Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

HO-6 or Else! Can the Condo Association Require Proof of Insurance?

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

L.H. from New Jersey writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I apologize, I do not live in Connecticut, but I am hoping you will have an answer. I own and live in a condo in New Jersey. We have a new company managing our property. We got a letter stating that we are required to show proof of an HO-6 policy by a certain date, and if it is not provided by then, daily fines will be assessed. I do have condo insurance, but wouldn’t it be my right to not carry it if I so chose since they are my assets that would be affected in the event of some sort of disaster?

Mister Condo replies:

L.H., greetings to you in the Garden State! The new management company may simply be performing due diligence by enforcing a provision that is already in your condo documents. It is not uncommon for condo associations to require compliance with insurance regulations. Perhaps your previous management company was not as diligent to do so. From what you are telling me, the letter that was sent sounded more like a warning than a request for compliance. That is simply a matter of style. I am glad to hear that you do carry personal insurance for the interior of your unit. I hope all of your neighbors do as well. Even if it were not required, it is just good sense. Many times I hear of condo owners who are surprised when there is damage to their unit that is not covered by the association’s master policy. Having to pay for new cabinets, carpets, flooring, etc. can be a rude wake up call to always keep an HO-6 policy in place to protect yourself and your condo. All the best!

Multiple Condo Problems, Singular Problem Source

Monday, May 27th, 2013

J.O. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Recently, my condo association sent me a letter that I have to remove my garden that I had placed below my deck about 6 years ago. It was the length of the deck and about 6 feet deep. It was in the common area, but I had asked a board member (the president) at the time if I can have a garden there. I was told that I can, as long as I do the upkeep and do not plant shrubs or trees. The new board still decided that I have to remove it and replant grass there. I complied with that, even though there are few other unit owners that have gardens in the back of their units, and I was told that this rule will be applicable to all. Still waiting for a response from my management company as to which units were notified to remove their gardens besides mine. Over the years I have invested significant amount of money there, and I feel like I am being singled out. Can I sue them for my losses?

Now, I have received a letter from my association that stated that I am in violation of another rule. This time it is towels and my 3 year-old child’s cloths that are being dried on the deck. The deck is enclosed, and my child is allergic to wearing clothes that have been dried in the gas drier. I do not see anything in rules and regulations about the laundry. All is there “No hangings of an offensive nature shall be permitted to be hung from the exterior of any unit or in portions of the interior of any unit which shall be visible from the common elements”. Is there anything that I can do about this?

I have also heard from one of the unit owners, that I was also accused of speeding. All the accusations come from the same unit owner. I do not speed. I have a three year-old son who I have to watch very closely when he plays outside, so that he does not run on the road. I drive a standard shift Honda Civic, and from my unit to the stop sign there is a distance of about 20 yards, and another 30 I am guessing that I will be receiving another letter soon about that. Is there anything that can be done about this? Thanks for your advice.

Mister Condo replies:

J.O., miscommunication between condo boards and the residents that dwell inside the condominium is always a challenge. When a board member casually grants permission for a resident to disobey a rule, any rule, there is almost always consequences. I am sorry for your troubles but let’s talk about what can be done to rectify the situation.

With regards to your garden, the Board president who told you it was acceptable to plant under your deck truly did you no favor. While he may have been willing to look the other way while the community rule was broken, the new Board is not. Had he offered to bring it up for a vote at the next Board meeting, he may have been able to get the rule changed to allow you and other community members as well to create under deck planting areas. Since that didn’t happen, I don’t see where you have any grounds to contest the Board’s request that you remove the garden and restore the common area to its original condition. However, if this rule is not being applied unilaterally and you feel you are being discriminated against you should contact an attorney to bring a discrimination suit against your Board. Discrimination is illegal and the rules need to be applied fairly and evenly.

Drying of clothes on decks is generally forbidden at most condos. Even though it may seem petty to you, most of your neighbors would likely agree that they don’t want to see everyone else’s laundry being aired throughout the complex. There has been debate on this topic and federal level. To date, it is up to the condo association to make the call. It sounds like yours has decided against the practice. I think you will need to find another way to dry your laundry. Perhaps an electric dryer if the gas one is an allergy problem for your child.

As for speeding or any other rule infraction you are accused of, your Board needs to follow a simple process of notifying you that an infraction has been reported. You have the right to address the Board to say what you have told me and the Board has the right to discuss the matter and determine whether or not a violation has occurred. They then have the discretionary authority to levy a fine against you if they deem the offense occurred. My guess is once you present your case as you’ve done here, they’ll drop it.

