Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

Condo Board Forcing Removal of Unregistered Car Stored in Garage

Monday, November 11th, 2013

J.B. from New London County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a Connecticut Condo Association force the removal of an unregistered vehicle from an owner’s garage?

Mister Condo replies:

J.B., as you may know, I am not an attorney so, please, consider my advice here as friendly and not legal. For a true legal opinion, I advise you to consult with an attorney who is verse in condo law. As a general rule condo association boards are empowered to remove any items from community association grounds that they deem inappropriate, dangerous, or in violation of community association rules. Depending on how your garage is classified, it may be a common or limited common element giving the Board the authority to enforce provisions of the association’s by-laws, which, I’m guessing from your question, include a provision prohibiting unregistered vehicles on the property. If, however, your garage is entirely owned by you, the association board may be overstepping their authority. Regardless of whether they are in the right or not, there is a procedure they need to follow before forcing the removal of your vehicle. They need to send you a letter informing you that you are in violation of the association rules regarding unregistered vehicles. They need to give you an opportunity to address the Board and the accusation. They then need to vote to take action against you either in the form of a fine or in the removal of the vehicle if the by-laws so state.

My bigger question for you might be why do you have an unregistered vehicle in your condo garage? May I assume if it is unregistered that it is also uninsured? If so, how did it get in your garage and what are your long-term plans to dispose of the vehicle or get it registered? The risk to you and your association is primarily damage that could be caused in the event of accident or if the vehicle were to catch fire. If it is unregistered and uninsured, the association could be at risk if there were an accident, which is why almost every association I know of has a by-law prohibiting unregistered cars on the common grounds. If the simple act of registering the vehicle will satisfy your condo association and allow you to keep the car, why not just get it registered? Otherwise, why not just dispose of the car? You’ll get the use of your garage space back and keep your association happy. As I often say, “the best way to have a good neighbor is to be one.” All the best!

Maryland Condo Board Governance Issues

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

W.S. from Maryland writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The Maryland Condominium Act (11-109d) authorizes the Council of Unit Owners enumerated powers subject to the Act and its own declaration, and bylaws.  Number (16) is the right to “… and, after notice and an opportunity to be heard, levy reasonable fines for violations of the declaration, bylaws, and rules and regulations of the council of unit owners.”  The “Powers and Duties” of the Condo Board in its By-law notes that the board may do …  “as are not by law or these By-laws directed to be exercised and done by the unit owners.”

So — can a board of directors (several associations have identical By-laws) enact rules/regulations (yes) to legally fine violators (no)?

When president of a Maryland board, I would not support fining.  I proposed a patriotic rule that would require only red cars to be parked in odd numbered spaces, white cars in free spaces, and blue cars in even numbered spaces.  After all I would have needed only two other board members to impose this edict on all hundred or so owners.

The last section is a fun thing while the first is very (legally) serious.

Thanks

PS:  You probably know that even though authorized by State law, the supreme courts of both Virginia and Rhode Island have found the laws imposing fines on condominium owners to be unconstitutional.

Mister Condo replies:

W.S., as you probably know I am not an attorney nor do I lay claim to a vast knowledge of all of the individual state laws regarding common interest communities. I am aware that Maryland has been very proactive in legislating what can and cannot be done by Boards with regards to how they govern the folks who have elected them to do so. In that way, your state is not so different from Connecticut where a large modernization of the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA) that occurred in 2010/11 is coming to have great effect on how many Boards interpret the state statute as compared to simply abiding by their original condominium documents as had been the norm for many years. Regardless of which state your condominium is in, the Board must first abide by federal laws (few) followed by state laws (numerous and vary from state to state), local municipal law (becoming more common although primarily in larger cities) and then their own governing documents.

Ignorance of these laws is no excuse for not following them although, for the most part, it is incumbent upon the individual unit owners to take action against their Board when their rights are violated. States such as Florida which require Board members to become certified through state-mandated training and states such as Illinois who have a voluntary program of Board member training are seeing positive results in many of their community associations although even that system isn’t flawless. It really all comes down to education. In my state, many associations have come to rely on the local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI).

