Headlines

AirBnB? Not at this Condo!

No Money to Replace Shot Shingles at this Condo

Board Mandating Downstairs Unit Flooding Coverage for Upstairs Units

Homeowners Insurance Won’t Cover Damage to Downstairs Condo

AirBnB? Not at this Condo!

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

D.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently heard about the website, AirBnB.com, which allows people to rent out their condo or apartment unit for short periods of time, usually a few days. I had not yet rented out my condo unit when I was notified by the condo board that I was in violation of the by-laws. I have since removed my listing on the website, but I still have a reservation pending for later in the month. What actions could the board take against me if I decide to allow my reservation to go through? Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

D.W., your condo is not alone in banning the use of AirBnB and similar services. There are a variety of reasons why they ban this activity but it usually boils down to wear and tear on the common elements and too many temporary users unfamiliar with the rules of the community who may also place an extra burden on the use of common elements like swimming pools, tennis courts, parking lots, etc.. It is unfortunate that you were not aware of these rules before you offered your unit for rent using one of these services. I am not an attorney so please take the following advice as friendly and not legal. For legal advice, I strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney.

There are a variety of actions the Board can take against you, and just as importantly, your AirBnB renters (who, in turn, would likely also take action against you). They can ban the AirBnB renters from the property. They can get the local police involved if they are deemed trespassers (they do not hold a legitimate lease or rental agreement). They can come after you for violating your use of the property as outlined in the condo documents. They may hit you with fines, legal fees, and whatever else the association attorney is likely to implement on their behalf. Most Boards will not be sympathetic to your cause in the least as you have violated the most basic principle of common interest ownership and that is to “play by the rules”. Of course, it could be that no one will even notice they are there but is it really worth the potential downside for a few days of rental income? My advice is to withdraw your property from the AirBnB rental service and hope these short-term renters find someplace else to stay. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 21, 2014

No Money to Replace Shot Shingles at this Condo

Posted in: Assessment, Board, Common Fees, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Legal, Reserve Fund | Comments (1)

R.P. from Cleveland, Ohio writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have been fighting with the association for 5 years to fix my roof. The shingles are shot. They say there is no money. What recourse can I take?

Mister Condo replies:

R.P., greetings to you in Ohio! Unfortunately, associations without the proper amount of funds to properly maintain their common elements are not uncommon these days. Association Reserves, a company that prepares Reserve Studies all across the country, has documented as many as 3 out of 10 associations are inadequately funded (sounds like yours) and that an additional 4 out of 10 don’t have a large enough Reserve Fund. And so the cries of disgruntled unit owners like you are being heard all around the country. There is hope and all is not lost.

You have already begun a conversation with your Board and that is a good place to start. Have they received an estimate on your repair job? Is yours the only unit with damages shingles? Most likely, all of the unit are in need of a new roof so the Board may need to either borrow the money to complete the repair (if they are eligible to do so; many are not) or they can levy a special assessment against all of the units so that the roof replacement can move forward. You and your fellow unit owners may not like that as a special assessment could cost you thousands but the Board will have no choice if adequate Reserve Funds have not been collected over the years.

The next step is building a proper Reserve Fund so you aren’t having this same conversation in 7 years when the siding needs to be replaced or in 10 years when the parking lot needs to be replaced. The association should consider investing in a professional Reserve Study and then following the recommendations which are very likely going to include a significant increase to the monthly common fees. Again, unit owners are not likely to be happy with this solution but there is only one place that the necessary money can come from and that is the unit owners.

Of course, if this is just a case of them not repairing your unit and other units are in good order, consult an attorney and consider bringing suit against the Board for failing to maintain the common elements as called for in the association’s governance documents. 5 years is too long to wait for this type of repair; a lawsuit will get their attention and cause them to take action. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ August 20, 2014

Board Mandating Downstairs Unit Flooding Coverage for Upstairs Units

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Disaster, Financial, Governance, Insurance, Legal | Comments (2)

T.J. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a board require owners and renters to have insurance against overflowing toilets and bathtubs leaking to the units below?

