Posts Tagged ‘condominium’

Hot Deal on Fire-Damaged Condo!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

L.S. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi! I am thinking about purchasing a condo with known fire damage which was caused by the resident living above the unit. No repairs have been done to the building yet so I am very hesitant as I am really not familiar with the process. Here are my questions:

1. Who is responsible for the repair knowing that the damage was not caused by the previous owner?

2. If it is under the condominium insurance coverage, will they cover all the walls and structures or simply the exterior structure of the building?

3. Since I don’t believe the previous owner or the bank had kept up with their common fee, how does that work? Will it still be cover by the condominium insurance?

4. I would imagine they would not leave a section of the building not fixed, right?

Sorry for all those impossible questions and thank you in advance.

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., no need to apologize for those questions. They are all good and you are wise to seek answers BEFORE you purchase. The purchase of a damaged condo unit is similar to the purchase of a new construction unit in that you should have a new unit once the construction process is complete. However, fire damage carries some other risk factors that you would be wise to consider before the purchase. First and foremost is safety. You should insist on a safety inspection from the local building authority (usually a city inspector) before you agree to purchase the unit. Just because the esoteric surfaces like floors, doors, and windows are new you want peace of mind in knowing that all of the unseen structure items like the subfloor, walls, roof, etc. are structurally sound and have been inspected.

Typically, the association’s insurance would cover the basic repair of a fire-damaged unit. However, not all policies are the same and not all events are covered. If improvements were made to the unit and the policy was written to only cover originally installed materials, you may find the association only rebuilds to the original specifications. That could mean downgraded flooring materials, basic cabinets, and such. Ask how the association plans on rebuilding the unit and ask how it will be paid for. If the entire job is being paid for from insurance proceeds, you may be good to go. If the association is suing the upstairs unit owner for the monies to repair the unit, a long legal battle may ensue. If that is the case, I would suggest you take a pass on the unit until the lawsuit is settled and the funds are in place to repair the unit.

If the previous owner of the unit did not keep current with the common fees as you think, there is a process by which the association will collect as much of the uncollected fees as possible. The Connecticut law that was on the books at the time would allow for the association to collect up to six months of uncollected fees and reasonable legal expenses at the time of closing through a super lien. That means the seller would have those funds deducted from the proceeds of the sale before anyone else was paid. The new unit owner becomes responsible for new fees from the date of sale moving forward but has no obligation to pay for previously assessed fees. The new law in Connecticut will allow associations to renew their claim to uncollected fees on a renewable basis so that their super lien includes all uncollected common fees and legal expenses. That is still on the previous owner; not the new owner. Either way, uncollected common fees are not covered by insurance.

You asked “I would imagine they would not leave a section of the building not fixed, right?” I would imagine the last thing they would want to do is leave a section of the building unfixed. It is an eyesore and hurts property values of the entire community. However, if the community did not have adequate insurance coverage or the negligent owner were unable to pay for the damage caused that was not insured, it is possible that the association could wait until the lawsuits are settled before reconstruction began. If the community did not have enough financial reserve to fund the project in the short term, it is entirely possible that this section of building could remain unrepaired for quite some time. For that reason alone, you need to exercise extreme caution before purchasing this fire-damaged unit. If you are working with a realtor, I would have them get as many of these answers for you as possible. I would also hire an attorney to guide me through the process from offer to closing to protect my interests. If all looks good and you know the risks and still wish to purchase this fire-damaged unit I wish you all the best. If the deal gets dicey, I have no problem suggesting you look for another unit. 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!

Condo Ice Dam Caused Mold; Who Pays to Have it Removed?

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

P.F. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Who is responsible for mold remediation resulting from ice dams in between roof and ceilings inside my condo?

Mister Condo replies:

P.F., mold is no laughing matter to be sure. While you can argue who is responsible until you are blue in the face, the remediation should be taken care of at once before you or someone else living in your condo become ill. There are several schools of thought on who is responsible and who should pay. The reality is that you may need an attorney to enforce your rights.

If you haven’t already done so, document the mold damage as best as you can. I am talking photographs, expert opinions, the whole nine yards. Ask a mold remediation expert to come to your unit to explain the problem and their proposed solution. Send a copy of all of this information to your Board for immediate action at their next meeting. If they agree with you that the mold was a result of an ice dam their next step may be to speak with the association’s insurer to see if there is coverage. If so, the Board should arrange to have the mold remediated and the problem is solved.

