Owners in default may be sued for unpaid charges, foreclosed
My argument is that if a person enters into a contract where they rent with an option to purchase, this is not the same as having just a plain rental situation. The tenant has what is known as an "equitable interest" in the condominium unit, which gives him/her greater rights and responsibilities than if this was just a simple tenant.
Obviously, the best solution is to get your legal documents amended so as to permit rentals for hardship situations (such as losing a job or getting transferred far away from the condo unit). I recognize, however, that amending community association documents is difficult if not impossible, since it usually takes a super-majority vote of all of the members.
There is no easy answer to this dilemma and it is a nationwide issue. Boards of directors have to have a heart; some of them do.
DEAR BENNY: We live in a townhouse. Many of the outdoor structures, fences, etc., outside many of the houses that I've seen are not in compliance with our rules or our bylaws. Two years ago when I bought the house, there were three things mentioned by the association that needed to be fixed, and we fixed them.
But somehow the association would find ways to notice something outside our house that was not within the rules and tell us that we need to fix it, or they would fix it and bill us. The association claimed we had nail damages above the garage door on the siding and that (the association would) fix it and bill us. I found one rusty nail and removed it.
Whenever I asked the association to prove the "damages," they would not. Instead we got new management that sent us a letter saying that we had to pay $145 for a siding repair. I disputed the charges with the new management; which said that the previous manager "forgot" to send the bills.
The description for the charges were "nail damages on the right side of the garage siding." I don't know how this changed from "above" the garage door to the "right side of the garage." I'm still disputing the charges.
Does the old management or the new management have the right to bill me on something it cannot prove? Why is management continuing to harass us on issues that existed prior to us even buying the house? Do I have any recourse? --Ruby
DEAR RUBY: Yes, you have recourse. You should send management and the board of directors a strong letter (by certified mail, return receipt requested) stating that: 1. management has no proof that there was nail damage, and more importantly (2) the first notice is inconsistent with the second notice.
Explain to management that you do not plan to pay and will fight management in court should management file suit (or file a lien against your unit).
That, of course, is the legal recourse. And while I don't belittle $145 as having no value, sometimes it is easier to pay the bill and have the matter dropped.
Clients often tell me that it is a matter of principle and they want to fight for what they know is right. I remind them that there are two spellings to that word: "principle" and "principal." One deals with ethics and morals, and the other deals with money.
You could also write a letter of complaint to your state's attorney general, but once again, that office probably is busy and I doubt that you will get a prompt response. However, the letter may scare off your board and the property manager, so such a letter clearly can't hurt -- and may actually help.
If, on the other hand, you have proof that other homeowners are having similar problems, then you should organize a group and try to overthrow the current board. Honor that time-old expression: "Throw the rascals out."
Benny L. Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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