Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

Too Many Pets, Too Many Lies at this Condo!

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

M.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

There is a one pet per unit policy in the condo documents.  We have units with 2 & 3 pets. When confronted they deny this.  What is the best way to enforce the pet issue?

Mister Condo replies:

M.M., pet policies and condo rules are enforced by the Board of Directors who are charged with interpreting the rules and taking action when they deem appropriate. Enforcing these rules is often frustrating and complicated as most pet owners are in love with their fur babies and will do just about anything to protect them. It takes a steely resolve to do what is right and in the best interest of the community to solve a problem like this.

It starts with a notice of violation that the Board needs to present to the unit owners or other residents that are violating the rules. If any of the rule-breakers are tenants then the unit owner/landlord is also notified and cited. The unit owner is invited to meet with the Board at the next Board meeting to accept the violation or deny the violation. The Board is then free to take further action in the form of a fine or, in some cases, eviction of the unit owner or pet. Eviction is a lengthy legal process that will likely require the Board to hire an attorney to prosecute the offender.

Here is a word of warning to the Board if it decides to go after the rule breakers. Tackle the whole problem and not just a select few. If a resident feels they are being unfairly selected they could claim discrimination or harassment, especially if they are aware of other community members (or Board members) who also have too many pets. Ideally, the community will simply agree to follow the rules they agreed to live by when they purchased their units. However, as is too often the case, I would not be surprised if legal action becomes necessary.

I have attended Board meetings where residents have openly wept at the thought of giving up a second or third pet even when they knew their by-laws only allowed one. I have also seen savvy unit owners seek “Companion” or “Emotional Service” animal certification for their beloved pets so that they can claim a “right” to keep the animals. There is no doubt this is a sensitive issue which can be quite challenging to enforce, especially if residents are willing to lie about the pet’s existence in order to continue to house it. Good luck!

ESAs and ADA at this NYC Condo

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

E.C. from Bronx, NY writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a condo in the Bronx which I would like to rent out. The tenant I would like to rent to has 2 dogs that are registered as Emotional Service Animals (ESA). My condo board just changed the bylaws to 1 dog. Federal law states a landlord cannot deny this person rental. I, the owner, don’t mind at all, but my board is telling me no. Do I have a legal leg to stand on to rent it to her anyway?

Mister Condo replies:

E.C., you have touched upon a subject that is quite controversial, not just in New York, but across the country. As a landlord you have to be particularly careful as to how you handle the rental request so that you don’t end up on the wrong side of a discrimination lawsuit. As a condo unit owner, you don’t want to create a problem between your tenant and the Board which could end up in court with you being charged with numerous violations and fines from the Board. I think you would prevail under current trends but do you really want to fight that battle?

As you know, I am not an attorney and I really must advise you to speak with an experienced attorney before you make your decision. At the heart of this issue is ESA certification of the dogs and how does the condominium association need to respond to that certification. There are plenty of articles and court cases about the validity of ESA certification and if the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies. If the courts were to decide that your tenant and both of the dogs were protected under ADA, there is little the Board could do to prevent your tenant and both dogs from residing in the condo. That being said, that doesn’t mean they won’t try and their attempts to prevent the tenant from housing two dogs on the property, against condo rules, may prove trying and expensive. I imagine there will be fines and hearings, even possible eviction actions against your tenant depending on how determined the Board is to enforce the one dog rule. Of course, you will either need to defend or hire an attorney to defend against these actions. Provided the courts find in favor of you and your tenant, you may be able to recoup these costs by suing the Board for damages.

I am not saying you should not rent to this particular tenant. If they are tenant-worthy on all of your other criteria (credit check, references, etc.) you may well wish to take them on as their landlord. Please enter into the transaction with your eyes open and realize that the debate is still raging over ESAs and their rights to protection under the ADA. If ESAs are not deemed protected, you may find this a very costly rental. At the very least, I think you will find it a challenge. Good luck!

IL Condo Unit Owner Getting the Boot Over Late Common Fees

Monday, January 6th, 2014

C.W. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If a condo owner has deeded parking, can the Board boot his car if he did not pay his assessment for one month.  Bylaws states association can put a lien only. We also had a towing company for unauthorized parking. Isn’t it a law in Illinois that a Condo Board should have a sign for guest parking for 15 minutes in parking lot? There are 16 units and around 21 parking spaces.

Mister Condo replies:

C.W., parking is a perennial problem for condominium dwellers all across the country. I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in Illinois condo law so I will need to refer you to a local attorney in your state for a legal answer to your question. However, from a practical standpoint I can tell you that enforcing the condominium’s parking rules can prove quite challenging for the Board. In states where there are additional laws about parking (for the record, I am not aware of any) I can only imagine that challenge is greater. As a general rule, the Board needs to notify an offender in writing that they have violated a rule. Then they need to allow the rule breaker an opportunity to contest the breaking of the rule. Repeated offenses are then punishable with a fine or further action such as applying a boot.

