Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

Devilish Details in Condo Deck Approval (Part Two)

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

P.E. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

(Editor’s Note – This post references a previous question. You can read the original question and response here: http://caict.org/askmistercondo/devil-is-in-the-details-of-this-condo-deck-addition/)

Thank you for your response in regards to my recent letter about white posts on my deck. I am probably going to have to consult an attorney, but I had a couple more concerns in regards to this situation.

One is that the board is now saying they do not like the darker accent color that was added to the deck as well. The aluminum, no maintenance, rail that we put on the deck did not come in the lighter brown color so I picked the closest color I could. I feel it still falls within their guidelines of a “similar” color and feel that their guidelines were very vague. How can they provide such vague guidelines and expect such a specific outcome? I made it very clear that I was using Trex decking material and that I wasn’t sure if it came in a similar color. In addition all the steps that they have taken seem to be done incorrectly.

First they invited me to a meeting, but provided no agenda as to what was being discussed. That is when they told me I had to remove the white posts. Secondly, they had a hearing at the next meeting and provided me no advance notice that the hearing was taking place. I thought we were having a meeting to further discuss. Supposedly, the letter was mailed to me from their attorney, but I never received it until the actual night of the hearing meeting, when the board handed it to me. They are acting like they are moving forward with legal proceedings, but seemed to have skipped over a bunch of steps in between.

I have written up a petition which I plan on asking the other condo owners to sign, basically saying they do not support what the board is doing and that it is not in the best interest of the association to continue to pursue me legally.

Lastly, as a clarification, I am the owner of the condo, but my mother resides there. I inquired about getting a position on the board, but was told I could not be on the board as a non resident owner. The Vice President of the board (who clearly runs the show) has his car registered in AZ, where he resides 6 months and a day. I asked if he was a resident of AZ how could he be on the Board? The question was completely ignored. Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

P.E., you are welcome for my previous response. Clearly there has been a breakdown in communications here: incomplete plans for improvements, letters from the Board not being received by you, meetings being called without agendas, questions about who is eligible to serve on the Board. It all needs to stop.

It sounds to me like your Board would benefit from some education about the dos and don’ts of running a common interest community in our state. From what you have described they are not functioning properly within the laws as set forth by the Connecticut Common Interest Ownership Act (commonly referred to as “CIOA”). You would do well to speak with a qualified attorney and present your side of the story and the actions taken by the Board. Some actions may be nullified just because proper procedure was not followed. That won’t make your issues go away but it may delay the process until a better solution can be reached.

If all that you state is true, the Board would likely hire their own attorney who would advise them to either bring suit against you or make some type of settlement offer to you by which you agreed to abide by the original permission to install the deck to your submitted specifications. The abundant grey area (deck post colors, new stain colors, etc.) should not have been left off of the original request and certainly shouldn’t have been approved as submitted. This should be a learning experience for both you and the Board should a similar request ever come up again. Stories like this serve to remind the rest of us why Boards so often simply reject requests for additions or improvements. A group of volunteer leaders trying to serve their community are placed between a rock and a hard place. Do they allow the improvements and keep the requesting unit owner happy or do they simply reject the request and keep the association in its current state of architectural compliance?

As for who is or isn’t eligible to serve on the Board, that answer is as close at hand as your condo documents. In most cases, unit ownership is all that is required. If that is the case, you are as eligible to run as the current Vice President. If residency is a requirement as well, you may not be eligible. If you are eligible and interested, I encourage you to run for office. This experience alone should make you quite sympathetic to the needs of your fellow unit owners. Just remember that as a Board Member you may be asked to make the same difficult decisions that your current Board members have been asked to make. My guess is that you won’t be approving too many additions or improvements without knowing all of the details before doing so. All the best!

Board Members Bending Condo Rules

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

D.G. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Seems the rules only apply to some and not to others. We have a one and a half inch book we all signed for this condo association and yet the board members are making their own rules. For instance, one can keep his motor home in the driveway and, in exchange for that, the other one can keep his motor cycle on the premises. Is this legal? It sounds to me like they have a conflict of interest when it only pertains to the two of them. I think the motor home is an eye sore and brings down property values. Can we do anything about this problem?

Mister Condo replies:

D.G., I am loathe to hear about Board Members behaving badly. The charge of the Board member is to behave in such a way as to benefit the entire community of unit owners. Bending rules or selectively enforcing rules for their own advantage is a problem and you can take action. However, unless you can document specific actions taken by these Board members you may have to exhibit some patience while you endeavor to fix the problem.

Certain offenses call for the immediate removal of a Board member. These are big items such as theft of association funds, deliberate destruction of association records, and the like. In cases such as this, board members cannot only be removed but may also face criminal charges depending on the severity of their transgressions. You haven’t described anything like that.

Board members are freely elected by the unit owners of the association. Your easiest solution is to simply vote them out of office at your earliest convenience. No one is granted a position on the Board (although appointments can happen to fill vacancies). The next time there is an Annual meeting at your condo, may I suggest you be prepared to nominate better candidates to represent the interests of all unit owners. Perhaps you would care to volunteer your time in such duty. If the current members are as blatant in their rule-bending as you claim, you should have no difficulty voting them out of office. All the best!

