years gone now. A month ago, a horrible order was coming through my walls in upstairs rooms. The manger was finally able to get into the neighbor’s condo and found that the refrigerator had stopped working. All food in there (2 year old food!) had rotted and built up gasses. They had to wear masks just to try and get the mess out of there! There were maggots, flies, etc… While they were in there, they saw the previous unit owner was a hoarder and had collected all kinds of trash. We used fans and painted our closets against the wall that attached to her condo to try and put a sealer between us. Finally, the smell is gone but she has not done one thing to have anyone clean out her condo. She did tell the manager she was not coming back and, as far as I know, she does pay her condo fees. The manger did tell her that he would need to winterize her unit and shut off the water due to the dangers of other things going back like her water heater plus she has trash in there and papers up against the heat registers. My question is what legal recourse do we have in case yet another thing happens? I have reached out to the condo manager in writing my fears and concerns of fire and water damage so we will see what they think. Not sure what can be legally done if she refuses to clean it out. For sure, she cannot sell it as it is with the rot in there. When the bylaws were made 25 years ago the word hoarder was not even around but for sure now it needs to be in the bylaws I would think.

Mister Condo replies:

C.V., your question is one that I feel is not asked often enough in community associations here and around the country. There are lots of dangerous activities that can go on inside of condominium units that put not only the unit resident in harm’s way but also the rest of the association and, in particular, the immediately adjoining units. I am truly sorry for the mess you now find yourself having to deal with. I have written two previous Ask Mister Condo column answers about issues with Hoarders and I encourage you to review those articles for more advice. You can read them at http://caict.org/askmistercondo/aluminum-wiring-at-condo-unit-of-a-hoarder/ and http://caict.org/askmistercondo/hoarding-leads-to-mouse-infestation-at-condo/.

Basically, taking action requires strong resolve by the Board and the guidance of a qualified attorney who is likely going to seek a court order allowing entry into the unit for the purpose of safety. 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.

My advice is twofold. First, work with the Board to see what actions they are willing to take. Understand that this type of thing takes time. The Board cannot simply enter the unit; they will need good reason and, perhaps, a court order. They will also have to hire a junk removal company with hoarding removal experience. It is not unusual for the livable space to be more than 50% full of debris so dumpsters and more are often needed. At the same time, I would reach out to a local attorney to see what rights you have. You may be able to sue the neighbor for damage to your unit. You may even have a suit against your association for not dealing with the problem. An attorney can best advise you of how to protect yourself in this situation.

I wish you a safe and speedy return to normalcy. Thank you for sharing your story. All the best!

Mister Condo @ October 10, 2014

Condo Parking; Why Front End In?

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

J.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our current parking rules include a stipulation that you must park your car front-end in. Do you know what the reasoning behind this might be? The rules were drafted in the 60s & 70s, and no one seems to remember why this one made it in.

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., thanks for writing. Many condo associations that formed in the 60s and 70s used a fairly standard set of condo rules and bylaws to make up their declaration. A developer could amend the document to include the real estate details, maps, boundaries and such and submit the plan to the local municipality for approval. Voila! Generic rules and clauses suitable for 99% of the condos being built at that time!

For the most part, one of the things all condos have in common is that the parking is tight and limited. Parking lots are often backed up to buildings and neighbor’s driveways are either shared or abutting. Think about cars that were around 30 to 40 years ago. Do you remember having to start the old gas guzzler 15 minutes early to let it warm up on a cold New England morning? Where would you want that carbon dioxide exhaust, noise, and soot heading? Towards your building? I don’t think so. This clause made its way into many condo docs because it provided a way to keep the complaints about cars to a minimum.

Modern cars are more efficient. For the most part they are also quieter but the rule still makes sense for many associations and, to this day, the rule is routinely found in condo documents. With cleaner, quieter cars and certainly with electric cars, it may not make much sense. However, unless your association is willing to change the rule, it will stand as the rule of the association. Now you know why! All the best!