Mister Condo replies:

T.J., seems I am getting a lot of questions about upstairs neighbors flooding downstairs units this week. Must be a trend and a soggy one at that! The Board can require that each unit owner maintain adequate homeowner’s insurance (HO-6 here in Connecticut). They can further require that the policy include a provision for damage to neighboring units and that unit owners will be held responsible for subsequent damage caused by inadequately maintained items within the unit. This is called maintenance standards and they can and should publish a list of all of the items that are likely to fail within a unit such as water heaters, water supply lines to washing machines and toilets, pipes that can freeze and burst, and more. As a unit owner, you want your HO-6 policy to cover these things in the event they do fail. Also, if you don’t properly maintain these items, insurers are very likely to deny your claim, leaving you and your downstairs neighbor with water-damaged units and you footing the bill for the repairs. Yikes!

My advice is to work closely with your insurance professional to purchase the correct policy and coverage that not only protects you but also satisfies the requirements of your association as spelled out by the Board and your condo docs. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 19, 2014

Homeowners Insurance Won’t Cover Damage to Downstairs Condo

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Disaster, Financial, Governance, Insurance, Legal, Neighbor Issues | Comments (2)

K.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A second floor unit owner had a toilet overflow. This created extensive ceiling damage to the unit directly below. The upstairs unit’s personal insurance said they will not pay for the downstairs damage and that her Condo Association is responsible. We have no issue with her filing a claim with our Condo Insurance, but we have a $2,500 deductible. My understanding was that the person filing the claim is responsible for that deductible, and the insurance would pay for anything above that. However, this owner is saying that the damage was not created by her and that the Association is responsible from the 1st dollar, therefore the Association is responsible for the deductible.

Is it true that we are responsible for the deductible? If so, where do I find this in writing? (I cannot get a straight answer from our Insurance Company because the damages do not exceed the deductible, so there is no claim being processed by them) I find it difficult to swallow that we would have no protection from negligence of owners that create damages to other’s property.

Mister Condo replies:

K.D., you raise several interesting liability and insurance questions with this example. My gut instinct is to suggest that you speak with your association attorney before you obligate the association to pay even one penny for this owner-caused damage. Just because the unit owner’s insurance doesn’t cover the damage outside of the unit owner’s unit, the unit owner is not necessarily relieved from the resulting damage to neighboring units.

One of the clauses in the latest iteration of the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) includes protection for associations that adopt maintenance standards on items that are likely to fail over time. When it comes to water damage, there are many culprits. Water heaters, water supply lines to washing machines and toilets, pipes that can freeze and burst; all of these should be addressed in your list of maintenance standards and shared with your unit owners who are obligated to follow the maintenance of these items OR be held responsible if and when they fail. Now if your association took no previous action in developing and publishing maintenance standards this may be a lesson in why you need to do so before anything like this happens again. Your insurance professional should be able to help you with this so be sure to ask for a straight answer and settle for nothing less.

Once you speak with your association’s attorney you will get a better answer as to what is and isn’t the association’s responsibility in this matter. The attorney may advise you that the downstairs unit owner will need to bring suit against the upstairs unit owner that caused the damage, regardless of what that unit owner’s insurance company is willing to claim. Or, the attorney may advise you that the responsibility is, in fact, the association’s at which point the fact that it didn’t meet your deductible requirement is moot. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 18, 2014

Up in the Air Over Condo Skylight Repair

Posted in: Architectural Compliance, Condominium, Financial, Windows | Comments (0)

R.R. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo! My condo by-laws make clear that I am responsible for window repairs and replacement (“Exclusive Limited Common Elements”). However, I have a worn-out skylight (condensation between the double panes and leakage resulting in stained ceiling) and am not 100% clear who is responsible for its repair or replacement. Should my skylight (part of the original building’s construction) be considered a window, or is it part of the roof?

