Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

Alone in the Condo but Accused of Making too Much Noise!

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

J.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How can I defend myself against malicious accusations of being the cause of too much noise when in reality I live alone and only have visits?

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., nobody likes to be accused of something they aren’t doing. Unfortunately, one unit owner’s quiet and peaceful enjoyment can be another unit owner’s loud noise nightmare. I am guessing that the answer lies in finding out exactly what you are being accused of and by whom so that both you and the person lodging the complaints against you can come to an understanding. Start with your condo docs and the section about noise regulations. For most communities, reasonable amounts of noise are allowable from morning to early evening with “quiet” hours from 10:00 p.m. on. Your rules may vary but having visitors over for a few cocktails at 10:00 p.m. can sound like a raucous affair when your neighbors are already asleep. Also, you need to understand how your association handles noise complaints. Usually, the complaint is made to a property manager or directly to the Board. At their next meeting the Board reviews the complaint and takes action if necessary. The first step is generally a letter to the unit owner accused of breaking the rule, in your case, a noise rule. The unit owner should have an opportunity to address the Board at their next meeting to tell his or her side of the story. If the Board is satisfied, that could be the end. If not, the Board may issue a fine and continue to issue fines for repeated offenses. If what you say is true, my guess is that you could easily explain your side of the issue to your Board and the problem will go away. If it is a particular neighbor that is “out to get you”, you could see the incident drag on. That is rare and unfortunate but I have heard of instances where neighbor versus neighbor issues drag on for years. The Board can’t govern neighborliness so my advice is to try and be a good neighbor and win them over with kindness. All the best!

One Dog, Two Dog, Barking Dog, No Dog!

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

D.C. from Westchester County, NY writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a pet-friendly condo in Westchester County, NY with a 1 dog pet policy rule. In October of 2013 I brought my two dogs in from overseas with intentions of situating one with my relative. There were a series of events that prevented me from doing this and the managing agent sent me a first letter in October regarding the pet violation and a second letter in February of 2014 regarding the violation of the pet policy rule. In March of 2014, after serving on the board for 2 months, I was handed a letter from the condo’s attorney asking me to resign from the board within 30 days because I went against my fiduciary duties and to remove the 2 dogs within 30 days because of excessive barking. So now I am not allowed to keep even the 1 dog permitted in the House rules. I learned in the meantime that the House Rules were amended at least twice since the building was built in 1987. The original by laws state 1 dog, the amended by-laws must state more than 1 dog because there are at least 2 condo unit owners with 2 dogs. Then they must have amended the house rules again because it is 1 dog since 2006. There is also a condo owner with 2 dogs who purchased the condo in 2009-2010. My first question is this: do the amended condo house rules need to be filed with the Attorney General to be valid? Can I try and keep my 2 dogs legally because there is someone else who is NOT grandfathered in? And my dogs are NOT creating a nuisance because I have been digitally recording them 24 hours a day for the past 2 months and all you hear is my TV during my absence and my voice during the evening hours. Needless to say my building is in front of a Pet Resort that functions as a doggie day care center and overnight hotel for dogs. Do I have a fighting chance to keep my two dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

D.C., greetings from your condo neighbors in Connecticut. We have unit owners who face similar challenges to yours quite often. Our furry friends are often as precious to us as human family members and it is very difficult to negotiate a “win/win” situation when it comes to keeping the pet owner and the association happy. You have quite a few issues here so let me begin by informing you that I am not an attorney and my first advice to you is to seek legal counsel. Your association has already done so and I think that you would be wise to fight fire with fire less you become overwhelmed by the rules and the attorney’s interpretations of the rules and your rights as a unit owner. It can all be a bit overwhelming.

Regardless of the House rules or amended rules filed with the Attorney General or whoever, I think it is wise to start at the beginning. You stated you never had any intention of domiciling two pets at your unit and you were aware of the 1 pet rule when you brought your pets from overseas to be with you here in the states. Clearly, you have the right to have at least one pet in your unit. If there are also rules about noise violations (most associations do have rules about noisy pets and a process for removing noise offenders) and you have been shown to have violated the noise rules, the Board may be able to take corrective action against you. In most cases, you would need to be served with a notice of the noise rule violation, followed by an opportunity to appear before the Board to dispute the allegation (this is where your digital surveillance evidence might come in handy). If the Board finds that you are in violation, the next step is usually a fine, followed by removal of the pet for repeated violations. From what you have described to me, I would say that the Board has not taken those steps. An attorney could better advise you of your rights in New York but that’s pretty much how it would work in Connecticut. Of course, that only accounts for one of your two dogs.

