QWe own a unit in a condominium complex that consists of four detached buildings. For the past 10 years, we have had few problems. Our yearly condominium fees have modestly increased and periodically we have had a special assessment for unexpected expenses, such as snow removal. Expenses are shared by all residents according to a formula, no matter which building they live in.
Recently, however, a new owner in one of the buildings has created a situation that is causing a lot of heated discussion. The complex has one elevator; it's in a building where he doesn't live. He claims expenses, maintenance, insurance and other costs regarding the elevator should be paid by the unit owners in the building where the elevator is.
Doesn't his proposal go against the very concept of a condominium association? What recourse do we have?
AI have heard this all too often: "I live on the first floor and never use the elevator and thus do not have to pay for any expenses associated with the elevator."
Yes, this position is absolutely contrary to condominium living. Your neighbor may not use the elevator, but you may not benefit from the beautiful landscaping that is directly in front of his unit.
Living in a condominium means that you have to abide by the legal documents that govern your association. These documents include the declaration and the bylaws. Typically, the declaration will spell out the percentage interest that each unit has in the association, and that percentage will control your voting rights and your payment obligations.
You state that each owner in your association pays according to a formula. Is that formula based on the percentage interests as stated in your legal documents? If not, it should be.
Say, for instance, that there are 10 units in a condo complex. Five of them have two bedrooms; five have just one. The declaration spells out the percentage interest of each unit: The two-bedroom units each have a 15 percent interest in the association while the one-bedroom units each have a 5 percent interest. (Percentages must total 100.)
Assume the complex's budget for the year is $30,000. Thus, owners of the two-bedroom units pay $4,500 per year ($375 monthly), while owners of the one-bedroom units pay $1,500 ($125 monthly).
When a vote needs to be taken, such as for special assessments or election of directors, each unit owner votes his percentage interest. (Some legal documents may specify different rules for voting than for payment of expenses, so you should review your own set of legal documents.)
Are you following the procedures spelled out in your legal documents? I'm assuming you are.
If so, the heated discussions can be ended merely by saying, "Please read section XX of our declaration and Article YY of our bylaws."
If your neighbor persists on pressing his position -- and refuses to pay his fair share of the condominium fee -- the association will have to bring a collection lawsuit against him. Obviously, no one wants to get involved in litigation, especially against a neighbor. But if your association lets him get away with his position, you will have set a dangerous precedent.
Condominium law is quite clear: Each owner must be treated equally. If a board of directors lets one owner violate a particular rule or regulation, that will be a strong defense should the board go after a different owner for that same violation.
A board of directors cannot arbitrarily enforce the rules and regulations spelled out in its legal documents. Furthermore, if a unit owner becomes delinquent in his condominium fees, the board should adopt a zero tolerance policy -- take action immediately before the bill gets too high.
Benny L. Kass is a Washington lawyer. For a free copy of the booklet "A Guide to Settlement on Your New Home," send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Benny L. Kass, Suite 1100, 1050 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Readers may also send questions to him at that address.