You have two excellent chapters that service different parts of Maryland. The Chesapeake Region Chapter at http://www.caimdches.org/ and the Washington Metro Chapter at http://www.caidc.org/. If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to get in touch with them and seek to work with them to clarify best community governance practices for communities like yours. Thanks for the red, white, and blue humor. I find it best that we all take ourselves a little less seriously from time to time. It helps everyone enjoy their community association living situation a little bit more. When everyone plays nice and follows the rules, there can be no better place to live. All the best!

Unlicensed Contractors and Condo Association Insurance Question

Monday, November 4th, 2013

V.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We were recently told by our Manager that any workman on the property that does not have a license doing work inside or outside of the condo and sues the association for anything, that the condo insurance is primary and homeowners is secondary. This does not sound correct since the association should not be responsible for the actions of others who do not obey the rules. Thank you. Await your guidance.

Mister Condo replies:

V.B., unlicensed or uninsured contractors are generally forbidden to perform work on association grounds as outlined in the association’s documents. Most association by-laws are clear on this and for good reason. Any unlicensed or uninsured contractor who gets hurt or damaged on association property is likely to sue everyone involved, including the association. Homeowner’s insurance generally protects homeowners from damages incurred inside their home, whether a friend trips on a rug or a contractor injures himself while remodeling a bathroom. A true accident is just that and most HO-6 policies (homeowner’s insurance in CT) provide some type of coverage for injuries sustained inside a unit. However, in the case of a contractor injured while performing work, it is possible that an injury would result in a lawsuit where the association was also named as a defendant. That is just an unfortunate reality of our overly litigious society. The association is not responsible for the actions of others; they are responsible for protecting the association’s assets, in this case the association’s cash reserve.

As far as which insurance pays first or second it is really a question of how the lawsuit is presented. If an uninsured or unlicensed contractor were hired by a homeowner without the association’s knowledge or approval, it is very unlikely that the association would be at fault. However, in order to protect all owners within the association proper insurance is maintained in the event of a lawsuit. After the legal proceedings were over I would expect the association to then sue the homeowner for violating the association’s governing documents and hiring an uninsured or unlicensed contractor. The insurance makes the association strong. Proper procedure makes the association whole

Condo’s Dog Policy has Bronx Condo Dweller Foaming at the Mouth

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

L.M. from Bronx, NY writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The building I live in has a no dog policy but many people have dogs on the premises. In my building alone there are 6 dogs; one actually resides across the hall from me. I do not own my apartment; I rent, but the neighbors across from me do own their apartment and also have a dog. I have been to court regarding this and the end result is me having to move after 14years at this location. How is it fair that they target me for having a dog and not the condo owners as well? The policy applies to everyone renters or owners correct? Please help, I am at my wit’s end and am currently going to Court to get an Order to Show Cause to Stay Eviction but I am now thinking about filing a discrimination claim. Am I in the right???

Mister Condo replies:

L.M., I am not an attorney so please take this advice as friendly and not legal. For legal advice, I advise you to speak with an attorney in your area who is familiar with your local laws. It sounds like you may have already done so. The condo building you live in is governed by a group of volunteer unit owners who have been selected by the unit owners of the association. Their job is to maintain, protect, and enhance the association’s common property which includes the building you live in. It is not uncommon for the Board to adopt rules that apply only to renters. They do this to protect the property from extra “wear and tear” that is generally associated with renters. Usually, there are “move in/move out” fees, rental fees for extra paperwork needed to document the renters, and, unfortunately for you and your dog, pet restrictions. Your rental agreement with your landlord likely describes the pet restrictions but, if it doesn’t, you may have recourse with your landlord. Again, that is an item for you and your attorney to discuss.

