Posts Tagged ‘condominium’

Devilish Details in Condo Deck Approval (Part Two)

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

P.E. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Condo replies:

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

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

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

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

Ice Dam Causes Uninsured Damage at Windham County Condo Complex

Monday, September 16th, 2013

J.L. from Windham County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

An ice dam resulted in my fascia boards rotting. The insurance company says I have no coverage, what should I do?

Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

J.L., I am sorry for your non-covered insurance damage. Rotted fascia boards may or may not be a sign of underlying damage but are usually a simple repair. As for insurance coverage, it can be tricky as to who is exactly responsible. If you have not already done so, alert your association via mail that you have had damage to your unit caused by an ice dam. Document the damage with photos and include any letter of denial of coverage from your own insurance claim. If the association has a Master policy that covers the damage caused by an ice dam, they may be able to submit a claim to cover the cost of repair. If they do not have such coverage and your by-laws do not address damage caused by ice dams, you may be on the hook for the cost of the repair, which is really no different than any other homeowner with similar insurance. The difference for you is that you may need to allow the association to select the contractor who will handle the repair and replace the damaged fascia with similar material and color so as to maintain the association’s architectural compliance. Good luck!

Condo Reserve Fund Specifics

Friday, September 13th, 2013

S.M. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is there a specific budget amount required to go to a reserve fund? Also, is there a law or guideline for how much the reserve fund should be?

Mister Condo replies:

S.M., Reserve Funds are determined individually by community associations and should be based on the aggregate value of the common elements, their respective life expectancies, and the best guess as to inflationary effects on the replacement of those common elements over their life span. With an answer like that you can see why it would be very difficult to have a law to determine the amount as it would vary by community.

It is quite common for associations to hire third-party specialists to review and enhance their Reserve Funds. These analysts specialize in community associations, building products, financial considerations, and budgeting. It is not uncommon for them to have some type of engineering background as well. They are in the best position to take an outside look at a community and determine what a healthy Reserve Fund would look like.

A simple example I can think of would be a 50-unit condominium with no amenities like a pool or tennis courts. 50 townhomes, a parking lot, a fence, and simple grounds make up the common elements. If you assume the association is responsible for the siding and the roofs you could simply take the value of the common elements and divide by a usable life span. To keep it simple, let’s say the common elements are worth 1 million dollars and have a lifespan of 20 years. That means each year $50,000 is being used in the form of depreciation. Divide that number by the number of units (50), and you get $1000 per year per unit needing to go to the Reserve Fund. Add 5% or so for inflation adjustment and you have $1050 divided by 12 months or $87.50 per unit per month in common fees devoted to funding the Reserve Fund. This is a very simple example and far more goes into a true Reserve Study and Reserve Fund recommendation but I hope this gives you a basic idea.

A complete list of vendors that provide Reserve Studies for condominiums can be found at http://caict.org/vendor_directory.htm#Reserve_Studies Kindly contact a Reserve Study professional for a more thorough answer and further advice. Good luck!

Board Members Bending Condo Rules

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

D.G. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

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

Mister Condo replies:

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

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

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

The Million Dollar Condo Reserve Question

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

M.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo has a reserve account with one million dollars in it. We are asking to see the accounting transactions that populated the account. We want to know by year what accounts the money came from and the amount. The board gave us high level data but refuses to let us see the detail data that would show the money being moved from account A to account B. I think they have to provide the information.

Mister Condo replies:

M.H., there is a difference between full disclosure and accounting records. The association’s financial information is open to review by any association members. There may be a fee for producing certain records and there may be costs for photocopying and property management personnel’s time in gathering the records. In the case of a million dollar Reserve Fund, my guess is that the contributions to the Reserve Fund were well-documented for each and every year that contributions were made. I am not sure what you mean by high level data versus detail data but unless you suspect some foul play is at hand, the data provided should suffice. A more important question to me isn’t whether individual unit owners have access to the data but is the association conducting regular outside audits? A qualified, independent CPA should most likely be reviewing the association’s finances, including the Reserve Fund, and providing an opinion as to where any inaccuracies or discrepancies may exist. With that much money in play, paying for an independent audit of the association’s finances is simply a best practice that protects the Board as well as the members of the association. Good luck!

Leaking Air Conditioner Creates a Mess in the Condo; Insurance Coverage even Messier!

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

J.R. writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, Mr. Condo, I certainly hope you can help me! The short version is that I had a leak in my condo while I was away on vacation. I live on the lower level of a three-level building. The air conditioning unit owned by the unit owner on the top floor had failed and caused the leak. I called my insurance company, had the cleaning people come out, used fans to dry out the unit, and even took some carpeting out, too. I have engineered wood flooring, on cement, and carpeting in that area, approximately 700 sq ft. all of it, wood and carpet must be removed and replaced, and of course the ceiling and a few walls. My insurance company told me that the condo’s insurance master policy is primary over mine. My management company is playing hardball on the replacement of the wood and carpet. They state the estimate for this is approximately $2,200.00, which my floor guy thinks is just crazy. They state it’s my responsibility to “move” my personal property, which as we all know the installers will be doing. They state that I must use their contractor who won’t contact my floor guy at all. My floor man thinks $2,200.00 is just not a true amount to do the job. It’s been 2 months and this back and forth is bugging me. I can’t understand the statute and found your website! Am I obligated to use their people and like materials to replace what I have? How do I challenge this further? Their estimate is ridiculous and won’t include the moving and disposal, etc. of what is coming out. Thanks, J.R..