As for the enforceability of a rule that you know to have been broken and is currently being broken by other unit owners within the association, you and your pets may have a leg (or four!) to stand on. If you are being singled out or discriminated against in any way by your Board, an attorney can best guide you on what steps you can take to countersue or file a discrimination claim against the Board. Be prepared to provide solid evidence of all that you claim (other units with multiple pets). Boards need to take discrimination claims very seriously, Resulting judgments can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Again, consult with your attorney before taking any such action.

Finally, there is the matter of your “resignation” from the Board. There are certain circumstances where a Board member can be removed by fellow Board members. Failure to fulfill a fiduciary duty is one of those circumstances but it doesn’t sound like the Board took a vote. Rather, you were strong-armed into making a resignation. From what you have described here, you were working to remedy the situation and exploring your legal rights to keep both dogs. That hardly qualifies as a failure to fulfill a fiduciary duty. If you otherwise enjoyed your service on the Board and the association members were happy with your volunteer service, I would strongly encourage you to run for reelection to the Board. Community Association governance is challenging but attorneys and Boards need to play by the rules. Your association documents (amended or otherwise) spell out the rights of all unit owners and describe the rules of conduct for elected Board members. It is quite possible that you did not violate your fiduciary duty to the association and your resignation was ill-advised. Of course, I haven’t heard the other side of the story so I don’t have a fair and balanced accounting of what has happened. I do know that there is due process and you have rights. An attorney will help you defend those rights and, hopefully, bring your story to a happy ending. All the best!

Oversized Handicapped Vehicle Not Allowed at the Condo

Friday, May 30th, 2014

J.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I rent a condo that has roughly 700 units. I have a townhouse that has a small garage and a driveway. I am being told that I cannot have a guest park in my driveway because he owns a pickup truck. This is not a commercial trunk just a new Chevy. So I said OK, where is the guest parking and I will have him park there? I was told no; he has to park in the road outside of the complex. He is disabled and cannot walk down a large hill nor walk 5 blocks to get to my condo. I don’t want my landlord to get fined 25 dollars a day. What can I do?

Mister Condo replies:

J.T., I am sorry for your parking problems. Unlike public grounds or city parking lots, condominiums are considered private property and are not required to allow vehicles beyond a certain size the ability to park on their grounds. The rules of the association are in place to protect all unit owners and to establish the guidelines by which unit owners choose to purchase and live within the community. The fact that your parking issue involves a guest who is not a unit owner within the condominium truly negates any reasonable accommodation you could seek through the Board. If you allow your guest to park on association grounds with an oversized vehicle, the unit owner (your landlord, in this case) will very likely be summoned to appear before the Board and eventually be assessed fines. There are very likely rules that will allow the Board to tow the vehicle from the property after repeated offenses. Clearly, simply disobeying the rules will create a hardship for your landlord who will very likely pass that hardship on to you and may even evict you for the offense.

So, the easiest solution is for your visitor to visit but without his oversized vehicle. Perhaps you could offer to pick him up when he comes to visit or meet him at the street and drive him to your home so he can park correctly and you can drive him to your unit. If he has a second vehicle that is within the size restrictions of your condo, he should use that when visiting. You can ask your landlord to petition the Board to allow the oversized vehicle on the property but my guess is that they will deny the request because it opens them up to no longer being able to enforce the oversized vehicle rule which is not wise for most condos because of the typically small garages and driveways that are so common to them. I wish you and your friend all the best in solving this problem!

Noisy Upstairs Condo Neighbor Prevents Unit Owner from Sleeping

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

S.W. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Help, please! This is the first time I’m encountering noise from upstairs unit which prevents me from getting enough hours of sleep. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

S.W., upstairs condo neighbors can often create a lot of noise without even realizing they are creating a problem for the unit owners who live below them. High-rise style condos often have rules in place to help minimize the problem but not always. The first step would be to meet your upstairs neighbor. If you do not already know them, a quick letter will suffice. As politely as possible, explain that you are their downstairs neighbor and you are experiencing a noise problem from your ceiling which is their floor. Depending on the nature of the noise that is bothering you, they may be able to help by turning down a TV or stereo volume, moving a piece of exercise equipment, placing a throw rug on a hardwood floor, or just agreeing to keep it down during hours when you are trying to sleep. Of course, just because they are your neighbor doesn’t mean they have to behave neighborly and your request could fall upon deaf ears.