Non-payment of assessments is another story. State and local law will supersede the association’s rules. However, if the association rules indicate that non-payment or delinquent payment of common fees will result in denial of use of common areas, the association may be within its rights. However, most states do not allow an association to prevent unit owner access and a court may find that the association is overstepping its authority by booting a car that is parked in a deeded space. It truly depends on the law and the history of similar cases. An attorney is the best person to advise the unit owner if his or her rights on this matter.

Of course, the simplest solution is for the unit owner to keep current on the common fees and/or park off property until such time as they get current. Late fees, towing fees, boot removal fees, etc. are going to cost more than just paying the common fees. Common fees are the lifeblood of any association and in a condo as small as yours is, one unit owner can have quite a damaging impact on the association if the fees are paid on time. All the best!

New Condo Unit Owner Cited for Previous Owner’s Modifications

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I received a Notice of Violation from my HOA lawyer stating that I am in violation of certain modifications/remodeling done in my unit without HOA’s permission. Apparently these were done by two owners prior to me and the Condo was foreclosed once before I bought the unit. Am I responsible for this?

Mister Condo replies:

L., nobody likes to receive violation notices about their condominium unit. I can only imagine your dismay to receive this letter about modifications that were made to the unit before you even took possession. It was an interesting question that I felt merited a look by one of my community association attorney friends. Here’s what the attorney had to say:

“If all of this work was done by a previous owner and not you, then it’s very unlikely you could be held directly responsible for any violations. Nevertheless, you might be obligated to allow the Board to enter your unit to remove the unauthorized modifications if it wishes, depending on what kind of work was done and what your HOA’s documents say. Doing so would be in your interest if the Board’s concern is that the modifications are structurally unsafe or put other units at risk. On the other hand, if the modifications are innocuous and you bought the unit relying on their legitimacy, it may be too late for the Board to take them away from you. Talk to the Board to work this out, and if that fails, ask your own lawyer for advice on what to do.”

That sounds like perfectly sound advice to me, L. All the best!

HOA Parking Problems Plague New Development

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

R.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m a new president of 55+ community and could use some advice. We have been trying to limit parking on the roads of our community. Each homeowner has a garage and driveway and we have limited overflow. It was projected that unit owners would house one or two cars. But many unit owners now have in-laws and children that have moved in with them and they now have three or four cars. I know we can’t tell people how many cars they can have but can we limit the amount that can be parked on property? Any advice would be helpful.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., thanks for writing! Let me begin my remarks by stating that I am not an attorney. This advice is friendly, not legal. If you need true legal advice, kindly contact an attorney who specializes in community association law.

As you can imagine, too many cars and too few parking spaces is one of the top complaints nationwide for condo dwellers. As you have mentioned, developers envision a community where a typical unit is occupied by one or two people with one or two cars and occasional guests. The garage, driveway, and overflow parking areas were designed to handle exactly that situation. Extra residents can be a burden on the property in many ways (extra use of common elements like sidewalks, roads, storage areas, utilities, trash, pools, tennis, etc.) but the demand for increased parking, more times than not, simply cannot be met by the association.

As a rule, the condo documents are very clear on what parking is available to unit owners and other residents (renters and guests). You need to start with what the rules state about parking and then strictly enforce those rules to stop the problem parking. You didn’t mention it but I can guess that some folks are parking where they don’t belong – fire lanes, on the streets, T-parking behind their own vehicles in driveways, long-term use of visitor spaces. All of these infractions need to be corrected and the by-laws are your best friend when it comes to enforcement. If your by-laws do not state parking rules (highly unusual), you need to add parking rules at your next Board meeting.

Do you have a community newsletter? If so, you need to tell the story to your residents by detailing what the rules for parking are. In most communities, the rules are assigned parking is the ONLY parking available to unit owners and renters. Extended family falls into this category as well unless they are truly visitors (a day or two at the most). Visitor spaces are generally reserved for visitors (non-resident). Other vehicles are to be domiciled off property at the expense of the car owner. Vehicles that are parked illegally will be given an initial written warning, followed by a fine, followed by towing at owner’s expense for repeated offenses. Under CIOA, unit owners who are cited with warnings or fines have to be invited to address these warnings and fines at the next Board meeting.

With a little conviction and strict adherence to the rules you can manage this situation to everyone’s satisfaction. Those folks with 3, 4, or even more vehicles may decide the community isn’t right for them and move out. Guess what? They’re right! The community isn’t for folks with lots of cars. No condo is! The folks that are following the parking rules (my guess, most folks do) will appreciate that there is order in the community. That is what they bought when they decided to live in your HOA. Best wishes!

