A bill has been introduced in the General Assembly that would require only a simple majority of condo owners to defeat an annual budget.
The proposed bill – 5511 – eliminates the requirement that a majority of the actual owners are need to vote against a budget to defeat it.
It is expected to be a hotly debated bill.
Most condo boards and condo managers oppose it, fearing that a small vocal majority could defeat annual budgets if there is only a small turnout. Maintenance fees – just like town budgets – are a huge bone of contention in all condo complexes. There are those who believe that constantly improving their complex will raise the value of their homes, while others, especially those living on fixed incomes demand the fees be limited.
That is why condo lawyers and managers demanded two years ago that proposed legislation requiring condo owners to be able to vote on annual budgets include a stipulation that all unit owner who DON’T vote, automatically be considered a YES vote. Condo associations whose bylaws require annual votes by owners can follow either the state law or bylaws.
Southbury’s Heritage Village
The prime reason for the proposed revision comes after a controversial budget budget vote last October at Heritage Village in Southbury, the largest age-restricted condo complex in the state. The complex – for those 55 and older – has 2,580 units with an annual budget of $15 million, only slightly less than the town’s $18 million budget.
The board of directors voted for a more than three percent fee increase. There was a huge turnout with 1,746 owners participating either in person or through valid proxies. Of that number 1,191 voted against the budget and 595 voted for it. But there were no votes cast from 754 units.
So under the state law, even though twice as many voted against the budget as those who voted in favor, the budget was adopted because the 754 non-votes were counted as YES votes.
“It is grotesque,” Dr. Salvatore Pace, a retired physician, said of the statute. “It is counterintuitive that a failure to vote should be anything but no vote … especially when it comes to this complex. It’s not at all democratic. I know of no other instance where this occurs.”
“The average age here is 75,” he said in a telephone interview, explaining that many of the owners have dementia, are in hospitals, nursing homes, or living part of the year in Florida. Other units are in limbo because their owners have died while many others are owned by investors who aren’t interested in voting.
“My next door neighbor will be 100″ this year, Dr. Pace said. “He doesn’t care what the maintenance fee is and isn’t voting.”
Fed Up With Fee Increases
Dr. Pace and many others living on fixed incomes do care. “I have been here for four years and the fees have increased by 16 percent,” he said.
As a self-described “young dude at 69,” Dr. Pace is now president of the Concerned Residents Club Of Heritage Village, which was formed in the late 1990s when a group tried to pass a 15 percent fee increase.
Last month he invited two members of the General Assembly to hear complaints from condo owners who asked that the law be changed to permit budgets to be defeated in a more democratic manner.
The size of the maintenance fee is just one of many hot button issues where many condo owners feel they have less rights than association board of directors, who sometimes run complexes to benefit themselves and their friends.
A state-wide group of volunteers called Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition is asking the General Assembly to pass legislation this year to even the playing field so that condo owners could have more rights and more voice at how their complexes are managed.
While many condo owners may not be happy with the way their board of directors run their complexes, there are few proposals that would benefit all. The needs of owners of small, medium and large complexes are sometimes different. Those in large association with professional management, and active members, have less of a need for state protection.
But many in smaller condo complexes want the state to create a condo ombudsman who could mediate disputes between boards and unit owners. Without that, a condo owner who feels victimized has to hire an attorney to fight the board and may end up paying not only for his lawyer but the condo complex’s lawyer.
Dr. Pace said he is against the creation of another bureaucracy like an ombudsman because in all likelihood it would have to be funded by increasing all owners’ condo fees. He is more interested in getting the condo budget law changed.
David Kelman, a member of the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition steering committee, says his group is for the amendment. His group
www.wix.com/ctcondoowners/ccoc favors the state adding an office of ombudsman to help victims of boards that fail to function ethically.
To read a copy of the proposed bill:
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- Gov. Malloy Vetoes Condo Bill That Would Have Given More Control To Unit Owners In Southbury
- Important Condo Bills Enacted By the 2013 Connecticut General Assembly
- Hearing On Controversial Condo Law Proposals Scheduled For Monday In Hartford
- Gov Malloy Signs Condo Bill To Certify Property Managers, Preventing Associations From Blocking Religious Symbols On Doors