Mister Condo replies:

J.R., that is no way to end a vacation! Coming home to find your home damaged and then having to deal with the rigmarole of insurance companies and contractors that may or may not meet your needs and requirements is enough to cause you to need another vacation. I am sorry for your worries but let’s discuss what options you may have.

Who pays for the repair is really at the heart of the matter here. If your association’s Master Policy is being used then you may be limited in your choices. The management company is simply handling the business of the association here so please don’t think of them as “playing hardball”; their hands are tied, too. The Master Policy likely includes replacement of either the originally installed materials or upgraded materials that were installed after the original build. This is a tricky part of the insurance regulations so be sure to ask what is covered if it isn’t made clear to you. You may need to speak with a representative of the insurance policy underwriter to get this information or your property manager may have an answer. The insurance company is under no obligation to work with your contractor. In fact, they will likely have their own company in mind or may bid the work out to the lowest bidder. Their only obligation is to restore to either original materials or “like kind” if the upgrades are covered.

Next up is your own homeowner’s insurance policy (in Connecticut, that’s known as your HO-6 policy). Even though the association’s Master Policy is being used as the primary insurance, you may have some additional coverage under your own policy. Only you and your insurer can answer that question by thoroughly reviewing your policy. One example might be that the Master Policy covers the basic repair and the HO-6 policy covers the upgrades. It is a bit confusing but the insurance claims folks are not unfamiliar with this type of claim.

Finally, there is the nastiness of deductibles. Even if one or more of the policies covers the damage, you may still have a deductible. Also, you have a preferred contractor that you would really like to use. My advice would be to find out what it would cost from your preferred contractor to get the unit back to your specifications. Since you have said that he thought the estimate of $2,200 was not high enough, I am guessing that he is thinking more in the $3,000 to $3,500 range. If it is that important to you that he be the contractor who performs the repair, you could ask for the $2,200 from the association’s insurance company and pay the difference to your preferred contractor. You might also be able to claim a portion of the difference against your HO-6 policy if that coverage was included when you bought your policy.

The bottom line is that you want your home restored to the condition it was in before you left for your vacation. Provided you are willing to put some of your own money out to bring in the contractor you want, that shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you are going to rely on the insurance company hiring a contractor and paying for the job in its entirety, you will not have a say in who does the job or whether they include moving your existing furniture so they can access the damaged areas. I’m ready for a vacation just thinking about it. All the best!

Fined for Littering on Condo Grounds without Due Process

Monday, September 9th, 2013

P.L. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

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

Mister Condo replies:

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

Condo Resident Directory Directive

Friday, September 6th, 2013

C.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is it against privacy laws in CT to print up and distribute a resident directory?

Mister Condo replies:

C.M., my gut instinct was to simply say that your association is not violating privacy laws by distributing a directory of residents but, as you may know, I am not an attorney and I wanted to be certain. So I reached out to a friend who is an attorney and here is the reply:

“No. State law requires most associations to keep records of the names and contact addresses of all unit owners, and these records must be made available to other owners. As long as the association is not distributing confidential information like a person’s bank account number, there’s nothing illegal about a resident directory.”

Hope that answers your question. All the best!

Leaky Condo Drain Leads to Damaged Drywall

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

D.R. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our condo association is fighting to not pay for damage done to our dry wall in our bedroom closet. The damage was done by the drain in the bathroom upstairs. According to the condo bylaws, the drain is considered a common element. Homeowner’s insurance won’t pay for it. They say it is the association’s responsibility as our association tore our bedroom closet apart and damaged our drywall to find the leaky drain problem. Once the leak was repaired, the damaged drywall was left unrepaired.

Mister Condo replies:

D.R., I am sorry to learn that neither your insurance company nor the association’s insurance company is willing to pay for the damage done to your drywall during the repair of this common element. Insurance coverage can be tricky when it comes to which insurance is responsible for damage done to individual units. A leaky roof may be covered by the master policy but the damage done to the interior of the unit is usually the unit owner’s responsibility, or in this case, the responsibility of the homeowner’s insurance. However, the damage to your unit wasn’t caused by the leaky drain but the contractor who was hired to repair the leaky drain. That may be where the confusion lies. Either way, you are getting a bum deal here and my advice is to either hire an attorney or make a small claim against the association for causing the damage. Do you have an estimate on the repair? Hire your own drywall contractor to get the repair done. You will be out of pocket on this expense but I don’t think it will be too expensive. Once the repair is complete, submit the bill to your association for payment. If they refuse, file a claim against them in small claims court (or civil court if the amount is large enough). I would think you would prevail as there is ample evidence that the association caused the damage. Hopefully, they will just pay the bill or convince their insurer to pay the bill rather than deal with being sued. It would likely cost them more to pay for an attorney to defend against the suit than it would be to just pay for the damage they caused. Good luck!

One Unit, One Vote

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

P.D. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own 1 out of 5 apartments in a condominium.  Would the larger apartments have greater voting rights or is it 1 vote per apartment?  I recently did a real estate course (Massachusetts) which stated this.  Thank you for any advice you can give.

Mister Condo replies:

P.D., unless the condo declaration or by-laws detail otherwise, one vote per unit owner should be the law of the land. In Massachusetts, your best resource for getting a definitive answer is as close as your browser. Head over to the New England Chapter of the Community Associations Institute’s website at http://www.caine.org/ where you’ll find a wealth of information related to condominiums in your state and be sure to check out their legal directory if you need a more thorough answer or an attorney to review your condo docs to confirm your voting power. All the best.