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Where to Live While Condo Repairs Are Made

Condo Unit Guest Intimidated Condo Employee

Condo Parking Lot Turned into Obstacle Course

Condo Walkways and Parking Lot Failing

Where to Live While Condo Repairs Are Made

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Disaster, Financial, Insurance, Legal, Management, Neighbor Issues | Comments (3)

M.D. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Water is leaking into my unit from the condo upstairs. The plumber is fixing that unit’s bathroom. How can I stay downstairs with a hole in the bathroom ceiling? The hole is large enough that bad fumes come from upstairs into my unit. Help!

Mister Condo replies:

M.D., I am sorry for your problems. Water intrusion events like yours are not all that uncommon in multi-level buildings where an upstairs water problem creates an issue for downstairs residents. I assume you have alerted all of the people who need to know about this issue. Your property manager, your Board, your insurance company, and perhaps even an attorney may be needed to rectify this situation for you. The plumber needs to stop the leak from upstairs and make the repair to prevent further water damage. Sounds like that work is being done.

Your unit obviously needs to be repaired. Depending on what insurance is held by your association, your upstairs neighbor, and you, one or more of the policies should come into play. The insurance I am interested in for you is your homeowner’s policy, also known as HO-6 here in Connecticut. You may have a clause that will pay for your accommodation outside of your home in the event that the unit is uninhabitable. You should contact your agent and see if your insurance will pay to house you temporarily in a hotel while these repairs are made. Also, you may need to speak with an attorney to see what recourse you have to get your repairs taken care of as soon as possible so as to minimize your loss of your unit.

The bottom line is that this is an unfortunate situation that will require you to take action to remedy. Squeaky wheel will get the grease so make sure you have involved all of the key players to get your problem resolved. Good luck!

Mister Condo @ October 24, 2014

Condo Unit Guest Intimidated Condo Employee

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

R.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a high rise condo and in 32 years we have never had problems with residents being rude to our employees. But a live-in guest of one resident intimidated and was extremely rude to a 19 year-old employee who was only trying to enforce the house rules. What is the board to do? We do not have a “fine system” in existence.

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., I wish civility could be legislated but, in reality, there are just lots of extremely rude people in the world. It sounds like one resides in your high-rise condo. Ideally, the employee will report the incident to the employer who will take the appropriate action. If the employer is a property management firm, they will likely train the employee in how to interact with unit owners and speak with the unit owner. If the employee was truly threatened, the employee can seek action against the unit owner. The police can even be involved if the activity was criminal.

Of course, there are always two sides to every story. Do the live-in guest and this employee have a relationship outside of work? Did they both puff up their chests and go at it? There are just too many variables that are not being reported here and it is very likely going to come down to “he said/he said”. How can you add rules to address that kind of situation?

For the most part, residents and their guests do not need to interact with association employees other than security or concierge personnel. Even maintenance folks should be contacted through property management and not directly unless that is the policy. If the Board wanted to implement a policy for how and when to interact with association employees, it could certainly do so. If it wanted to back up that policy with a fine system for violating the policy it could do that also. It seems a little extreme over one incident but it is within its right to implement both. I wish you a speedy and peaceful resolve.

Mister Condo @ October 23, 2014

Condo Parking Lot Turned into Obstacle Course

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

J.K. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Parking in my assigned spot became difficult when a unit owner placed very large planters on the blacktop in an area where I make a turn to get into my space, especially in the winter. Is placing these planters on the blacktop legal?

Mister Condo replies:

J.K., unless they are looking to add an element of danger and driving challenge to your condo experience, I can think of no reason an association would allow obstacles to their parking lot. There may very well be rules in your bylaws that prohibit anything but automobiles being allowed on the common area parking lot but this is an area that is under the Board’s full control. Depending on your relationship with your neighbor who has created this issue for you, you could approach them and ask them to remove the planters. If that doesn’t work or if you don’t want to confront your neighbor, simply contact your Board or Property Manager and alert them to the situation. They will likely inform your neighbor to remove the planters. Best wishes!

Mister Condo @ October 22, 2014

Condo Walkways and Parking Lot Failing

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

L.F. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association has neglected repairs to the walkways and alcove between the 2 buildings. Rain water enters the alcove and puddles restrict you from getting your mail. The walkways are cracked with large crevices. The parking lot has huge pot holes and the front steps are sinking into the ground. I had to call for an ambulance and the EMTs complained and nearly tipped over the neighbor. I have sent a letter and discussed this at the Association meeting 2 weeks ago. No response.

Mister Condo replies:

L.F., that is a really troubling problem that your condo is experiencing. I am sure you and your neighbors would like to see these issues corrected as soon as possible. I am certain that these conditions did not occur overnight. In fact, it likely took many years for the situation to get as bad as it has. 2 weeks isn’t enough time to gauge your Board’s response to the problems but let’s explore the forces that are likely at play here and how your vigilance can help correct the situation.

Neglected repairs are a very visible sign of financial problems at condo associations; not just here in Connecticut but across the country. When condominiums are shiny and new, the grounds are usually immaculate with lush greenery and beautifully paved roads and freshly poured cement walkways. They are picture-perfect ideals of a community that anyone would want to live in. Then comes the reality of aging common elements and the underlying beast begins to show its head. A pothole in the parking lot, a crack in the sidewalks, a few shingles blown from a roof, or small sinkholes that collect rainwater as you have described. What then? Who is responsible for the repairs? More importantly, where is the money going to come from? And that is where the real problem usually lies.

Does your association have a Reserve Fund? Is it adequately funded? Does the Board have the ability to write a check and make these problems go away? Unfortunately, the answer is usually that there is not enough money in the budget to pay for the necessary repairs because adequate amounts have not been charged to unit owners over the years. The only way to raise the needed capital is to levy a special assessment or take out a community association loan, neither of which is very popular with unit owners (including Board Members) as, either way, unit owners will have to foot the bill. This leads Boards to postpone or, in your case, not address major failures of the infrastructure.

The association needs to have a few things happen to correct the immediate problem and the long-term problem. Immediately, repairs need to be made to uneven and dangerous surfaces. That may require an engineering opinion and milling and repaving, neither of which is inexpensive. If there is no money in the Reserve Fund for the project, unit owners should be told to expect a special assessment in the very near future.

To get back on track for the long term, it sounds like your association would benefit from a Reserve Study and implementation of regular contributions to the Reserve Fund in the form of increased common fees. If your Reserve Study were to show that your smaller Association needed to budget $10,000 per year in Reserves so there will be money available for future maintenance projects, your monthly common fees might increase by $40 – $50. That money is earmarked for the Reserve Fund and it assures unit owners that there will be money in the Reserve Fund so that these repairs don’t mount up again and again. I wish you speedy repairs and the best of luck!

Mister Condo @ October 21, 2014

Unlicensed Contractor Hired by Condo President

Posted in: Board, Condominium, Financial, Governance, Volunteer | Comments (7)

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