Condominium owners in Montgomery County, concerned about their lack of control over decisions affecting fees and grounds management and about the growing number of investors who buy and rent out units, have formed a new association.
"Condominiums are the worst form of property ownership devised by man," said Margaret Clary, president of Parkside Citizens' Association in Bethesda. "No one in the county or state represents the interests of condominium owners. The law offers some protection to new purchasers, but it's only after you move in that the problems really begin."
An estimated 50,000 people live in condominium housing in Montgomery County, and 40 to 50 percent of them are elderly, according to Dorothy Sager, organizer of the Montgomery County Association of Condominium Owners.
Politicians are beginning to heed the concerns of these people. Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist attended the first meeting of the new owners' organization, and a bill affecting condominium management is pending in the County Council.
At the meeting, Gilchrist agreed that current law has little to say about the rights and responsibilities of owners, but he demurred on a suggestion that a commission be formed to protect condo dwellers.
"We are, however, very seriously considering -- and are about to move forward with -- a program of inspection of rented condominium units. Some 30 percent of condo units in the county are rented, and it's appropriate for the Office of Landlord and Tenant Affairs to have an inspection program for those units," Gilchrist said.
Montgomery's housing code requires that rented apartments be inspected every three years. This year the county began inspecting common areas in condominium buildings. Under a proposal being drafted by the Office of Landlord and Tenant affairs, the county would also inspect rented condo units when a complaint is received.
Sager worries most about the effects of the increasing number of condo rentals. "With the steady rise of investors, tenants are always moving in and out. Tenants don't conserve energy the way homeowners do, and they cause wear and tear on common grounds, hallways, and so on."
County Council Member David L. Scull has drafted a bill to have the sunshine laws extended to cover condominium management councils and boards of directors. If it is passed, such boards will have to give public notice of meetings, publish their agenda and open all meetings to the public.
Sager's biggest complaint is that owner-occupants often have little voice in the decisions made by boards of directors.
"The boards have complete power to raise condominium fees and to use those funds without consulting us. Their by-laws were written by developers, so they favor the condo developer and offer little protection for the unit owner. Many boards have all their meetings in closed session. Another thing: because nonresident owners can serve on the board, sometimes resident owners find themselves governed by a board composed only of investors."