Archive for the ‘Rules Enforcement’ Category

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!

Devil is in the Details of this Condo Deck Addition

Monday, August 5th, 2013

P.E. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I recently added a deck to my condo. There are no rules in our by-laws regarding decks. Apparently they were all put on by the builder with no permits. Permits were only approved for patios. I had to go before the town to apply and pay for a special land use permit (on my own) in addition to the building permit, because the board would not get approval for the whole complex at the same time for fear the town would make them bring existing decks up to code or fine them. The board approved my deck, but did have me sign a paper that said I would build my deck in a similar design to the existing decks (approx. 15 years old) and the decking and supporting structures should be a similar color to the existing decks as well. Nothing was stated about the railing or post colors. Originally there was a patio on my condo with a white picket fence around it which I had planned on removing until another neighbor (a past president) informed me that the fences were put there for safety reasons (due to steep embankment in the back). So a section of the fence is going to have to remain because of this. Again the fence is white, all the door, window trim, and accent colors on the condo are also white. I decided to put white posts on my deck to help coordinate the fence and condo with the deck. The deck is made of Trex decking, original decks are wood (builder’s special) decks. It clearly looks so much better (even some board members agree) with the white posts, but they are taking a stance saying I must remove the white posts within 30 days or they will begin fining me $25.00 a day. Now the kicker is that 2 other people have white railings in our complex. One is a railing along a patio and the other is a railing and posts on a handicap ramp with a landing on the top made of a combination of Trex decking with a wood rail. I assumed that since 2 other units had white railings some mild white accents on my rail would not be an issue. The board says that one is a fence not a rail and that the other is a handicap ramp, so the rules are different than for decks.

The Board is very difficult and not very friendly. All 70 + years old and they don’t like it when they are questioned. They clearly make up the rules as they go and make it difficult for everyone in the complex. Most of the owners don’t go to the meetings because of the Board. The Board says they don’t understand why no one goes to the meetings. They won’t let me be on the board, because I am not a resident, my mom lives in my unit and I am there at least 3 times a week.

Lastly this is far from a high end condo complex. There are many eye sores that this Board could spend more time on, as well as things that are different from one unit to the other. Someone told me I could override the Board’s decision if I petition and have 51% of the owners sign it supporting the color of my posts. Is this correct? I don’t have a lot of money to spend on a lawyer to fight this, but I do think the board is being ridiculous. This is a beautiful $10,000.00 + deck! Please Help!

Mister Condo replies:

P.E., there are so many things going on here I am not sure where to start. I am sorry for your situation although it sounds like you have a lovely new deck for you and your mother to enjoy so there may be something to be said for that. From what you have told me there are some things that have likely been mishandled by both you and the Board. Let’s start with what went right and then talk about what went wrong and how you can remedy the issues.

I assume when you asked about installing the deck you submitted the request in writing and received a written response from the Board giving you approval. This will be very important as to what follows. As long as you have the Board’s written documentation offering you approval for your deck you have a paper trail that you can rely on to support your case. I would be looking for items like materials used, size of deck, and other items pertaining to the construction project. Without such a letter, I am not sure what the Board thought they were approving. The oversight of the post and rails is unfortunate but was not included in your proposed deck request from what you have told me. I know that hindsight is “20/20” but if you find yourself undertaking a similar project in the future, be sure to include ALL aspects of the project. Better to seek approval than ask for forgiveness in a condominium where architectural compliance is largely decided by the Board. Had a proper project plan been submitted and agreed to by the Board, you would have none of these issues today.

Your assessment of the Board is a bit troubling. In fact, they are volunteer members elected by the unit owners to conduct the business of the association. If they are performing poorly, the community should find better volunteers to replace them. You are not a unit owner so I would not expect you to be allowed to serve on the Board.

The only real issue here that I see is the white color of the posts. You feel that white is the way to go and the Board does not. Since architectural compliance is the Board’s responsibility and you did not include the posts in your request for the deck improvement, I think you will have to yield to the Board’s decision or prepare to bring suit against them to defend your position. I am not familiar with a 51% petition to override the Board’s decision. If that is peculiar to your association’s by-laws that may be an option for you. A far better plan would be to invest a little more money in an attorney to get a legal opinion on your standing and to represent you and your mother in a suit against the Board if it comes to that. You’ve already invested $10,000 in the new deck. My guess is that for a few hundred dollars more you can hire an attorney to determine what your legal options are. Or you could spend the money on replacing the posts with something that the Board agrees to (in writing, before the work begins). Good luck!

Condo Parking Lot is Overcrowded!

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

C.T. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo parking lot is overcrowded and there is no place for visitors to park. What can be done to fix this?

Mister Condo replies:

C.T., welcome to the reality of condo parking at far too many condos. The billboard shows the golf course, swimming pool and rolling meadows of verdant landscape. The harsh reality is often that there are just too many cars per unit and the parking wasn’t taken into consideration back when the community was planned. Add to that our love for oversized SUVs and the need to squeeze as many parking spaces into the little parking lots we have and you have the frustration of parking that many condo residents feel.