Let’s assume it’s not that simple. The Board doesn’t agree with you or the insurer says it isn’t covered; now what? Most likely, you will hire an attorney and bring suit against the Board to have them pay for the remediation. Alternatively, if the remediation cost is minimal (under $1000) you might just want to go to Small Claims Court if the Board refuses to pay for the remediation. Keep in mind that any legal action you bring against the Board will cause the Board to hire its own attorney to defend. The unfortunate part of this transaction sis that the association’s legal costs are partly yours through you common fees.

The bottom line is that you should not live with mold in your condo. Hopefully, you will notify your Board and they will fix the problem. If not, take matters into your own hands and get rid of the mold. Legal wrangling aside, mold can be toxic and lead to serious health problems and even death if left unchecked. Good luck!

House to Condo : Condo to House Question

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

L.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own all 3 units in a 3-condo building that was originally a 3-family house. For tax purposes, I would like to convert back to a 3-family house without using a lawyer. The condo documents state that I can just vote to dissolve the condo association. Do you know what my next steps would be?

Mister Condo replies:

L.H., as you know, I am not an attorney. While I appreciate your desire to be frugal and not hire an attorney to assist you, I strongly recommend that you do. That being said, I did check with one of my attorney friends for an answer that should guide you quite nicely. Please note that this attorney also recommended you seek legal counsel to assist. Here’s what my friend had to offer:

“The next step would be to sign a document that explains the steps you took to terminate the condominium in front of a notary and two witnesses.  It must also specify a deadline for filing it in the land records after which it will be void, and then you must actually file it by that deadline.  You would be wise to reconsider getting a lawyer involved because the document should contain the same level of legal detail as a deed (such as a description of the property’s boundaries, volume and page references to the original declaration and amendments, and citations to the relevant statutes) and there may also be additional requirements in your bylaws, tax implications, zoning consequences, or prohibitions under the terms of your mortgage that you haven’t thought about.”

What Questions Does the Bank Need to Ask my Condo Association?

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

S.J. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I want to sell my condo but the bank needs to ask questions to the condo association. What information do they need?

Mister Condo replies:

S.J., I assume the bank in question here is the one that will be providing financing to a prospective buyer. Most of today’s mortgages for condominiums require that the condo qualify for FHA-approved financing so my best guess is that the bank needs to ask about the association’s FHA certification (or lack thereof). Even if the mortgage is not from a lender requiring FHA certification the lender is likely performing due diligence in finding out about the state of the association’s financial affairs. After all, if they are going to lend $100,000 or more to a prospective buyer, they want to make sure that there are no upcoming special assessments, pending litigation, or any other potential financial burden heading towards their borrower who may be able to repay the loan if these other factors exist. If it is FHA-related, the bank has a checklist of questions including the percentage of delinquent accounts, rental units, and other factors effecting FHA eligibility. These lending rules have been in place for some time now so the questions are fairly standard and the responses from the association will determine whether the lender will make the loan. Best wishes.

All Keyed Up Over Condo Access Door

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

M.F. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can my board not give me a key to an entrance to the building? On another note, this is an awesome site! Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

M.F., thank you! I think it is an awesome site as well! As for your query, I am not fully sure I understand. If you own a unit within a secured building, you certainly have a right to entry. If that entry is through a locked door, you have a right to that key (or security code) so that you can gain access. Whether it is the Board or the Property Manager, getting a key should be as simple as providing proof of ownership. There may be safeguards in place to protect the key. They could charge a security deposit on the key in case it is lost or stolen. Did a previous owner of your unit not leave the key behind when they left? Did you lose your key? There are lots of questions I have before I just tell you to demand a key but I think you get the idea. Of course, if you are a renter, the responsibility of providing you a key falls on your landlord; not the association.

If you can show proof of ownership and they refuse to give you a key, I would contact an attorney or bring suit on your own against the association. I have no doubt you will prevail and be awarded legal costs as well. Good luck!

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!