It sounds like you have made an enemy in a unit owner who is reporting things about you to the Board. Neighbor versus neighbor issues are the most difficult to control in small condo associations. If you can’t make nice with this person, you will likely be cited for more infractions, real or imagined. My guess is that once you repair your garden, stop air drying your laundry on your deck, and make peace with your Board, these complaints will stop. If not, you might consider speaking with an attorney to discuss how best to get this neighbor to stop complaining against you. Not breaking the association rules is generally the best way to make it stop but sometimes it just takes a bit more. Best wishes!

Little Dog, Big Problems for the Condo Owner

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

D.R. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a one dog rule in our condo. My daughter who is away at school left me her 5lb. Papillion to take care of about a year ago. This dog was sick and had been neglected by my first wife. Unfortunately, we already had a dog of our own. We have been found out and received 2 letters from the board. Today we attended the board meeting to plead with them to allow us another few months, when my daughter will be able to take care of the dog herself. I don’t know what they are going to decide. They vote in private. What are my rights in this situation, if any? Is there any way to legally keep them off our backs? We are good people and never made any trouble.

Mister Condo replies:

D.R., I feel for your troubles. You were very kind to agree to take in your daughter’s dog while she was away at school. However, your kindness to your daughter and her dog does not supersede the rules and by-laws of the condominium association to which you voluntarily agreed to abide by when you purchased your condo. As for specific rights, I do not believe you have any. As for the sympathy of your fellow condo residents who serve on the Board, I am sure you have them. You have put them in a sticky situation. If they set aside the one dog rule for you, they effectively have to set the rule aside for everyone or they could open up the association to discrimination charges in the future. They vote in private for good reason. This is an important decision for them and their ruling can have long-reaching affects. My guess is they will find against you and ask you to remove the dog or face fines. Ideally, you will find a temporary home for the dog until your daughter can reclaim it. However, if that is not possible and you wish to keep the dog in your condo, you will likely be fined by your association. You can hire an attorney and fight these fines or you can simply pay them until such time as your daughter can take her dog back. Since you are good people and never make any trouble, I trust you will find the solution that works best for you and for your association. Best wishes.

Irritated Over Condo Irrigation

Friday, May 17th, 2013

B.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My husband and I live in a small condo complex where the outside maintenance is paid for by the association.  The irrigation systems, however, are individual in that each owner pays for the water used to irrigate the area around their condo. We have one home owner who rents out his units and refuses to water the lawns whenever they are unoccupied. In the summer of 2011 the grass died out because the water was turned off at the meter. The owner has been repeatedly told, several times verbally, and most recently in writing, that the replacement of the lawn is his responsibility since he did not water the lawn during the time that his unit was vacant. His property manager told the board that the lawn would be replaced several months ago, but this hasn’t been done. The HOA can replace the lawn and charge him back for it, but the next time the unit is vacant for any length of time, we will be back in the same situation. Additionally, the unit with the dead lawn is at the front of the complex and is quite an eyesore. It detracts from the overall looks and some other owners who have placed their property up for sale have complained that it is hurting their ability to sell. Any ideas of what the association can do to help resolve this issue in both the short- and long-terms?

Mister Condo replies:

B.M., poor curb appeal isn’t helpful to anyone, including the unit owner who has let the grass die. It can decrease property values and lower interest to potential renters as well. It was poorly thought out at the condo’s inception to make individual unit owners responsible for watering the common areas around their units. It leaves too much open to interpretation. At best, it may save the association a small bit of money over installing automated irrigation systems that are paid for and maintained by the association. At worst, you are seeing just how much of a problem can be created by this system. Imagine the money that is being lost in unit sales and the potential money that will be spent on attorney’s fees suing this unit owner for allowing the grass in the common area to die. The landlord and the Board are even getting into a battle over “he said/they said” to boot.  This is a “lose/lose” proposition.

Short-term, the grass needs to be replaced and watered. Long-term is another story. Your board didn’t design the system; they just inherited it during the developer transition phase of the project. That doesn’t mean they can’t fix it. I would encourage your Board to solicit bids from reputable irrigation companies that specialize in this type of work. Modern irrigation systems are affordable and reliable. They even save money in the long run because they are far more efficient than anything a homeowner with a hose could provide. Plus, it takes the manpower burden off of the unit owner. Yes, there will be an initial cost to converting to this system but, trust me, it will more than pay for itself in the long run. You can start by speaking with some of the CAI member landscaping experts you’ll find at http://www.caict.org/vendor_directory.htm#Landscaping. These folks all know a thing or two about keeping things green at condo associations in our state just like yours. Best wishes!

Too Many Dogs Spoil the Condo!