There really isn’t too much that can be done. If the Board is willing to play hardball they can go after residents who violate any of the parking rules and regulations. That varies by association but usually restricts the number of vehicles any one unit can have on the common grounds and designates who may or may not use the visitor parking spaces. Some associations use parking stickers or tags that allow visitor parking. The reality is that communities rely on volunteer compliance with their parking regulations to keep the parking areas in good order. However, once two or three cars (or more) are being used by one unit, parking shortages ensue. I know of several communities that have a tow service on speed dial and do not hesitate to remove vehicles from their property if they are in violation. That will certainly curtail the folks that use the fire lanes as private parking spaces or someone who leaves a car in a visitor space for days on end.

If you have a garage, my advice is to use it. That way you always have a space inside and usually just outside your garage. When I have visitors to my condo, I usually move my car off property and let them use my parking space. It’s not an ideal solution but at least my visitors always have a place to park. Good luck!

Condo Front Stoop Safety Handrail – Who Pays?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

J.L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 55+ common interest community. My physical condition at 70+ yrs. of age has changed and I can no longer enter my front entrance without assistance. In addition, I am on continuous oxygen. There is one high step up to the stoop/front porch landing. Currently there is no handrail to grab onto to assist me with stepping up so I can enter the front door of my unit.

It is my understanding that the front stoop/porch is a limited common element.

My question: “Who is responsible for the installation expense of a handrail on the front stoop/porch landing to my unit for assisting me to safely enter the front door of my unit?”

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., an aging condo population is quite common in Connecticut. There have been quite a few 55+ communities built in the past few years and there are many more on the horizon. As we advance in years increased mobility challenges often surface. You are certainly not alone in your situation and you raise a great question. Condominium associations across the state often face similar challenges. I reached out to an attorney who specializes in community association law for a legal opinion on what your options are. Here’s the advice:

“You are responsible for the installation expense of the handrail. Federal law says that the association must allow a unit owner to make reasonable modifications to the unit and/or limited common elements to accommodate the owner’s physical disability.  The unit owner must arrange and pay for the installation, and the board cannot use rules against altering building exteriors as a reason for withholding permission so long as the modification is reasonable and necessary for the purpose.”

That certainly makes sense to me and sounds like a practical solution. Best wishes and good luck with your new handrail!

Big Dog, Big Fine in this Florida Condo

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

N.P. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am searching for information regarding Florida. I have found myself with a $1000 fine and other punitive measures because of my dog being over the weight limit (per condo rules). He is a large breed dog. Without getting into full detail, it is a fact he is a support dog, and I will obtain a letter from my doctor. It goes two ways…I adopt senior dogs with medical issues, most are large. We drive from coast to coast, and spend an average of 4 months in Florida.  I have clear title on the condo.

In your experience, have you heard of such a case?

Mister Condo replies:

N.P., sorry to hear of your troubles. The short answer is “yes”, I’ve heard of similar cases at condos in Florida and around the country. While I admire your dog adoption efforts, I completely understand why your condo association would want to protect itself from allowing dogs that are over the association weight limit. My guess is that once you obtain the support dog letter from your doctor you will have a clear path to fight your association on your fine and your ability to house the dog at the condo. As you may or may not know, there is a lot of controversy about the definition of “support” dogs in Florida and how condos do not have the ability to prevent their presence inside their walls. Here is a recent Miami Herald article detailing the issue – http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/04/22/3358906/the-dogfight-between-south-florida.html

That being said, I assume you knew about the rules of your condo when you purchased there and you have simply chosen to disobey the rules. That is unfortunate and, as you have seen, can carry severe consequences. Even if you prevail in court (and you just might), you will very likely have to go to court creating expense for you and your association. That means your neighbors will be footing the bill for the association to defend against your suit. That certainly could earn you some ill will from your neighbors. Do you blame them? They are following the rules and peaceably enjoying their major investment. You are breaking the rules and looking for a way to continue to do so. That just isn’t being a good neighbor, in my opinion.

Again, as an animal lover, I salute your rescue work. I think it is a noble thing that you are doing in giving these animals a better life. Perhaps you should consider selling your condo and purchasing a home where your rescue saving activities will not have such a negative effect on your neighbors and fellow unit owners. That would be a win/win for all involved. All the best!

Tedious Fines for This Condo Dweller

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

K.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am getting fined for small infractions. I mean really tedious infractions. I’m sick of it. I own my unit, and the mortgage is paid off. What could/would happen if I refuse to pay?

Mister Condo replies:

K.S., I am sorry to hear of your tedious infraction problem. Fines for infractions should be a community’s last resort to correct resident behavior. Not paying the fines once they are levied is one way to go but it could end up costing you more than money in the long run. All is not lost so let’s talk about a few things you can and should do.

