Real Estate Matters

Condo board problems? It's more constructive to help out than withhold dues.

By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Saturday, March 20, 2010

Q: I live in a condo community that I bought into in 1989. The association and community were fine for many years, but about five years ago things really started to change. The condo homeowners association board is being way too "frugal" with our money, to the effect of not getting landscaping done. The condo community looks horrible in some areas.

More important, the board does not enforce the rules (such as requiring residents to pick up after their dogs), and the situation is out of hand. Do I have any recourse other than hiring a lawyer? Can I stop paying my fees as one way to protest? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A: The worst thing you could do would be to stop paying your monthly assessments as a form of protest. That's only going to get you (and perhaps your credit history, if your condo board reports your lack of payments to the three major credit-reporting bureaus) into big trouble.

You should first figure out whether you're the only one who is bothered by the lack of care for the community areas. You should chat with neighbors and see how they feel. If you find that your neighbors are as upset as you are, you should start attending board meetings and bringing it up as an agenda item.

Then volunteer to get involved. Sit on the "community landscape" committee (or offer to start one if it doesn't exist). Get your neighbors together, and push for some changes.

You can also run for the board to pursue the changes that you think need to be made to keep your condo property in top shape so it is attractive to as many buyers as possible.

Two things might be behind the problems at your community. In many condo properties across the country, numerous foreclosures and nonpayment of monthly association fees have forced homeowner association boards to cut back on maintenance to avoid running into the red.

Another possibility is that the association is not getting the service it's paying for with the building management company. Maybe the board needs to fire the management company and find one that will do the work it's supposed to do.

It's easy to criticize the board, but it's much more constructive to jump in and try to help. If you don't feel like helping, you should think about selling and moving someplace where you'll have more control over the exterior maintenance of the property and less stress.

Q: I have enjoyed reading your posts and responses on the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit. I have done a lot of research and think I have a unique situation.

I have rented an apartment for the past five years. I started renting after I got divorced. My ex-wife and children live in the old home. The home and loan are completely in my name, and my divorce paperwork indicates that my wife is responsible for the payments. I have not lived there for five years.

I would like to buy a home and stop renting. The way I read all the rules, I don't think I qualify as a first-time home buyer since the loan on the old house is in my name (although it has not been my principal residence for five years). And I don't think I qualify as a repeat home buyer since I have not lived in my old home in five years.

Do you think I qualify for either tax credit? I meet all the other qualifications about price, income and citizenship.

A: The $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit rules state that you must be a first-time buyer or not have owned a primary residence in the past three years. It seems as though you might qualify for an $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit under the second part of the rules.

Ilyce R. Glink is an author and nationally syndicated columnist. Samuel J. Tamkin is a real estate lawyer in Chicago. If you have questions for them, write to Real Estate Matters Syndicate, P.O. Box 366, Glencoe, Ill. 60022, or contact them through Glink's Web sites, and

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