Mister Condo @ October 9, 2014

No Bad Dog, Just a Bad Dog Owner at this Condo

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Neighbor Issues, Pets, Rules Enforcement | Comments (4)

G.P. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One dog owner in our condominium development allows her dog outside off leash several times a day. The owner carries the leash in her hand, but it is not always attached to the dog. In addition, she throws a ball across the street, sending the dog after it, as an exercise for the dog. The dog, while not a biter (yet) has threatened elderly and frail neighbors. Several residents have stopped walking in the area where this dog lives. The owner refuses to comply with “dog on a leash” rule, and she has paid fines. How can this problem be rectified?

Mister Condo replies:

G.P., I am sorry that you are having a problem enforcing your community association rules and that this unit owner has decided to test your resolve by not following the rules. This is an anti-social behavior that is best remedied by applying the penalties for breaking the rules. Keep in mind that rules must be enforced against ALL unit owners and residents. You cannot single out this one rule-breaker and selectively enforce the rule. Your by-laws should outline what is and isn’t allowed and what penalties are called for when the rules are broken. If either of these things isn’t true, you will need the Board to vote the necessary changes into place. In Connecticut, the first time the rule is broken, the offending unit owner is asked to meet with the Board during the next regularly scheduled meeting to explain their side of the issue. In this case, the owner would be asked why they are allowing their pet to roam freely in direct violation of the association rules. The owner has a chance to reply and then the Board is free to impose a fine for the rule violation and does not need to summon the owner for future violations of the same rule. They can issue fines for each and every occurrence. If the fines are not paid, they can seek relief via collection activities up to and including foreclosure. This, of course, is a worst case scenario. Ideally, once summoned before the Board and fined, this unit owner will simply begin to follow the rules.

You have indicated that this unit owner is regularly being fined and seems to have no problem with the fines. My advice would be to change your fining system so that the unit owner does, in fact, have a problem with the fines. If the fine is paltry (say, $5 or $10) then the fine is ineffective. Perhaps a more aggressive or escalating fine system is in order. For instance, $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense, $100 for the third offense, $500 for subsequent offenses. I am guessing that at some point, you will have this person’s attention and the fines will either not be paid, at which time the association can begin collection and possible foreclosure action OR the behavior will change, which is the goal. If you have a pet-friendly association where everyone else is following the rules, my guess is that you can train this unit owner to play nicely. Your escalating fine system may be just the admonishment this owner needs to be a “good girl”.

Mister Condo @ October 8, 2014

Bullying Committee Member Has to Go

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Neighbor Issues, Volunteer | Comments (5)

P.B. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What remedies are available in Connecticut to remove an abusive and disruptive Condo Committee member? All I have seen are rules regarding the Board. The Committee Members are all volunteers and some would rather resign than confront the bully fearing repercussions. That lets the bully win and enables the abuse to continue. Thank you for your help.

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., I am always troubled to learn of bullying in any setting. It can be especially troubling in community associations and condominiums where neighbors live so closely together that it is often difficult to put some distance between yourself and the bully. It is important to keep in mind that you and your fellow residents have legal rights that supersede your association rules. If this bully crosses the line, do not hesitate to call local law enforcement and press charges.

As a matter of condo governance, committees and their chairs are generally selected to serve by the Board. That means the Board also has the power to remove the Committee member. If the Board is unwilling to do so, your only option is to elect Board members who will take the action of removing the bullying Committee member. Alternatively, members of the committee that are serving under the bully can resign, forcing the Board to reconsider their decision to let the bully stay on the Committee.

None of these scenarios are pleasant and a far better solution would be for the bully to simply stop behaving in such a way as to cause a problem. I once overheard a Board member say to a unit owner “If your Mother didn’t teach you how to be a decent human being, I am not sure there is too much I can do to help you”. There are just some people who do not function well within a community association atmosphere. There is no place for bullies here. Encourage your Board to take the appropriate measures and get on with enjoying your community association living experience. All the best!

Mister Condo @ October 7, 2014