Best regards and thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

R.R., believe it or not, yours is an age-old question in many condominiums, not just here but around the country! Unless the documents clearly spell out the responsibility, it usually comes down to how the association has handled it in the past. The argument can be made that the skylights are part of the roof; clearly, they protect the building from water penetration. However, the counter argument is that unlike traditional roofing materials, the skylight is for your exclusive use (it only lets in the light over your unit, similar to a window) so it should be treated as a window, which as you have seen, is a limited common element for which you are responsible. The added challenge is replacing the skylight with one of similar design. If your condo is 20 to 30 years old (as many are) then the model of skylight installed back then is very likely no longer available meaning the Board will need to approve the new model before it is installed. The good news is that skylights are typically not all that expensive and they do last a long time. Check to see how the association has handled it in the past and stick with that program. The bottom line is that you will get a new skylight, enjoy its beauty, and protect your unit from further water intrusion. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 15, 2014

Condo Fire Pit Rules and Restrictions

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

G.C. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Do most associations in Connecticut have rules against fire pits? Or rules about whether they can be on decks or on ground level? Is there any reason why an association could not have a rule prohibiting fire pits?

Mister Condo replies:

G.C., many towns and cities have rules against grills and fire pits in high density housing areas like condos and apartments and for good reason. One need only turn on the morning news to see the devastation that fire brings to any home but especially homes that are built so closely together as condos often are. That being said, rules and enforcement of rules about fire pits vary widely from condo to condo. There is no reason that I can think of that an association could not ban the use of fire pits. Of course, it is a political issue if the community is split on their desire to use a fire pit. The easy decision is to forbid their use due to the possibility of fire and loss of property and life to association members. However, fire pit enthusiasts may argue that as long as the fire pit is attended and properly maintained there is no issue. The ultimate decision is that of the Board and unit owners who should hold a vote to either ban or allow fire pits although local law trumps any association rule. If the law is being broken, local authorities will take action if alerted. It is a tricky issue and I wish you good luck in resolving it for your association.

Mister Condo @ August 14, 2014

15 Years in the Wrong Condo Parking Space?

Posted in: Board, Communications, Condominium, Governance, Legal, Neighbor Issues, Parking, Rules Enforcement | Comments (1)

S.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What should I do if I am forced to move my car because of a misprint on the Association’s file regarding my assigned parking space? I’ve been parking in the same assigned spot for about fifteen years. Recently, I was told that I have to move to the next space over, which happens to be used by my neighbor, who is also a friend. I have told her about this parking issue. She said it is ridiculous because the spot they are referring to is her parking space. Tonight, I was told by another association member that we can share a space with her until we figure out what to do. I find it all unfair as well as unlawful to my rights. Can you give me some advice of what to do about this mind-boggling issue?

Mister Condo replies:

S.M., well that is a mind-boggling issue to say the least! I am not aware of any statute of limitations for a condo association to enforce car parking rules but fifteen years is a very long time for the association to not comment about the parking arrangement and then take action that effects several unit owners. As usual, you need to start with your purchase and sale agreement and see what it says about your assigned parking. My guess is that it states you are assigned one or two parking spaces for your exclusive use. If you have a garage this may be the space in front of your garage. If there is just a parking lot, it is probably the numbered and assigned spot(s). If there is a misprint on any documentation you certainly have the right to challenge it. Of course, this could turn into a big brouhaha about nothing. May I ask what brought this about? Did someone question the parking arrangement after fifteen years? Have you seen the misprint and are sure it was a misprint and not just a long-term misunderstanding of where your and your neighbor’s assigned parking spaces are? I’d hate to see you have to spend money on an attorney to protect yourself here but if the Board is going to insist on making you change parking spaces over a misprint and you and your neighbor feel they are wrong to do so then you may wish to consult with an attorney just to make sure you don’t have legal recourse. I’d also ask the attorney if you can sue for the attorney’s cost if it comes to a lawsuit. I hope it doesn’t come to that. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 13, 2014

Condo Self Management Laws

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Governance, Management, Volunteer | Comments (6)

D.K. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the law about self management for a condo association in Connecticut?

