When Condo Wars Heat Up, Common Sense Can Evaporate
Let me tell you a story about a game of hardball played over a hot, summery weekend. It happened not at Nationals Park but in a well-kept condominium complex in Reston just a few weeks ago.
The Shadowood condominium complex, which was built in the 1970s, consists of 450 apartments spread among 21 three-story buildings on nearly 24 wooded and landscaped acres.
It's reasonably priced housing just a few miles from Reston Town Center. The condos are on the market for about $120,000 to nearly $200,000, and rentals go for about $1,200 to $1,400 per month. The beige buildings are tidy; shrubbery is meticulously groomed. The parking lots are in good repair. The condo's board of directors runs a tight ship.
To keep things running well, physically and fiscally, any condo board must rely on two things: rules and fees. At Shadowood, the condo association employs both with vigor, and it won't hesitate to turn up the heat on owners who owe money, even if that debt is in dispute.
Shadowood condo owner Mihai Alexei, 46, and his family of four had their air conditioning shut off about 5 p.m. Friday, June 6, just as weather forecasters were predicting an unusual late-spring heat wave. Starting Saturday, nearby Dulles International Airport recorded four consecutive days with high temperatures of 94 or 95 degrees.
Any requests to turn the air conditioning back on would have to wait until the management office's regular business hours, starting Monday morning.
Air conditioning is among the amenities the association calls privileges, along with cable TV and parking, that Shadowood's board can withhold if an owner is not "in good standing." That could be because someone is behind on monthly dues or special assessments, or has not paid fines levied for violating various rules.
Alexei is convinced that the association timed his outage to coincide with the forecast heat wave. His air conditioning had been turned on, along with everyone else's, in April.
He and the board haven't been getting along for a while. They've argued about elections and other matters, and Alexei thinks it's personal. He said condo board President Brian Olivia "wanted the best moment to hit me."
Olivia, a condo investor, defends the policy. He said owners are sent a certified letter and summoned to a hearing before a turnoff. They have an opportunity to be represented by legal counsel, he said. "We have to be as aggressive as we can in protecting our interests," he said.
Alexei, a paralegal who emigrated from Moldova, said he always submits his monthly dues on time. But he and the condo board have been arguing for almost a year about who should pay for nearly $1,000 in damage to an apartment downstairs from Alexei's that resulted from a water leak somewhere in or around Alexei's apartment.
Where, exactly, was the pipe that leaked? Was it part of Alexei's unit and therefore his responsibility? Or was it part of the commonly owned area of the building and the condo association's responsibility? Who has to pay for damages to pipes, walls or the neighbors' property? Should it come from the $300,000 liability insurance coverage the association requires each unit owner to buy? These are classic condominium disputes, and I'm in no position to settle them. The matter is scheduled to go before the Fairfax County General District Court next month.