The first thing is to stop breaking the rules of the association. I assume everyone who is breaking the rules is getting the same treatment so either the rules are overbearing and should be eased or removed or the people breaking the rules need to change their behavior. You didn’t get into specifics of what infractions you are being targeted for but two of the more common rules people get fined over are pet violations and parking. If Rover is barking and neighbors are complaining, you need to stop the dog from barking. Everyone is happy and the problem is solved. If you are parking in a fire zone while you unload groceries from your car, stop doing that and the problem goes away.

However, just because rules are being broken, the Board cannot simply issue fines. There is due process in our state that generally calls for a written warning to be issued, followed by a letter of intent to issue a fine along with an invitation for the offender to speak to the Board at an upcoming meeting. After hearing from the offender, the Board then decides to issue the fine or let the event go without a fine being issued. If these procedures are not being followed, you would have a case to challenge these fines in small claims court.

As to what can happen if you do not pay your fines, which really depends on the Board and how astute they are in their collections process. They could turn your account over to a collections agency. They could get an attorney involved who would seek relief through the Courts. That could mean you’d not only owe fines but even the legal fees incurred by the Board to take action against you. Of course, that also means that the association would have to win their suit against you. If they didn’t follow the correct procedures along the way, that isn’t very likely. Still, it is a hassle and inconvenience and stress for you to endure this process.

The best solution, in my opinion, is to simply follow the rules. They were in place when you moved in and they were put there to assure a safe and peaceful environment for all unit owners. You are well within your rights to contact an attorney t discuss this matter. If you feel you are being singled out or harassed, by all means, bring suit against your association. The fine system should be used as a last resort and only after all other remedies have been applied. The bottom line is that fines are as annoying to the Board as they are to the unit owner. Better that everyone involved simply voluntarily agree to abide by the rules of the association as they did when they purchased a unit within the association. All the best!

Condo Civility and Anti-bullying Measures Considered

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

M.L. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! I’m on the board of a condo association in Fairfield County. We’ve been having some issues lately with some of our unit owners mistreating hired staff (gate house, maintenance, etc.). We currently don’t have a rule about civility or bullying and I’m wondering if you can point me in the direction of some examples of such a provision.

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., I am sorry to hear about your residents mistreating anyone, let alone the folks that have been hired by the association to maintain and protect the unit owners and the common elements. Honestly, you can’t create rules to create civility. However, you can educate your residents about the relationship between themselves, the Board and management company, and the contractors or workers that are there to work. They may not like hearing it but the reality is that no one works for any resident of the association. Unit ownership does not entitle you to anything more than ownership of your unit, enjoyment of the common grounds, and a vote at the annual meeting. The Board is the only governing body of the association and they are the ones that are elected by the unit owners to conduct the business of the association. A similar analogy would be the relationship between a taxpayer and a city employee. Sure, your taxes pay for the salary of that person but that does not make you their boss. They report to a supervisor or department head who reports to a Mayor of First Selectman.

Begin with education. Send out a newsletter or letter reminding residents that employees and contractors of the association are to be let alone to do their work while on association property. Residents are expressly forbidden from disturbing them in any way. If they are unhappy with observed work or behaviors, they are free and encouraged to contact the property management company and/or the Board to make their complaints known. Hopefully, that will curtail the problem. However if necessary, consider drafting a rule at your next Board meeting as follows:

The association shall, from time to time, hire individuals and contractors to perform work for the association. These workers report directly to the Board and/or Property Manager. These workers are not to be approached by any resident while on the common property. Any resident observed disturbing these workers will be reminded of this rule with a written warning. Subsequent offenses will carry a fine of $25 per occurrence. Depending on the seriousness of the disturbance, the police will be called. Verbal and/or physical abuse is punishable by law.

That should certainly suffice. You’ve asked nicely but you also have a stick to enforce the rule if you need to. Residents that cross that cross that line could find themselves in a different type of community association, the local jail. I seriously doubt it would come to that but you never know. All the best!

Penalty Fee for Not Cleaning Dryer Vent

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

L.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can the Homeowner’s Association impose a penalty fee for unit owners that do not get their dryer vent cleaned (as it could become a safety hazard and affect other units)?  There is nothing in the bylaws or rules and regulations outlining the dryer vent cleaning requirement.  Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., as you mentioned, dryer vents are frequent safety and fire hazards at condo associations. Many condominium and homeowner’s associations do have rules and requirements about the frequency and the mandatory nature of proper dryer vent cleaning and maintenance. If your bylaws and rules are silent on the subject matter, then your Board may only be able to strongly suggest that owners practice safe dryer vent maintenance. However, if they have notified owners and placed rules in effect since the last published update of your by-laws, violators could be on the receiving end of a notice or fine if not corrected. The bottom line is that dryer vent maintenance can be life-saving by preventing fires. However, education is a far better remedy than imposition of fines to get unit owners to comply. If you feel you have been fined improperly, ask to speak to the Board about having the fine removed or reversed. In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, get your dryer vent cleaned. Be safe and good luck!