In my experience, discrimination against a renter with pets is challenging to prove. However, since there are other pets in the building it is possible that you have been singled out. This would be especially true if you could demonstrate that other renters are allowed to have pets. I am no expert on NY discrimination laws but I am betting that this is what your attorney will focus on if you decide to move forward with a discrimination lawsuit.

Whatever the outcome, I am sorry for your plight. It seems a shame for the community to lose a 14-year resident, regardless of the circumstance. I wish you and your pet all the best, even if it involves you finding a pet-friendly home for both of you.

Smoking Condo Neighbor is a Pain in the Butt!

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

S.B. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a new neighbor at my condo who is a heavy smoker. I am not a smoker so his smoking is really annoying to me. I find I cannot escape the smell of cigarette smoke from his unit as it seems to seep in through the walls. He also has a habit of sitting on the concrete steps in front of his unit. When he is done smoking, he usually crushes his cigarette on the side of the step and allows the butt to drop to the ground. I am uncomfortable approaching him as I do not know him but I really want this behavior to stop. Do you have any ideas?

Mister Condo replies:

S.B., the battle over smoking in condominiums has heated up across the country but only continues to smolder here in Connecticut. I have plenty of ideas but the reality is that as long as he is not violating any of your condo bylaws, local laws, or state laws, he is well within his right to smoke in and outside of his condo. The first line of attack may be a simple conversation. I wouldn’t lead with the smoking but just get to know your neighbor. Welcome him to the community and politely introduce yourself. When he lights up in front of you, you might excuse yourself and point out that you are allergic or hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. This may be enough for him to think twice before lighting up on the front porch next time. Doubtful, but worth a try.

Your condo bylaws very likely address littering which is what he is doing when he allows his cigarette butts to drop to the ground. You may wish to inform your Property Manager or Board of the behavior and see if they take action. It doesn’t stop the smoke but it may alleviate the litter. You may wish to contact an attorney to see if in fact you can take legal action to stop the smoking. Your bylaws likely allow for peaceable enjoyment of your unit and you may be able to argue that second-hand smoke is preventing you from that right.

Finally, if you and enough other people in the state reach out to lawmakers it is possible that we can see legislation to ban smoking in common interest communities. Such laws already exist in other parts of the country so there is a precedent. Other than that, I am afraid there is little you can do but grin and bear it or move from your unit. It is a sad state of affairs when one unit owner’s right to smoke is in direct conflict with a neighboring unit owner’s right to a safe and clean environment but as more and more people become victim’s of such abuse, it is quite possible that we will see the laws change to protect everyone’s right to healthy air inside their own condo. Good luck!

NY Condo Board Not Following Condo Bylaws

Monday, October 28th, 2013

L.L. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo bylaws state that beneficial or necessary “alterations or improvements” over 5% (~$13,000) of the annual budget must be approved by 2/3 of unit owners. Because of abuse complaints, there is also a bill being considered in New York that would make it a state law that association contracts over a predetermined cost must be approved by owners. The current board, with the support of property managers and committee members (including one with local political and board experience) have chosen to ignore the bylaws, despite reminders from unit owners.

In the past year they have, without presenting contracts to owners or holding a vote,: replaced a ~6,000 SF silver slate roof with brown asphalt, and “saved money” by leaving a worn out and unrepaired copper ice shield and gutter system in place. Dozens of new shingles blew off 2 months later, valley flashing has gaps and daylight visible from inside the attic, and the roof and gutters leak (costing unit owners almost $48,000.00); constructed an underground storm system and connected roof drains that will “save money” by skipping routine gutter system and grading repairs. The project had no effect on targeted black ice and swampy lawns because these are also due to neglected grading and pavement maintenance unrelated to roof drainage (~$30,000.00); completely demolished an intact 16′ x 18′ porch structure with timber trellis, slate roof, metal lath and plaster ceiling rather than repair a header and damaged gutter, and replaced it with a vinyl and asphalt covered roof they believe will “save money” because it will never need painting, and failed to get a required building permit before starting the work (~$23,000.00); and, unit roofing improvements they were informed by engineering professionals will not mitigate severe ice dams and do not even meet minimum requirements of the current building code but “save money” because the work cost less than the recommended work estimate (~$20,000.00 spent and ~$20,000.00 planned).