Fined for Littering on Condo Grounds without Due Process

Monday, September 9th, 2013

P.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am getting sued for littering. They haven’t given me any warning. I do not have any idea when how I did this littering they are accusing me with? What should I do?

Mister Condo replies:

P.L., even if your condo has specific rules about littering (almost all do), your Board still has to follow certain protocol before fining you for the offense. I am guessing your Board is unaware of this so it will be up to you to bring it to their attention, preferably in writing. Pursuant to Connecticut law on Common Interest Ownership (also known as CIOA), the procedure for levying fines upon unit owners requires that a written warning be issued to the unit owner, followed by an opportunity for the unit owner to meet with the Board to discuss the offense. If the Board is satisfied that the offense has occurred then they may issue you a fine. You are free to fight the fine but the dollar amount is usually so small ($25 or so) that it is hardly worth the time and effort to do so. For me, the most concerning part is that your Board has not told you what you are being fined for so you cannot defend against the claim or change your behavior if, in fact, you did inadvertently litter the property. Littering can include items such as pet waste, cigarette butts discarded on the property, improper use of dumpster (trash placed in a dumpster is not the same as trash placed near a dumpster) and, of course, flat out tossing of debris on to the common grounds. If someone witnessed a tissue falling from your pocket and reported it as littering, you certainly have a right to defend yourself. If you have done any of the other aforementioned actions, I’m betting if you change your behavior the fines will stop. Good luck!

Extra Window Sought at this Condo

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

M.O. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in an end-unit townhouse condo. Can I install an additional window?

Mister Condo replies:

M.O., on your own, you cannot make any alterations to the existing building. Only your Board can approve such an addition as they are the ones charged with maintaining your condo overall architectural compliance standards. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned down your request. For the most part, condos are built in the manner they are to convey a sense of uniformity. That’s not to say that you won’t find various styles of units within a community. However, the mast plan when the condos were built defined the look and construction of the buildings, including the windows, sliders, doors, garages, and other elements of the buildings. Usually, the Board holds to those blueprints as the guide for what the community should look like. It would be most unusual for the Board to approve so drastic an alteration as the addition of a window. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask; just don’t be surprised if the answer is “no”. All the best.

Do’s and Don’ts for Condo Doggy Do

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

M.R. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A neighbor continually complains about everything in particular related to my dog. They are complaining that she pees on the grounds behind their deck. The dog does favor this area to relieve herself and I believe it is common grounds. The property management says this is not allowed, that I have to take the dog to another area to pee. Is that true?

Mister Condo replies:

M.R., in a word, yes, it is true. Most associations forbid walking of any pets on the common grounds of the association. Check out your condo documents and you will likely see where this rule is detailed. While it may seem unkind to allow pets in the condo and not allow them to be walked on common ground, there is good reason. Pet feces are a health hazard and even urination can cause damage to the landscaping. That yellowing or browning of the grass in Fido’s favorite relief area is an eyesore to the rest of the property.

Enforcement of these rules is another issue altogether. I have seen extremes on both ends of the spectrum. Some associations choose to look the other way and not enforce the rules at all. Some associations have pet patrols ready to report the slightest infraction. Some go as far as to have the dog feces DNA tested so they can determine who owns the offensive pooch! The reality of the matter is that if pets are allowed at the condo it would be a good idea to provide a pet relief area somewhere on or nearby the common grounds. Then pet owners are happy and the folks who want their landscaping to look its best are also happy.

If an association cannot provide suitable pet walking areas and chooses to strictly enforce its “No Pets on the Common Grounds” policy, it might want to consider banning pets altogether. Of course, existing pets would be grandfathered but new pets would be prohibited. That is a bit extreme but it would make the problem go away in a few years time. A better solution, in my opinion, would be to offer a solution to the problem.

Neighbors complaining about other neighbors creates a bad environment for condo dwellers. Fining and harassing pet owners who have no other option than to let their pets do their business on the common grounds will result in a situation like the one you are describing where neighbors become tattlers because no solution was proposed for the problem. Of course, your neighbors have an expectation that you will be a responsible pet owner and follow the rules of the association. I assume your dog is always on a lead and that it is never left unattended or barking. My guess is that if you are following the rules, your neighbors will have nothing to complain about.

Hardwood Floors Installed but Not Allowed at this Condo

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

L.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The owner of the condo unit upstairs from mine has installed a wood floor in violation of the condo rules. The subfloor is also damaged and causes heavy squeaking. Neither the unit owner nor the property manager is interested in remedying this problem.

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., I am sorry that you were not successful in seeking relief from your upstairs neighbor’s flagrant violation of your condo’s policy against hardwood floors. I can imagine the noise created from folks walking around is quite loud in your unit. I can’t imagine why they aren’t willing to enforce the rules but all is not lost. You did not mention what action the Board will take on your behalf but I would write to them and state your case to see if they will order the property manager to take action. If that doesn’t work, you simply need to hire an attorney to seek remedy through the courts. If you cannot afford an attorney or you would prefer to represent yourself, I believe that it is as simple as suing your neighbor for an illegal flooring installation. You will need to provide a copy of your condo bylaws that state that wooden floors are not allowed. The judge will likely order the removal of the floor and/or the repair of the subfloor at your neighbor’s expense. Good luck!