Now is a good time to review your condo documents and see what peaceable enjoyment measures are in place to help keep things quiet at your condo. Many times there are provisions for what type of floor coverings are allowed. For instance, carpet can help deaden noise and may be a required floor covering. If the upstairs neighbor has removed their carpet and installed hardwood or laminate flooring, which is quite popular these days, they may be in violation of condo rules and you can ask the Board to take action and have the problem remedied. If your by-laws state that there are hours designated as quiet time (10:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m., for instance) then you may inform the Board that your upstairs neighbor is violating the rule and request that action be taken. Generally, the Board will issue a notice and ask the unit owner to appear before the Board to explain their side of the story. If the noise continues, the Board may fine the unit owner. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Like all neighbor versus neighbor issues in condominiums, it really comes down to how people behave when faced with a “good neighbor” issue. I hope your upstairs neighbor is considerate enough to work with you to remedy the problem. If not, you will have to take action to correct the situation. All the best!

For the Dogs – HOA Rules or City Ordinance?

Monday, May 19th, 2014

J.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

If a City Ordinance says dogs must be leashed/tethered, can the HOA enforce you to only have dog on a leash and not securely tied up outside?

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., depending on local laws and the rules of the HOA, the city ordinance may not even come into play. For the most part, you are talking about private property. If the HOA owns the lands that make up any common areas, the city ordinance may not apply. However the rules of the HOA most certainly do so they should be obeyed or face the consequences of breaking the rules (fines or worse for repeated offences). Most HOAs do not allow dogs to be left unattended for the fear of a tied up dog barking and disturbing the peace for the other residents. Leashes are the general rule unless there is a designated dog run or dog park as part of the community. Of course, proper clean-up of dog feces is always required and there may be other restrictions as well. The rules are very likely outlined in your HOA documents. Happy dog walking!

Different Rules for Different Parts of the Condo Complex

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

J.H. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can an association pass rules that apply to different areas of the complex?  Example: can condos backing up to a wooded area be allowed to place solar lights behind their units, but not the units that back up to other units?

Mister Condo replies:

J.H., the condo association can pass all sorts of rules. Passing of rules is generally something that the Board does and it is often in reaction to a problem or complaint. They must be careful that their rules do not discriminate against any owners and they must make sure that their rules do not violate local, state, or federal law. Other than that, it is really at the discretion of the Board who are the elected officials of the community. Your example of solar lights is pretty specific so let’s start there. I cannot think of any reason the Board would allow solar lights on part of the property but not on another part. Perhaps they feel the light going into the woods does not disturb unit owners but the light going into another unit would be considered disturbing. Have you asked why the rule exists? Was there an issue with solar lights at your association? It would be far easier to simply ban the use of solar lighting altogether than it would be to selectively allow it. However, I do not see where such a rule is discriminatory, and I would say that the Board is well within their rights to have such a rule on the books. If you disagree, you might ask the Board to reconsider their position. However, if they do not agree with you, don’t be surprised if the rules remain.

If, however, your Board passes rules that are blatantly discriminatory (i.e. – only unit owners from Building 1 may have guests that can use the visitor’s parking spaces) don’t be afraid to cry foul. You have rights as a unit owner that supersede any rules that the Board may pass. Also, if you are unhappy with how the Board is governing your condo, don’t be afraid to vote them out of office and replace them with new volunteer leaders who will govern with the best interest of all unit owners in mind. They are your elected leaders; you put them in office and you have the power to vote them out of office if you so choose. All the best!

Condo President’s Use of Power Questioned

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

J.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The President of our condo association is not fulfilling his duties. He basically only enforces rules if they apply to him. He will tow a car if he doesn’t have a spot, but will do nothing if there are illegally parked cars otherwise. Last night he had cars stickered, most of which were legally parked with permits in their windows.

The real issue is that, when the association’s rules were written, there were term limits put into place. When the bylaws were distributed, the page was conspicuously missing. I have the bylaws and the page number actually skips. This guy has been the president for almost 8 years because of this. He has personal ties to our management company so it is nearly impossible to get things done.