Unbelievably, unit owners say they trust the board who trust the property managers and the contractors, and all claim they have done quality work and saved the association money. The unit owners don’t understand, don’t want to know details or care if they vote on contracts! So, the real answer is, a board can spend and do whatever they can delude unit owners and themselves into believing what should be done. Until there are laws requiring a higher level of skill, training and ethics among property managers, perhaps even requirements for board volunteers, and channels other than expensive litigation to protect unit owners who see the system being abused, state laws and condo bylaws mean nothing. Boards can and will continue to do whatever they want, no matter how wrong, illegal or just plain stupid. What do you think?

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., greetings from your Nutmeg State neighbors in Connecticut. It would appear that your fellow unit owners do not share your concerns over the proper governance of your condominium by your current Board. It would also appear that the Board has made a few mistakes, innocent or other, that have cost the community money. However, unless the Board is called on their actions, there really is no other remedy for you. Regardless of how other unit owners respond, you do have the right to have the bylaws enforced. However, exercising that right will require you to take legal action against the Board which you can do on your own but you may find it is just simpler to hire an attorney who would then file suit against the Board for acting outside of their contract. Keep in mind that the Board will likely hire its own attorney to defend itself but that is just the nature of how the Board functions. You may not be able to rectify what has already been done but you can show this Board that you are serious about protecting your rights as a unit owner within this condo. Also, since your fellow unit owners appear to be perfectly content with how things are and see no fault with how the Board is handling the association’s governance you might also consider selling when the market conditions are right. A Board with unchecked power can make some decisions that could cost you much more than they already have. All the best!

Negligent Condo Owner Allows Burst Pipe to Damage Two Units; Who Pays?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

A.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A condo owner was negligent in that he had his unit vacant for the last 4 months and a water pipe in the bathroom burst causing damage to his unit and the unit next to his. He says association is responsible for repairs. Is that true?

Mister Condo replies:

A.L., the short answer is “it depends”. Negligent behavior is not always as simple as applying common sense to the situation like you and I would think. Negligent behavior with regards to condo upkeep and appropriate amount of care that must be provided to an individual unit is often a matter of what the condo documents state as appropriate and what constitutes negligence. If your condo rules and regulations do not address minimum maintenance standards such as what temperature a unit must be kept at or how often washing machine hoses must be changed to prevent burst pipes and other water damage, the battle for who will pay for the repair may take some time to sort out and even lead to a lawsuit where the association sues the unit owner and/or vice versa. This mess gets even trickier when insurance companies get involved. Needless to say, claims for damages that could have been easily prevented are a burden on the system and create higher premiums for associations.

Rich Bouvier of Bouvier Insurance wrote an excellent article for Common Interest, the magazine for the Connecticut Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI-CT) in which he discusses the issue and the CT law that addresses it. You can read much more about the topic at http://www.caict.org/Articles/comm_interest_articles_legal_cioa_insurance2.html. If your Board hasn’t already adopted written maintenance standards for your association, I suggest they take heed of this article and do so to prevent further damages and liabilities for the association. Good luck!

Is This Condo Board President Overstepping?

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

L.M. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have a condo president who has let the power go to her head. She is constantly sending us letters and most recently told us that if our daughter was not supervised by an adult at the playground she would fine us for each and every occurrence. She also harassed us about tree trimming and having our cat on a leash. Nowhere is it written in our by-laws that we have to leash our cat or supervise our 6 year-old daughter on the playground. No other parents supervise their kids and we do not believe she is sending them threatening letters. We feel like we are being singled out. Does she have the power to do this?

