Q: We have an owner who insists the clause in the documents prohibiting storage of personal items on the common elements also applies to doormats. 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 it is not going to require occupants to remove their doormats. What is your opinion?
P.S., Miami Beach
Answer: The board can set up a policy where directors have the right to approve or deny each doormats.
If the board does not enforce the common area rule concerning no personal items, it can lead to other violations.
A doormat may be a tripping hazard or a fire hazard if it blocks or delays emergency responders. The board must realize that some doormats can create a liability on the association.
Since this is located on an exterior catwalk, it is open to the elements. A doormat may damage the concrete. I suggest the board study the situation and establish a strict policy.
Q: Our condominium community is upscale and has 72 units. The buildings are 25 years old and are well maintained, but they 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 they do 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. Is that approach legal? Do you think it is a good idea?
J.S., Boca Raton
Answer: Voluntary funding is not the way to go. It may be out of compliance with the statutes. If the board cannot properly assess the members, the directors should resign and have others who will comply with their responsibilities.
There is no such thing as fees being too high for the area. I do not even know what that means, as each association has different common areas that create different expenses.
The board has a fiduciary duty and responsibilities to maintain the condominium. To accomplish this, it has the power to assess the necessary funding. 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 weren’t funded.
It is time for the board to step up and do the right thing by establishing proper reserves and funding for necessary improvements. Being a director is not a fun or popular task to accomplish. If the directors are serving to be everyone’s friend, then they were elected for the wrong reason. They serve to keep the condominium maintained and operating as a business. If they do this, the members’ property values will be maintained.
Q: A roof leak at a condominium where I live caused damage to an owner’s unit. He has been withholding maintenance fees and has sued the condominium for his damages. Is this legal? What if anything is he entitled to as this is a modest low-income building?
Answer: No owner has the right to withhold their fees unless they have a court order. I have never heard of a judge ruling in such a case as you describe to allow the owner to withhold fees. The board should have an attorney and it should have the attorney lien the unit for the delinquency and start foreclosure action. Unless the board neglected or deliberately damaged the roof causing the loss by the owner, the condominium should not have any responsibility for the loss in the unit to his personal property. Owners should have insurance for such losses. I would ask the owner whether he has insurance and did he file a claim. This is strictly a legal question, and the association attorney should provide the proper answers. In addition, the condominium’s insurance agent should be advised of the claim and pending lawsuit. From the information provided, the responsibility for the loss will be determined to be the owner’s. He should have had insurance to cover the loss. Your board must seek proper legal counsel and engage an attorney.
Richard White is a licensed community association manager. He does not offer legal opinions; any other questions and comments concerning association operations can be sent to Richard White, 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., No. 201, Winter Haven FL 33884-4115; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.