Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

Inconsiderate Condo Neighbor Constantly Running Washing Machine

Friday, October 17th, 2014

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.

Oversized Vehicle Blocking Access to Condo Parking

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

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!

Storage Containers, Previously Allowed At Condo, No Longer Allowed

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

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!

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

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

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!

Hoarding Condo Unit Owner Leaves; Rubbish Remains!

Friday, October 10th, 2014

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!

Condo Parking; Why Front End In?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

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!

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

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

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”.

Are Condo Complaints Public Record?

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

L.W. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Are complaints leading to rule violation hearings public records? I recently conducted a hearing. The person subject asked to see the complaint and who made it. We were unsure if it should be public and our Manager could not answer the question. Can you give us an answer?

Mister Condo replies:

L.W., neighbors bringing complaints against neighbors within condo associations is never a good thing. It can create animosity between neighbors and can lead to retaliation from disgruntled offenders. However, when rules are broken, often the only way for the Board to take action and correct the offensive behavior is when a resident complains. I asked a community association attorney friend of mine for some further advice. Here it is:

“Yes, a complaint made against a unit owner becomes part of that unit owner’s individual file, and he or she is entitled to see it on request.  It is also a record of the association generally which every unit owner is entitled to see.  In fact, if the Board members are looking at the complaint during the hearing itself, state law requires that the Board also have enough copies available to distribute to every unit owner who happens to be attending.”

I hope that helps and I hope that your residents start behaving in such a way that no further complaints are made. All the best!

Can Careless Condo Parking be Corrected?

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

N.P. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are having several issues with a new owner in our complex. After being asked several times to park his cars straight into his designated spot, he and his wife continue to disregard our requests and continue to park crooked, or too close to the cars next to them. It sometimes makes it impossible for them to get into their cars. The people he is blocking in happen to be Emergency Cardiologists. They sometimes are called on emergencies and need to depart quickly. This new neighbor is being totally uncooperative. What can we do to correct this constant and ongoing problem? Help!

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., it is disheartening to learn of condo dwellers with little or no concern for their neighbors. Condo living isn’t right for everyone and, clearly, the residents who are carelessly parking their vehicles in such a way as to make it difficult for their neighbors to access their vehicles are just such people. They never learned the Golden Rule of “doing unto others as they would like to have done unto them”. Regardless of the occupation or needs of the cardiologists to quickly get at their vehicles, every resident has the right to park and get into and out of their assigned parking spaces. Off the top of my head there are a few things that you can do as an association.

The first is to review your rules on parking within your association. Generally speaking, the rules are pretty clear about parking only in assigned spaces. If the residents in question are parking in their assigned spaces, then they are not breaking any rules. If they are even a centimeter over their assigned space, it is time to issue a warning, followed by a fine, for each and every occurrence. Be sure to document the incidents with dates and photos. When politeness doesn’t work, hit them in their pocketbooks to get their attention. If you don’t already have rules about towing vehicles parked inappropriately, be sure to add them. That way, if fining doesn’t work, towing the vehicles when they are parked improperly will most definitely get their attention. The rules are usually worded in such a way that the there is a progression; first offense is a warning, second offense is a fine, third and subsequent offenses is a fine and vehicle will be towed at owner’s expense.

If they are not breaking any rules parking in the manner that they currently are, consider modifying your parking rules. If their vehicles are too large for the space provided, consider modifying the size of vehicles allowed on the property. Do you have an upcoming blacktop or sealing project scheduled? Consider adjusting the lines during the line striping portion of the project. The bottom line is that your goal is to get these inconsiderate unit owners to voluntarily behave like good neighbors. If they won’t do that on their own, you can “show them the downside” of not doing so. Of course, you cannot single them out. Any and all rules need to be applied evenly and uniformly so that the Association cannot be accused of discrimination. All the best!

What to Do When Condo Owners Don’t Follow Rules

Friday, September 19th, 2014

D.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What can the Association do when condo owners don’t follow the rules?

Mister Condo replies:

D.S., associations rely on unit owners to follow the rules to maintain peaceable enjoyment for all unit owners and residents. In the ideal community, residents have read the rules and regulations before agreeing to become members and residents. However, very few communities can boast of no rules violations. The trick is keeping the violations to a minimum and resident satisfaction at a maximum. That’s where the Rules Enforcement provisions of the association come into play.

Start with your association’s governing documents. There is usually a section about rules and regulations and what can be done to enforce the rules. The Board is generally empowered by the governing documents to enforce the rules as they see fit. Depending on where your association is located, there may also be rules about community association governance that supersede the association rules. Such is the case here in Connecticut where most community associations are bound by the Common Interest Ownership Act (commonly referred to as CIOA). CIOA requires that Boards follow a specific procedure for issuing fines. On the first offense, a warning is issued and the unit owner is notified of the violation and asked to appear before the Board to explain why the violation occurred. Subsequent violations require no additional opportunity for the unit owner to appear before the Board and the Board is free to levy whatever fines are called for in the association’s by-laws. An exception to this would be something like parking in a fire lane where the Board can exercise its authority to have the offensive vehicle removed (towed) at the expense of the owner.

If your association does not have a penalty system of fines in place, the first step is to adopt one. I generally recommend a small fine amount like $25 per occurrence and a graduated fine system for repeat offenders. Keep in mind that fines are not meant to be income for the association; they are meant to be a deterrent for unit owners who do not follow the rules. In some cases, legal counsel may be necessary to do more than just fine an offender. For instance, if the rule is that no rentals are allowed and there are clearly renters living in the unit, the association may sue the unit owner and seek eviction. Similarly, if pets are not allowed and pets are being housed in the unit, a lawsuit may be the only remedy available to the association.

Keeping in mind that voluntary compliance with the rules is the goal of the association, I think it is well advised to have a rules review every so often, either by committee or by the entire Board. The rules are meant to be in the best interest of the community and are used to help protect, maintain, and enhance the community association living experience. Rules cannot be applied selectively. That is to say the Board cannot enforce the “no smoking” rule on one unit owner without enforcing the rule on all unit owners or the Board may face charges of discrimination. Also, the Board has discretion in selecting which rules it will enforce but it must do so unilaterally, meaning if it does not enforce the no pets rule on one unit owner, it cannot enforce the rule on another. The best policy is to either enforce the rule or remove the rule. That way, residents know what to expect and the Board cannot be accused of discrimination. All the best!