Mister Condo replies:

L.M., condo presidents are volunteer members of the Board of Directors who were elected by their Boards of Directors to fulfill the duties of presiding over the Board. It is often a challenging assignment and can lead to situations like you have described if the person in the role misinterprets their presidency to include behaving as the condo cop on top of the regular duties of a Board President. While I commend this volunteer for her service to your community it sounds to me like she would benefit from a better understanding of what her role is with regards to individual unit owners such as yourself. Of course, you and your fellow unit owners need to understand your roles as well.

All unit owners are tasked with living within the rules of the condominium association. This is a voluntary agreement that all unit owners agree to abide by when they purchase into the community. Renters, as an extension of their rental agreement, must also abide by the rules of the association. If your rules call for all pets to be leashed (most do), and all children to be supervised in play areas (again, most do), then it is incumbent upon all residents to follow the same rules. That being said, if only some of the rules are being enforced against only some of the residents, a case could be made for discrimination. If you truly feel you have been singled out, you may wish to contact an attorney to see if legal action is in order. Keep in mind that you will need to demonstrate that you and only you have been cited for breaking the rules. The attorney can better advise you than can I as to whether or not you would be likely to prevail in court.

The Common Interest Ownership Act (also referred to as CIOA) outlines the correct procedure for a Board to take corrective action against residents who do not follow rules. A written warning must first be issued and the offending unit owner is invited to speak before the Board at the Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting. If the violations persist, a fine or series of fines may be issued. Fines may be issued for each and every occurrence but the idea behind the fine system is to correct the behavior; not force a unit owner to be repeatedly fined for the same offense. My advice is for you to review your condo documents once more and make sure you are not mistaken about walking a pet off leash and leaving children unattended in play areas. If you still feel that you are in the right, ask to speak to the Board at their next meeting or hire an attorney to protect your rights. All the best!

Condo Board vs. Hot Tubs; The Battle Continues!

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

J.Q. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hot tubs are allowed at my condo according to our CCR. However, I have requested to install one on my deck and am being denied by the Board. How can it be denied if the CCRs allow it?

Mister Condo replies:

J.Q., hot tubs have been getting condo owners and condo association in hot water for years. Unit owners that wish to install a hot tub are usually quite passionate about their desire to do so. Boards that have had problems with previous unit owners who installed improperly or failed to maintain once installed hot tubs are usually the reason the Board tries to prevent new installations. Suffice to say that if the CCRs are on your side, you may be able to prevail but you should be prepared for a battle. Boards can cite architectural compliance issues, safety issues, insurance issues, and more to prevent an unwanted hot tub from being installed. You may find that you even need to hire an attorney to bring suit against the Board to allow you to install your hot tub. Even then, there is no guarantee that you will prevail. If the hot tub is that important to you, by all means, pursue your dream. If it really doesn’t matter, I might suggest you let it go. The Board is charged with protecting the community and surely has its reasons for not wanting the hot tub installed. All the best!

Are There Condo Parking Laws?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

N.B. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a law about parking that the home owner on how many spots they get?

Mister Condo replies:

N.B., I am not an attorney so I cannot guarantee you that there are no laws about how many parking spots a homeowner gets when they purchase a condo but I can tell you that the condo documents and initial blueprints are a good place to start. Usually, condo owners have assigned parking (those numbered spaces found in most condo parking lots) and may also have access to visitor parking. The rules on vehicles vary from condo to condo but since parking is usually at a premium most unit owners are limited to their assigned spot(s) with the Visitor parking reserved for guests of all units. It is also not unusual for condos to enforce their parking rules with fines and even towing when unit owners don’t follow the rules. I get numerous questions about fire zone parking, “T” parking (where one care parks perpendicular to one or more cars), and even cars parking in someone else’s assigned spot. Needless to say, all of these infractions create tension and animosity amongst neighbors and should be avoided. Find out what the rules are at your community and enjoy your parking lot. All the best!