Q: We recently bought a nice condominium unit in a relatively small building (24units). The developer is out of the picture now, and every day new problems and questions arise. Specifically, how can we guarantee that each of the unit owners will pay their monthly condominium fee? Do we have the right to prohibit pets? And, perhaps most importantly, do we need professional management?
A: Unfortunately, what is happening to you is happening to many other small condominium projects. A developer buys a small apartment building, turns it into a condominium and quickly sells the newly renovated units to anxious buyers. The, when all the units have been sold and the developer is no longer involved with the building, the unit owners are left to struggle with their own destiny.
Running a condominium association entails a lot of hard work. The condominium fees must be collected and the common element utility bills and taxes must be paid. Trash collection must be contracted for, and the books of the condominium association must be kept in good condition. When unit owners want to sell their apartments, the association must be able to furnish potential buyers with such items as the budget, pending litigation and other matters that affect the building.
Needless to say, unless you have someone in the association willing to undertake this thankless job, I certainly recommend that you hire a professional manager, or management company, to handle all of these details.
Unfortunately, your condominium association is too small to be cost-effective for most large management companies. But many professional managers are recognizing that there is money to be made from small associations and you should have no trouble finding a competent manager.
You have asked a number of other questions, and most of these answers can be found directly in the bylaws of your association.
The bible of any condominium association is the operating bylaws, and every member of the association should have an up-to-date copy, tabbed or indexed for quick reference.
While I cannot answer your specific questions without carefully reading the bylaws that control your association, generally speaking the unit owners association has the right to make whatever changes they deem necessary, providing they get the requisite number of votes. In some case, a simple majority will be sufficient to make the changes you desire. In other cases, you may find that it takes three-fouths or two-thirds of the association, and in fact for certain kinds of activities - such as terminating the condominium - it might even require 100 percent of the owners.
You have also raised the question about collecting the monthly condominium fee. In every condominium that I have ever seen, when the budget fo r the year is approved by the association, the percentage of the budget that relates to each unit becomes a lien on each individual unit owner.
If the unit owner does not make the payments, the association usually has the right to sue on that lien, and in fact to foreclose on the unit itself to satisfy the non-payment of the monthly condominium fee.