When Can I Hold a Yard Sale at my Condo?

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

H.S. from Windham County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a certain person I need to ask to have a yard sale, or am I allowed to have one whenever? The tenants next door and across the street have had yard sales a few months ago, and I would like to have one by the end of summer

Mister Condo replies:

H.S., while the rules vary by condo, generally speaking, condo associations don’t allow unit owners to hold their own yard sales. In fact, many condo associations don’t allow them at all. That may not be the case in your condominium so you should definitely seek permission before advertising or setting up for a yard sale. You mention that nearby neighbors held a yard sale a few months ago. You can ask them how it is that there yard sale came to be. My guess is that the entire community is allowed one weekend out of the year for such an event and you missed this year’s event. You should definitely inquire with a person of authority. Ideally, you should ask a property manager or someone on the Board of Directors. You might also wish to consult your condo docs as to what rules or prohibitions are in place regarding yard sales. Once you have the proper permission you can go ahead and plan your event. Without the proper permission, you could face fines and the disdain of neighbors and your community. Hardly worth it just to make a few bucks at a yard sale. Happy Selling!

Bay State Condo Pet Conundrum

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

J.A. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in Massachusetts in a condo.  We have always been allowed dogs an able to take them anywhere on the property but get fined if you don’t pick up the feces.  Now they have demanded we all keep our dogs off the entire property and are only to walk them down the driveway to the street and that if I even let my dog pee on a telephone pole that is partly on the property I will be fined.  Is this legal that they can force us to take our dogs to the street and not provide us with any kind of dog area for the animals to do their business? It seems to me if they allow pets there should be some designated area?

Mister Condo replies:

Greetings from Connecticut, J.A.! I am not an attorney so I will give you only practical advice. For a true answer to your “Is this legal” question, I would ask that you speak with a qualified attorney in your area. You can find an excellent list at http://www.caine.org/_documents/ResourceDirectories/Attachment/ResourceDirectories_69.pdf which was recently published by the New England Chapter of the Community Associations Institute.

From a practical standpoint, your Board is likely interpreting your condo’s rules and regulations to state that allowing pets to be walked on the common grounds is not allowed. If that is the rule, then they are well within their rights to enforce the rule even if they have been lax on rule enforcement in the past. However, there is a big difference between Rover lifting a leg on a telephone pole and a giant mastiff defecating front and center of the common walkway. You state that the previously allowed activity was to allow for pet walking provided the owner picked up after the pet. That seems sensible to me. If you can convince your Board of the same, you may be able to have them revert to the old enforcement policy. However, if they don’t see it your way, you may need to mobilize with other pet owners to apply pressure to the Board and/or elect new Board members who see it your way. If neither of those options are feasible, you may have to live with the rules as they are. Unless your condo docs indicate that a pet walking area is provided, your association is not likely under any obligation to provide one even if your documents do allow for pets to be housed in the condos. Good luck!

Condo Window Covering Rules in the Windy City

Monday, August 19th, 2013

S.M. from Chicago writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In Illinois, can a condo association limit the colors or type of window coverings (drapes or blinds)?  If they can limit colors would the association have to provide them?

Mister Condo replies:

S.M., thanks for writing from Chicago. I am not an attorney nor am I an expert in Illinois law on common interest communities in your state. However, as a general rule, condominiums have rules about what is and isn’t allowed for window decorations which can include drapes and/or blinds. The Board of Directors is responsible for all areas of architectural compliance which may include window treatments depending on your condo documents which you should refer to for a more detailed answer. When you purchased your condo you did agree to abide by the rules of the association which would appear to include your window treatments. I am unaware of any condominium that provides window coverings so my guess is that you are responsible for the cost whatever you decide to do. All the best!

Golf Cart Declared Out of Bounds at this Condo

Friday, August 9th, 2013

G.S. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My association states that the Master Deed prohibits golf carts. They claim that I would be fined if I kept one in my garage and drove one on the streets. What right have they to tell me what I can and cannot have in my garage? How can they preclude driving a licensed and insured golf cart on the street when they allow all other types of vehicles to do so?

Mister Condo replies:

G.S., your association has all kinds of rights to allow or disallow vehicles onto the common areas of the association. In most associations, the roads are private and completely owned by the association. It could be an insurance issue; it could be just an antiquated rule from the original Declaration and by-laws of the association. Have you seen the actual rule? I suggest you take a look at your copy of the community’s rules and regulations. They were part of the legal and lengthy set of documents you signed when you agreed to abide by the rules of the community when you moved in. If the document prohibits golf carts, I am afraid you will need to abide by the rules or face fines or further punitive action. On the flip side, if you live in a community where golf carts would make an acceptable means of transportation, you may wish to petition the Board to consider changing the rule. If enough of your neighbors and the Board see it your way, the rule may just be changed. If not, you may just have to take a Mulligan and get rid of your golf cart. All the best!