My question is, who do I report these issues to? Do I have to file a civil suit or is there a government agency that can assist with this?

Mister Condo replies:

J.S., I am sorry for your problems with your Board President. It is unfortunate when volunteer leaders of community associations abuse their positions in such a way as to cause the types of problems you are describing. There are plenty of things you can do to remedy the situation but there is no government agency that I am aware of to assist you with this. And, really, you don’t need one if you take a few corrective steps on your own and in association with your fellow unit owners who are suffering the same abuse of power that you are describing.

First and foremost, I need to ask how does this person continue to be elected and reelected to your Board? Are there no other volunteer leaders to serve? The simplest move is to just vote him out of office at your earliest convenience, which is very likely your next Annual Meeting. Alternatively, if you are unwilling to wait that long, you can organize a recall election that would have him removed from office sooner. This is a little more difficult but if you consult your condo documents it very likely details how you go about doing so. The Board Secretary is the Board Member who usually assists with such proceedings and gives notice of meeting to all unit owners for the recall. Provided a quorum of unit owners attends the meeting or submits their proxy votes, the recall vote can be held and, if successful, the Board member can be ousted at that time. Like I said, it is a little more involved process and the far easier option is to simply vote the person out of office at your next election cycle.

Your third option will cost some money. That would be for you to contact an attorney who specializes in community association law and see if there is, in fact, legal precedent to bring a lawsuit against the Board, the President, and even the management company. The closest government agency you have to work with is the Department of Consumer Protection, who does, in fact, oversee the licensing of Connecticut’s Property Managers and Property Management companies. If the Property Manager has acted against state laws there may be a penalty to the manager for doing so. Since your complaint is primarily against the Board President, and not the Property Manager, this is very likely not necessary and not part of my recommendation.

Here are some items to keep in mind during this process. First, the Board President is usually elected by fellow Board Members after winning election to the Board. That means you are removing him from the Board, not just as Board President. Also, whoever you vote in to replace him will take a seat on the Board, not as Board President but simply as a Board Member. The remaining Board Members will then decide by vote on the officer positions of the Board. Most likely, your President-Elect or Vice President will assume the roles of the President. You have made no mention of other Board members in your question. I certainly hope you have a full slate of Board members serving at this time. I hope that helps. All the best!

Aluminum Wiring at Condo Unit of a Hoarder

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

P.D. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a hoarder compounded with aluminum wiring.  Is there a precedent for how to deal with this problem?

Mister Condo replies:

P.D., my short answer is “Yikes”! You have two very different and potentially very serious issues here. I am not sure which one should be tackled first but my instinct is that a lot of this will boil down to the association’s right to access the unit for inspection and/or remediation. As you know, I am not an attorney but this is a situation where you are very likely going to want to seek the advice of qualified counsel as you may find yourself in need of assistance from the courts in dealing with the hoarding issue, especially if you require access to the unit to remediate the aluminum wiring issue.

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.

Aluminum wiring remediation is necessary to avoid potential electrical problems and fire hazards associated with the wiring. Obviously, you will need access to the unit to perform this repair. My guess is that you will need to get the unit in reasonable order so that workers can get the job done.

Neither of these projects will be simple and correcting the hoarding issue could even be quite costly from a legal perspective. You asked about precedents and there are several I have read about online. Search for “Hoarding and condominiums” and you will see what I saw. There is an excellent article at this website – which I highly recommend.

This is a difficult problem and I do not envy you your task. Speak with association counsel before you begin and be prepared for lots of little setbacks along the way. However, with patience and proper procedure followed I am confident that you will correct both problems. All the best!

Condo Owner in Arrears Seeks Seat on Board

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

T.G. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a Unit Owner who owed more than $2,000 in condo fees. Through legal representation, the Board of Directors agreed to a payment plan for him to bring his account current. This Unit Owner wants to be on the Board of Directors, but it is our understanding that he is not eligible until he has paid all of the back fees and brought his account up to date. Is there a Connecticut Condo Law or Statute covering this issue? We had previously found a statement covering it, but cannot seem to find it again. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

T.G., eligibility to serve on the Board is often dictated in the by-laws of the condominium association. I suspect that it is contained quite specifically in the section of the rules outlining the community’s governance. Alternatively, if there is a section on delinquencies and how rights of delinquent unit owners are affected, you may find the answer for your situation there. However, I think there is a bigger issue to consider, regardless of what the by-laws or even state laws have to say about the matter.

