Q. Included in our budget are two line items that seem unfair. One is our law service and another is the painting reserve. Since the homes are different sizes – from a small two-bedroom to a large four-bedroom, two-story home –maintenance expenses should be different. However, we pay the same. Is this fair?
Over the past few years the word “fair” seems to come up more and more in the questions sent to me. I grew up being told that life is not fair and you must make the best decision when you are confronted with a problem. Events in life and opportunities presented and how we deal with these situations will be determined by what we know and believe. Are you aware that each association has a set of document that defines how the association operates and what rights, obligations, and duties the members have? When you purchased your home, you agreed to comply within these document boundaries. That was the time to ask the questions and you then had the choice to say, “I will agree with these rules and operations” or “I do not agree and will not purchase the home.” My guess is that well over 75 percent of new purchasers never read these documents and the rules and regulations. That is a huge error on their part, as they are bound by these documents.
Some place in these documents is the definition of how the fees are to be divided and charged. My guess is that your documents define that all expenses shall be divided equally or at a certain percentage. Think of it this way, the equal charges may require you to pay the same for unequal services but that was the way your association was created. The final answer is that there is no fair or unfair way for the association to operate; it is the purpose of the documents to establish the policies and operations.
Q. Our association attorney has recommended that the association buy a unit that is in foreclosure. The unit has been vacant for over a year and would need some rejuvenation to lease. Can the board approve the attorney’s recommendation without the members’ approval? I see no benefit to do this because we would then be responsible for the taxes, liability, expenses and management. The loss of fees and legal costs from this one unit is about $2,500 so far and that works out to about $25 per home. Would it not just be best to mark off the loss rather than spend more to gain?
Without knowing the details and financial records of this situation, I agree with the attorney. Here are my reasons that the board should foreclose on the home and take title.
First, it is the board’s responsibility to force owners to pay their fees. The lien and foreclosure is the most successful method to force this issue. It has been said that the board has the most powerful tool in that it can force a delinquent owner to be evicted and then take the title to the home. If you do not understand this obligation and responsibility of a director, do not volunteer to serve on the board. The next reason is that you want the home to start generating income or pay the fees. This can be accomplished by selling or renting the home.
There is another option if the bank has a delinquent mortgage and that is to give the bank title. Doing this will cause the bank to start paying the fees. That is the objective: to get the home paying off as soon as possible.
Q. One of our condominium directors rented her unit. Neither the renter nor the owner submitted the screening package to the board, as required in our documents. Neither the owner nor the renters respond to our letters. Since she has rented the unit, does she not relinquish her rights to use the common areas? Does the forfeiture of the common elements also extend to the right to serve on the board of directors? What action would you advise to remove the tenant?
E.S., St. Petersburg
Let me first address the director’s position. Occupancy and ownership are not limited by the statutes to serve on the board. That means that almost any person can be elected as a director. Your documents may have other requirements. That means if the owner is on the board, then the members, not the directors, can recall her or vote her out at the next annual meeting.
As to the unapproved rental, that is another situation. The board (less this owner) must send her notices of the violation of renting without approval. If she does not answer the letters, then the matter must be turned over to the association attorney for advice and recommendations. It may mean that the board must approve court action. Remember, you have limited rights to enforce the renter to act, as you are a third party. You do have enforcement powers against the owner and the attorney will provide that alternative.