Dear Benny: I read your informative articles, andI have a question concerning my condominium organization. We have an association in “title” only, because it is run by one lady who collects the fees. Problem one: She’s too tired to collect the fees from the owners who have abandoned their units. Problem two: How do we collect the fees from bank-owned units? I am trying to organize the other owners, and plan to schedule a meeting with them. Hopefully, we can move forward.
Answer: I doubt that this will be any consolation to you, but you are not alone. Many community associations have the same problems with owner apathy. Many owners buy into a community so that others will cut the grass and shovel the snow.
And where there is apathy, someone — such as your lady — sees an opportunity to be called “madam president” and basically takes over the association. Unfortunately, it is an ego trip on the part of many board presidents.
I do want to make clear that the majority of associations are run by board members who take their positions seriously and are working (without pay) for the good of the entire community.
What should you do? There is a provision in your legal documents that allows for board members to be recalled. There are requirements, such as giving the board member adequate notice and an opportunity to defend herself before the community votes on the issue.
I would contact the Community Association Institute (caionline.org) and find an attorney in your area who understands community association law. Your group should retain a lawyer to guide you through the process.
To answer your question about collecting fees, there are two ways to go about it — whether the units are owned by banks, current occupants or abandoned owners. You either file a lawsuit against the delinquent owner or you foreclose on the unit.
You need a lawyer to represent your interests. Your condo unit is your investment; don’t lose it.
Dear Benny: If I rent a house from owners whose mortgage is paid off, are they required to have homeowners insurance?
Answer: That’s a great question, and I don’t really know the answer. I do not believe that your landlord is required to have insurance. Setting aside the legal requirement, forgoing homeowners insurance is — in my opinion — a foolish decision. The owner needs the protection such insurance can provide.
You should obtain renters insurance. This will not ensure the physical structure of the building (or the apartment in which you live), but it will cover loss of your personal property as a result of catastrophes such as fire, theft or vandalism.
You should ask your landlord whether he has sufficient insurance coverage should there be problems in the building. If not, you should contact your insurance agent and discuss your options. You might be wise to move if the appropriate coverage is not available.
Dear Benny: I understand that our state government has plans to expand our rapid-transit railway system, and many of us are concerned that they will take our houses to complete the project. What is the law on this? Do they have the right to do this?
Answer: You are referring to a concept called “eminent domain” — also known as “condemnation.” The short answer: If the property is being taken for a “public use,” such as road or a rail transit, the government has the absolute right to take your house or your business.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution reads, in part: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” And the 14th Amendment applies that same concept to all states. That means, although you can’t fight the government taking your property, you can challenge the amount of money it offers you. You have the right to a full jury trial to have the court determine what is “just compensation.”
Although the process differs from state to state, typically, once the government determines that it needs certain property for its public use, it may hold hearings at which the pros and cons are discussed. Often you, the homeowner, might not even be aware the state is considering taking your property until you receive a formal notice. In many states, the government does what is known as a “quick take” — they immediately record the title to the property in the name of the government.
What is a public use? A 2005 Supreme Court opinion muddied the waters somewhat when it ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that New London, Conn., could condemn private property and give it to a private developer to be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan. According to the court, “the governmental taking of property from one private owner to give to another in furtherance of economic development constitutes a permissible ‘public use’ under the Fifth Amendment.”
As a result, many states have reacted to the high court’s decision by enacting legislation that prohibits the state from taking property and giving it to another private land owner, even in the case of job creation.
I suggest you and your neighbors immediately retain experienced local counsel so that you will be prepared if and when a condemnation notice comes your way. There should be a lot of advanced preparation, such as getting your own appraiser, so that you will be able to challenge, if necessary, the dollar amount that the government will offer you as compensation.
Benny L. Kass is a Washington and Maryland lawyer. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel. Send questions to