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

G.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a complex where we are allowed one dog per unit. About a year ago, a long standing resident had her 2 children move in with her from another state. Both children brought with them a dog! The first we knew, there were 2 dogs; a bigger dog and a little dog. She was very aware of our by-law regarding the one dog per unit rule. The board spoke to her and she stated her children would not be staying long as they would get their own place to live and the dogs would be gone. A month went by and the 2 dogs were still there.  The board sent her a formal letter that the second dog had to go. The board didn’t see the smaller of the 2 dogs again. However, neighbors have consistently stated that the second dog was still in the unit. With no proof of ever seeing the second dog (obviously it does not get walked or exercised at all) the board had no recourse. The board couldn’t go and break down the door! Now that the springtime is here and the windows are open, it is very apparent that there are 2 dogs barking within the unit. What recourse does our association have with no proof of seeing the second dog, only hearing it?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Mister Condo replies:

G.T., I feel for all parties involved here. The bottom line is that the unit owner is violating the by-laws by housing two dogs and the association has a right to enforce the rule. Just because the dog isn’t seen on the property doesn’t mean they can’t prove the dog is there. I guess what it really boils down to is how strictly the Board wants to enforce the rules of the community. In general, the problem with letting a unit owner break a rule is that it sends the wrong message to other unit owners about following the rules. If this unit owner can have multiple dogs, why can’t others? Before long, the whole place could be going to the dogs!

If the Board is intent about enforcing the one dog rule they can do one of two things. First, with the condo dog sight unseen and undocumented, they can use the statements by neighbors that the unit is, in fact, housing multiple dogs. They can issue a warning to the unit owner and request the unit owner address the Board before they begin fining the unit owner whatever penalty is outline in your condo by-laws. Once the fines start rolling in, the unit owner is likely to address the issue and remove the second dog. Also, barking dog fines are not uncommon, regardless of the number of dogs housed in the unit.

Most condominiums allow for inspection of premise by the Board and/or property manager. This goes to your “kick down the door” comment. No, this does not mean they can simply enter at will but they can arrange an inspection of the unit to determine if there is evidence of multiple dogs living in the unit. This would be a last resort as this type of action could be considered harassment if no other unit in the condominium is facing this type of inspection.

The final piece of this puzzle is just how good a resident is this long-standing owner? Are these children who have moved in with her really just temporary guests or is this their new home? You mentioned that these children moved in almost one year ago. Surely they would have found new housing by now if they were looking. No unit owner has the right to flagrantly break the rules without consequence. I’d begin with the letter from the Board to address the violation and then start the fines until the problem is corrected. It is an unfortunate situation at best but, hopefully, it can be cleared up before too much longer. All the best.

Condominium Government and Enforcement

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

N.P. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is the governing body of the condo association?  What is the enforcement body?

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., the condominium documents should spell out the governing body of your condominium. For most condos, the Board of Directors is the governing and enforcement body. These are the volunteer leaders elected to serve as Directors and Officers of the Association. Additionally, they may hire a Property Management firm or Property Manager to assist in the day-to-day dealings of the Association, which may include some governance and enforcement issues. It is also not uncommon for the Board of Directors to hire other professionals like attorneys, debt collectors, security personnel who may also have powers granted through the Board to aid them in their duties of governing the association. Thank you for the question!

This Condo Pet Policy is for the Dogs

Monday, May 6th, 2013

M.R. from Westchester County, NY writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condo in Westchester County, NY.  We have a one dog per unit rule. I requested a number of times and was declined to own a second dog. Our condo new construction of 140 units is half sold and the board approved newcomers with multiple dogs in order to make the sale. Where are my rights? Can I override their decisions? I did get a second dog and, of course, they want me to remove the dog.  Please advise.

Mister Condo replies:

M.R., as a dog lover myself, I feel your pain. It is unfortunate that you went out and got a second dog before this issue had been resolved between you and your Board. From a purely technical standpoint, I do not believe your Board has done anything illegal. However, from an ethical standpoint I can completely see how you feel slighted that the rules you agreed to abide by are being set aside for new residents. The simplest answer is for you to sell your existing unit and purchase one of the new units where the rules are different. However, that may not be financially feasible. Renew your request to the Board to allow you to have more than one dog. Be sure to cite the examples you have discussed here. If you wish to add a little “oomph” to your request, I would suggest you hire an attorney and bring suit against the Board for discriminating against you as an existing owner. You may not win the suit but you may get the Board to grant your request just to avoid the nuisance of having to hire an attorney to defend against the suit. Ideally, they will change the policy from one dog to two dogs since they have clearly abandoned the long standing one dog rule. All the best!

