Q. We have an owner who insists that the clause in the documents prohibiting storage of personal items on the common elements also applies to door mats. She does not like their appearance, and wants this ‘no personal items’ clause enforced to the word. The units here all open to the outside; there are no interior hallways of any kind, so the board has told her that is why it will not require occupants to remove their door mats. What is your opinion?
P.S., Miami Beach
The board can set up a policy in which it has the right to approve or deny the door mats. This would mean that any owner who would like to place a mat in front of the door would need to seek formal approval. If the board does not enforce the common area rule concerning personal items, it can lead to other violations. A door mat may be a tripping hazard or a fire code if it blocks or delays emergency responders. With such an approval, the board must realize that some door mats could create a liability. Since mats are located on exterior catwalks, they are open to the elements and might damage the concrete. I suggest that the board study the situation and establish a strict policy on door mats.
Q. My next-door neighbor has changed her door and front window without the approval of the board. It sent her a letter that she must comply with the bylaws by having such items preapproved. Her new window completely changes the appearance of her unit and affects mine and the rest of the building. What action can the board take next?
The board has only limited powers to force an owner to comply with the rules. It cannot hit her with a stick or drag her from her home. It can turn the matter over to an attorney to file a legal action and take her to court. If done correctly, the judge can force her by legal means to correct the violation. What I recommend is to send two or three letters to the owner and ask her to correct the violation. If she does not, then the board should turn to the attorney with instructions to take the matter to court.
Q. I have just learned that one of our employees stole several thousand dollars from our HOA by diverting association checks into her personal checking account. The board has terminated the employee but has not informed the membership about the loss. I understand the need for confidentiality of the employee records, but don’t you think the board has a responsibility to inform the members in general terms about the loss of this magnitude?
As with any crime, certain critical information must be withheld during the investigation. However, the board does have some, if only limited, obligation to inform members. The question is, can that information be withheld and for what period of time? The two main factors in this delay would be the police and your insurance. Of course police might want to make sure that others are not also involved. In addition, there should be insurance covering employee loss and fidelity coverage. The insurance company may also investigate the crime and it may have requested that the crime be confidential.
As with any question you have about the association operations, write a letter to the board and ask about the missing money. If it has been asked to keep the crime confidential, then the board then has a duty to refrain from discussing the matter.
Q. Our condominium community is upscale and has 72 units. The buildings are 25 years old and are well maintained but need some cosmetic, landscaping and lighting improvements. The reserve balance is only about $170,000, and the monthly fees are about as high as they should go for the area. The current board does not want to have a special assessment because it does not want people to be "mad at them." They are talking about a "voluntary" special assessment, where people can donate what they want to give. Do you think it is a good idea?
J.S., Boca Ration
Voluntary funding is not the way to go; in fact it may be out of compliance with the statutes. If the board cannot “bite the bullet” and properly assess the members, it should resign. Also, there is no such thing as fees being “too high for the area.” Each association has different common areas that create different expenses. The board has a fiduciary duty and responsibilities to maintain the condominium. It appears that past boards did not calculate the reserves or the members voted to reduce the reserve collections. Now it is time to pay for the repairs that were not funded. Being a director is not a fun or popular task. If directors are serving to be everyone’s friend, then they were elected for the wrong reason.