Senior Abuse by Junior Resident at New Haven Condo

Friday, December 6th, 2013

W.G. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Who must supply the proof that an under 55 occupant is living full time in a condo he co-owns with his mother who is the over 55 owner not occupying the condo? I have reported this violation and the 43 year-old man is now vandalizing my car, letting air out of the tires, scratching it 10 times, nail under tire, cut the windshield wiper rubber all across on driver side, vandalized my air conditioner by shutting it off on the rooftop, and more. Police told me to put a video camera for proof. What can I do to get fines when there is not even a fining committee? This is making me sick.

Mister Condo replies:

W.G., it sounds like you have a criminal problem on your hands as well as a rules enforcement issue with your association. Let’s address the more serious issue of vandalism and your personal safety. Your Board has no legal authority to enforce laws. The activities of your neighbor that you have described are criminal. You did the right thing by contacting the local police but it would appear that they are not willing to press charges without you providing documented proof, which is unfortunate. I would continue to work with the police to have this neighbor arrested and brought to justice for his crimes against you. If you get no satisfaction from the local authorities, contact your local media (newspaper, radio, TV) and have them apply pressure to the police to take action. You may also wish to seek the assistance of an attorney. The illegal activities of your neighbor need to end and you need to feel safe in your own home. He sounds like a real sociopath. Please be careful.

As for what your Board can do about someone under the minimum age residing in your complex it really comes down to what you condo documents state about ownership and residency. From what you have stated, the owner is of the correct age but the family member living there is not. That may be perfectly legal under your association’s rules but I can see where it strikes a sour note with you and the other residents who are of the appropriate age.

CAI-CT attorney law firm members Perlstein, Sandler, & McCracken, LLC have published an excellent article on 55+ community governance for our state. You can find it, in its entirety, at http://www.ctcondolaw.com/Spring08400dpi.pdf. In this article they cover the “do’s” and “don’ts” of how best to enforce the rules and maintain compliance with state and federal housing laws. I strongly recommend that you download a copy for yourself and your Board members to see if it sheds any light on how your community can comply and enforce its 55+ membership provisions. Of course, if the association needs legal advice I strongly advise consulting with an attorney that specializes in this field of law. Best wishes!

Nevada Condo Parking Woes

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

V.E. from Nevada writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a Condo unit in Northern Nevada. The H.O.A. is trying to get residents to park in their garage and driveway instead of the visitor parking area. This has become a problem as we have many renters here that use their garage for storage instead of parking. I believe we could solve the problem by using a sticker system and verification of registration and insurance. All units have at least 2 parking spaces. Some residents have more than 2 cars. I am thinking that if you have more than 2 cars you would get a sticker for the third or fourth and the stickered cars could park in the visitor parking area. Any idea on how to implement this system or a better one? Any information would be very helpful and appreciated. Thank You.

Mister Condo replies:

V.E., parking issues plague condos and HOAs all across the country. It is usually caused by too many people living in a relatively small area with regards to parking. Of course, as you point out, the problem is really complicated when individual units are responsible for 3 or 4 cars on the common grounds at one time. Not to mention the fact that may units also have visitors who come and go on a regular basis.

Many HOAs forbid anything other than cars being stored in garages. Check your rules and regulations, Chances are there are rules against using the garage for anything other than parking. There is good reason for this. Garages can be real fire hazards and if folks are storing all kinds of junk in their garages they may be creating a potential hazard. I am sure there are plenty of local storage rental companies where people could relocate their garage junk to free up the spaces in the garages which were designed to house cars.

You mention that you have many renters in your condo. That is fine but there is no reason for renters to be allowed more parking spaces than anyone else. Their landlords knew when they rented their units what the parking arrangements were. If you don’t already have rules in place to limit the number of vehicles renters are allowed to have on your property, I would do so at your earliest convenience. I would require that rental units use their garage and their assigned space. Period.

Finally, you have proposed a sticker system that may work just fine for your community. Of course, someone needs to issue those stickers and someone needs to then enforce the system. If you are going to ask your property management company to do that, I would work with them to figure out what is the most economical and practical solution. Chances are they have experience with this very situation in one of the other properties they manage. I also want to point out a website that you may find useful. SpotShare is in the business of helping associations make the most of their available parking spaces. You can learn all about their innovative parking solutions at http://SpotShare.com/. Good luck!

Can the Association Foreclose on my Condo if there is no Mortgage?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

J.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own my condo outright; no mortgage. I owe condo fees. Can the association foreclose on my condo if there is no mortgage?