NYC Condo Facing Developer Transition Woes

Monday, July 15th, 2013

J.T. from New York City writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live and serve on a board that recently took over sponsor-control of a 3-year old 67- resident condominium. Our bylaws state that we have a live-in super. NYC indicates multi-dwelling residents have a live-in super or one that lives within 200 feet of the building. After recent review of the accounts, our operating expenses parallel our revenue. In the last six months, common charges were raised 25%. We have just hired a management company. The state of our finances is still under review. Now that the board has taken control of the building, we are now taxed with the choice to purchase or rent the Super’s Unit. Needless to say, there are a number of building issues that we have inherited. We are at a cross roads. With no resources available to purchase the unit from the Association should we increase common charges and establish a special assessment to buy the unit? Address the building issues now and continue renting the Super’s Unit? Establish financial stability before extending ourselves financially?

Mister Condo replies:

Big Apple Greetings, J.T.! You and the rest of your Board certainly have a lot on your plate right now. I know there are some considerable expenses facing the association right now but I am going to recommend one more expense for you. Hire a competent attorney to guide you through the process and to also see if the community has any recourse for how things were handled the past three years. Transition from developer to Board control of a condominium can be a complicated process and one where experiences professionals should be used. In the past, I have recommended association hire an attorney, a property manager, and an accountant to assist in this process. The attorney watches over legal matters; the accountant assists with financial concerns; the property manager handles the day to day business of the Board during the process and can be hired on as a permanent solution once the transition phase is complete. Since you have already undergone the transition phase, it sounds to me like you’ll be playing catch up and bringing your association into compliance moving forward.

You mentioned your annual budget basically being a balance between common fees collected and expenses going out. Clearly, that isn’t enough money to sustain the community for the long run. You will need to create a Reserve Fund and fund it through Common Fund contributions – either monthly or via a special assessment. Neither option is going to sit well with unit owners. The 25% increase to common fees in the past six months may have just been the first of many increases that will be needed once a true financial plan is revealed. As for purchasing the Super’s Unit, the Board may wish to speak to a community association lender and secure a loan to make the purchase. Of course, common fees may need to be raised to cover the monthly payments on the loan.

These will be trying times for Board members to be sure. You may face disgruntled owners. But, rest assured, once you get the community past these initial hurdles, your 3-year old condo will be on the right path for years to come. Best wishes!

Curious Case of the Missing Condo Parking Space

Friday, July 12th, 2013

D.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I don’t live in the community I am inquiring about but in researching my question on Google, I came across this site.  I thought I would ask someone apparently knowledgeable.

Situation: Developer sells a unit to a purchaser with one garage space and one parking space. The parking space is a Limited Common Element. All parking spaces are assigned on the phase map(s). However, the parking space supposedly sold to the purchaser is nowhere to be found on the phase map.

Now the original purchaser wants to sell his unit. Buyer is attempting to force the HOA to assign a parking space.  All parking has already been assigned, and based on the phase maps for the community; no space was ever allocated for the unit.

Who’s responsible here?  The original developer?  The HOA?  The original purchaser? Any insight would be appreciated.

Mister Condo replies:

D.M., that is a most unusual situation. I am not an attorney so I will give you my common sense answer but also suggest you seek legal help. Purchase and Sales agreements are legally binding documents and I wouldn’t want you taking anything I say here as legal advice. With that understanding, let’s proceed.

It sounds like you are describing a multi-phase development where a builder has finished developing and turned control over to the association (HOA). There should be a deed filed at city hall or the equivalent depending on the town detailing what was purchased and how the parking space was assigned as a limited common element. There are a few ways that limited common elements work so the wording on that part of the deed may be tricky. For instance of the unit were part of a group of 10 units that had use of Parking Lot A and each unit owner has use of 1 of the 10 spaces, it is still limited but unassigned. That would explain the confusion. More common is a large parking area where unit numbers are stenciled on the space or curb identifying the unit that has exclusive use of the parking space. Again, this is an area where a lawyer inspecting the deed may be able to quickly identify the situation.

Now comes my common sense question. What is the current owner doing for parking? Does he or doesn’t he have a space to park his vehicle? As a current owner he has far more sway and ability to make the Board take the proper action. The buyer really doesn’t have any clout or rights with the Board but this current owner certainly does. I would place this problem squarely in his lap as it could easily come back to haunt him after that sale, especially if his unit does not actually have a parking space, limited or other, and he represents it as such. My guess is a few letters from an attorney would settle this for him. Far better to get his settled before the new owner purchases. Good luck!

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!