If a unit owner is elected to serve on the Board, the unit owners electing him or her have an expectation that this unit owner will act in the best interests of the entire association. If he has gotten himself into arrears through questionable financial management of his own assets, I think you really have to ask if this is the kind of person you want so close to the association’s assets. Will he be able to separate his situation from the community’s best interests? What if he ends up in further arrears? Will he use his position to influence the Board to not take further collection actions against him? Will he be responsible for deciding how and when the Board will execute their collection plan? I don’t feel that this is an issue of legality as much as it is an issue of integrity.

That being said, if he has satisfied his arrears to the Board’s satisfaction and he is interested in running for the Board there may be little anyone can do to prevent him from doing so. If he is elected and serves honorably, there is no problem. However, if his eligibility to run is forbidden in the by-laws, the community would be well-advised to adhere to those rules. I imagine that if he honors his repayment plan, he will be perfectly eligible in a year’s time. For me, that would suffice. All the best!

Noisy Workout Equipment Creates Problems for Downstairs Condo Neighbor

Friday, April 4th, 2014

J.J. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am unhappy with the level of noise from my upstairs neighbor.  This mostly happens between 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM and each session lasts for half and hour or more.  They use treadmill or other exercise tools.  As soon as they start exercise over the machine, my ceiling and sidewalls starts shaking up with loud noise.  The ceiling fan dance all the time during these sessions.  I have an infant of 7-month old who is not able to sleep while all this activities are in practice.  I am afraid that it might lead to my infant child ill-health who has been deprived of mostly needed sound sleep.

I can handle infrequent loud noise, but this has become too much to handle.  It has interfered with my family sleeping habits, and contributed to migraine headaches. I requested my Condo management to talk to my upstairs neighbor but instead of talking to that neighbor the management responded to my email as follows:

Prior to sending a violation notice from the Association, you will need to try the neighborly approach first and try to work this out on your own. Most likely, they have no idea this is causing a loud noise beneath them. Please touch base with them the next time you hear the noise. Usually, neighbors can come to a friendly agreement. If for some reason, this approach does not work, please send me an email and with the outcome of your discussion with the neighbor and the details (days/times) of the noise.”

I don’t want to go in discussion with my neighbor just in case he is not tolerant or polite. What should I do?  My management has thrown the ball back to my court.  I would like my management to point out to them that perhaps they do not realize that they make so much noise and disturb others.

Mister Condo replies:

J.J., neighbor versus neighbor complaints at condominiums are always a difficult issue for everyone involved. At the heart of the matter is who can do what to get the neighbor to behave better. The Property Manager can only do what the rules allow and what the Board of Directors will enforce. The Board of Directors can only enforce what is in the condo documents. Sometimes, the police are called. They don’t enjoy these issues either because there is usually a question as to whether or not any laws have been broken. It becomes a situation where the ideal solution is for the neighbors to work it out and a figure a way to peacefully coexist.

I actually agree with what your Property Manager is telling you. However, you do not need to physically confront your neighbor if that makes you uncomfortable. You can send a letter instead and use the exact words of the email that was sent to you. Also include a heartfelt note about what you have told me here. Offer to meet with the neighbor to settle this in a neighborly fashion but explain that a meeting is not necessary. You just want to find a way for each of you to enjoy your unit and not drive each other crazy with noise.

Take a look at your condo’s rules about peaceable enjoyment. Noisy activities are likely limited to certain times of day. You can ask the Board to enforce any provision that bans a particular type of behavior. However, the times you have mentioned aren’t likely to fall into that category. How about the weight of the equipment and the type of flooring material on which it rests? A treadmill on hardwood would make a lot more noise than a treadmill on a carpet and rubberized floor mat.

The bottom line is that it takes patience and resolve to straighten out a situation like this. The Board and the Property Manager have very limited powers, especially if no specific rules are being broken. I have seen situations like this escalate to minor warfare with neighbors blasting TVs and stereos at each other at all hours. Please don’t let this happen to you. I hope your neighbor is as reasonable about this issue as you seem to be. Good luck!