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., you bet ya! Non-payment of common fees is a big no-no in the world of community association living and for good reason. Your association is a non-profit corporation that pays for many services that you and each and every one of your fellow unit owners consume every day. Insurance, property management, trash and snow removal, upkeep on the common grounds, common utilities, and so much more are paid from the association’s general fund. Common fees and assessments are the lifeblood of the association and the law guarantees that those fees will be collected. Of course, like any other legal procedure, there is due process. If you are being threatened with foreclosure you have most likely already been served with warning letters, collection letters, letters of demand and more from the association or their collections agent and/or attorney. The next step would be for them to file a formal foreclosure action against you. Unless you have some very strong reasons for non-payment of common fees you will very likely lose and your unit will be foreclosed upon.

My advice to you is to pay your common fees and be a good neighbor. After all, common fees represent your contribution to the association for your portion of the services you consume. It is a fair and equitable system that has withstood the test of time. All the best!

Disgruntled Unit Owners Upsetting Condo Unity

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

S.P. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a contentious group of condo owners who were voted off of the Board. Now these owners are making unfounded complaints and harass the new board members with Sunday night emails and with spreading rumors.

Do we have any recourse to stop their bad behavior?

Mister Condo replies:

S.P., there are times when condo living and condo governance can be a tremendous challenge to one’s patience and common decency. My best advice to you will be to simply refer to your condo documents and follow them to the letter. You cannot stop people from spreading rumors. However, you can keep unit owners properly informed of what is and isn’t happening in their community with regards to community governance and capital improvements. The sitting Board has the advantage of being the official voice of the community. However, if the Board does not take advantage of their authority and the opportunity to properly communicate don’t be surprised if the folks spreading rumors don’t gain an upper hand. It is a political process and should be treated as such. That being said, if Board members are being slandered or can prove libel there may be individual remedies including bringing lawsuits against the perpetrators of such crimes. I would advise anyone who feels they are being slandered to consult with a personal attorney and discuss possible legal remedies.

As for the rules enforcement portion of my solution, I am fairly certain that your by-laws do not allow for individual unit owners to make direct contact via email or other with your Board members and demand immediate action. Complaints, unfounded or otherwise should be logged and discussed at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board. If they are truly unfounded, they can simply be acknowledged and tabled. The folks raising the complaints are free to continue to complain but unless they can document where rules or by-laws have been broken the Board is not required to take any further action other than acknowledgement that a complaint was filed.

I do have one question of concern for your association. It is not uncommon for community associations to have unit owner with differing opinions. It is also not uncommon for factions to arise within communities as individual groups tend to unite over shared complaints (too many renters are being allowed, club house fees are too high, and so on) or over shared desires (let’s purchase the neighboring acreage and add a park, let’s install vinyl siding and modernize the look of our buildings, and so on). It is not common that people band together just for the sake of being annoying to each other. Is there an issue dividing your community that cannot be resolved? It might make sense for each group to try to understand what the other group is trying to accomplish. Let me be clear; I am not saying to give in to unreasonable demands. I am suggesting that there may be some common ground for folks to work on together that can help unite the community. I can only imagine this general discord spills into other areas of common interest living that can make for a mighty unpleasant condo living experience. Sometimes a simple olive branch can prevent a war. It’s certainly worth looking into. All the best!

Seeking Board’s Approval for New Condo Windows AFTER They Were Installed

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

J.J. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I had new windows installed two years ago. The ones I replaced were original to the building and they looked really bad with hazing and water in between the panes. The new windows look great but I just got a letter from my Board informing me that they never approved my new windows and that the trim that the installer used isn’t a match to the rest of the complex. They want me to submit the plans for the new windows so they can approve them and they want me to have the contractor come back and replace the new trim with trim that matches what used to be there. This is going to cost me a fortune! Can they make me do this? What are my rights?

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., congratulations on the new windows! It sounds like you are about to get a lesson in architectural compliance and it might be a fairly expensive one at that. Unlike individual homes, condo units are required to be of certain conformity forever from the time they are built. What’s more is that you agreed to this when you purchased into your condo. Check it out. It’s in your condo documents.

So now you are getting notice from the Board that you didn’t play by the rules. In the worst case scenario, the Board can compel you to remove the unapproved windows and replace them with approved windows. That could be quite costly. It sounds like they are trying to work with you and review the windows you did install so that they might consider approving them. The issue with the trim is on you. You must replace the existing trim with an approved style and material as what was previously there.

You can fight this if you wish but you would likely just prolong the inevitable and rack up additional legal bills along the way. My advice is to get the Board what they need and hope that they approve your new windows. Offer to have the trim replaced as soon as they make a ruling on the new windows. And, for future consideration, do not even think about altering any element of your condo without first seeking Board approval. Once they approve your project, you are free to proceed. Begging for forgiveness will not work. You need to get permission first. Good luck!