Mister Condo replies:

D.K., as far as I know, there aren’t any laws about self-management for condo associations in Connecticut. In fact, many successful condominiums and HOAs are self-managed. They still need to follow state laws about common interest ownership properties which are outlined in laws such as the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) and they need to be mindful that functioning without the help or guidance of a licensed property manager may be challenging but many of the folks I know who serve on the Boards of these properties have told me that they wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, it takes a group of dedicated volunteers to self-manage a condominium. I know of several self-managed properties who have actually hired on-site property management and maintenance personnel to deal with the day-to-day issues. The difference between this type of association and an association that hires a management company is that the property manager and maintenance personnel work directly for the association and not for a third-party management firm. Another task that is commonly outsourced by self-managed communities is the accounting and bookkeeping tasks. I think that is a great practice as it adds one more layer of protection for the association in safeguarding its assets. Thanks for the question!

Mister Condo @ August 12, 2014

Is A Lawyer Needed for Condo Rule Changes?

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

D.U. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a small association that is thinking of making rule changes. Do we need to retain a lawyer to draft them or can we do them ourselves?

Mister Condo replies:

D.U., the short answer is that it depends on exactly what kinds of changes you are considering. I am not an attorney so please consider this advice as friendly and not legal. If you truly need legal advice you should contact a qualified attorney. Condo associations are governed by federal, state, and local laws as well as their own rules of governance as outlined in the condo docs. If you are doing something as simple as changing rules about noise or hours of use for a facility like a pool or tennis courts, you very likely just need to follow the proper procedures for creating or modifying rules. Here in Connecticut, that would include proper notification to unit owners that rule changes are on the agenda for the next Board meeting, the Board meeting, itself, where the rule changes were introduced and voted upon, and then proper notification to all unit owners and residents of what these new rules or modification were. The Minutes from that meeting are in the permanent record of the Association and the new rules should be published and made a part of all future condo documents. If you are uncertain as to the proper wording of a rule or are unsure if your rule violates any federal, state, or local law then you would be wise to invest in attorney consultation. Better to pay for the attorney’s advice now than need to hire one to defend against a lawsuit if your new rules are in violation of any laws. All the best!

Mister Condo @ August 11, 2014

Minimum Payment to Association Reserve Fund Law?

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

R.B. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a state of Connecticut law which requires a minimum payment to the Association Reserve account?

Mister Condo replies:

R.B., at this time, there is no state law mandating that common interest communities like condominiums, co-operatives, time shares, or homeowner’s associations (HOAs) make minimum annual contributions to their respective Association Reserve funds. And that’s probably a good thing as most common interest communities would not welcome additional governmental interference into how they conduct their business affairs. However, as more and more common interest communities age, there will be more and more cases where the association did not make large enough contributions to their Reserve Funds over the years and when the time comes to replace common elements like siding, roofs, roads, and such, the associations will find themselves needing to raise cash which they will do by either taking a loan if they are eligible or levying significant special assessments against unit owners. In the worst of scenarios, the unit owners of record at the time of the special assessment may not be able to afford the assessment which could lead to foreclosure on their units by the association. You can see where this is a patently unfair scenario. Depreciation of common elements begins as soon as the community is built. Unit owners from that time forward should be paying their fair share of the depreciation in the form of adequate contributions to the Reserve Fund. After all, they are the ones who are benefitting from the use of the common elements as they deteriorate. Flash forward 20 years and a newer owner is the one who gets stuck with the bill. If this happens enough and lawmakers get wind that this unfair practice is running rampant in the state, I wouldn’t be surprised to see legislation that mandates a minimum amount (perhaps 10%, which is the current FHA guideline for common interest communities) but that number is just one that is easily measured and truly does no justice to the unit owners who will likely find that to properly fund their Reserve Fund a complete Reserve Study should be performed and adhered to so that there is money available for capital improvement projects when the time comes. It also assures the community of sound fiscal standing which is a great advantage to unit owners when they wish to sell when presented properly to prospective buyers. Thanks for the question!

Mister Condo @ August 8, 2014