Condo Neighbors Behaving Like Animals!

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

B.D. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have one neighbor that does not like me feeding the wild animals and she has told me this. A letter was also sent out not to feed the wild animals. I feel bad that these animals are hungry and I have curbed feeding them. However, the neighbor found some cut-up apples that I threw out for the deer and she (I THINK it was her) threw them outside my car and put some on my car windshield, which I feel was going over the line. Do I have any recourse of action I can take if this happens again?

Mister Condo replies:

B.D., one of the greatest challenges of community association living is finding common ground on which all can agree when it comes to acceptable behavior within the association. Feeding feral animals is a bad idea on many levels but I do appreciate your compassion. Vandalizing your car with apples is borderline criminal activity and you are certainly within your rights to call the police if it happens again. Keep in mind without witnesses or evidence it would be a “he said / she said” situation which is tricky to prosecute and really not the kind of thing the police like to waste their resources on. A far better solution would be for you to stop feeding the feral animals, which is against the rules of your condo from what you are telling me. If you are witnessed doing so, you may be fined if it is a violation of your rules. My guess is that the harassment from your neighbor would cease as well. At the same time, have you considered discussing the feral animal problem with your town’s animal control department? There may be a humane way to get these animals off of the property which would be in everyone’s best interest. Feral animals often spread disease and can pose a real problem for people who use your common areas for recreation. That solution would help you, your neighbors, and help the animals. Why not give it a try?

How to Stop Secondhand Condo Smoke?

Friday, April 26th, 2013

C.O. from Windham County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! We have a nuisance policy concerning odors coming from other units. There are some smokers who live on the first floor of my condo building. Their smoke fumes/gasses enter into the upstairs condos. I have read that there is a 50/50 chance the courts will back the non-smoker and require the smoker to NOT smoke in their unit, as they have no legal protected right. Our Master deed states that the Board may adopt Rules and regulations when necessary for health and other reasons. Can the Board places a rule in the “Rules and regulations” stating that “If an owner has an issue with the second-hand smoke coming from the unit and entering the non-smokers unit that the Board will send that smoking owner a certified letter stating that smoking in their unit will not be allowed due to Owner health concerns.”?

Mister Condo replies:

C.O., the issue of secondhand smoke has come up at condominiums all over the country. In some states, smoking bans have worked in the favor of the non-smokers seeking relief. In Connecticut, the law may be on your side although there are specific steps you and your Board can take to ban smoking the right way. The CT Department of Public Health has published an excellent guide to help you along. Point your browser to their website at http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?A=3137&Q=486714 and follow their simple steps. Of course, owners that are smokers are likely to oppose the action so don’t expect a simple passage of the new rule. There will be debate, likely heated, about what can be done in the privacy of one’s own home. However, with perseverance, I believe you can create a smoke-free environment for all residents. Good luck!

Renters Causing Financial and Rules Enforcement Problems for Condo

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

D.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is our association allowed to add on a “management service fee” for units which are rented?  We have a large complex with a large number of rentals. Should the landlords expect the association to be used as a free on site management service? Many of these landlords are off site; some are even out of state. They cannot deal with their tenants, many of whom are not following rules & regulations. Our management now has to deal with tenants and the landlord. Why should this extra service be taken out of our fees? This should be something they should be paying for.

Mister Condo replies:

D.C., so many issues in a condo complex like yours! I feel your frustration. Let’s take a look at a reasonable approach to handling the management of these issues. First off, you asked about a “management service fee”. The short answer is “Yes”. As long as the association puts a rule in place describing the fees for units which are rented, there is no reason a “management service fee” couldn’t be assessed to units that are rented. Many condo associations have a series of fees for rental units. They include move in/move out fees which are collected every time the unit gets a new tenant. A monthly increase to common fees for rental units could be implemented as well. Of course, documentation is critical and the landlords should be required to provide copies of the lease and all of the relevant information about who will be living there, what pets, if any, they are allowed and what vehicles they will park on the property. As for rules and regulations not being observed by the tenants, the Board should follow proper procedures for documenting these offenses, offering warning letters and opportunities to appear before the Board to explain the violations, fines and even eviction for repeat offenders. Eviction is particularly tricky to enforce but as long as the proper procedures are followed, you can have problem tenants removed over time. Also, by pressuring the landlords to have their tenants comply with the rules you have a double-edged sword to wage your attack on the tenants who misbehave. It takes time, but you can correct the situation, compensate the community properly for maintaining a large number of rental units, and restore the peaceable enjoyment that all unit residents are entitled to. Good luck!