Condo Owner Protection Legislation Proposed by Conn AG

February 16, 2010
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Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, in testimony submitted today to the state General Law Committee, urged creating a state Office of Condominium Ombudsman after his office received hundreds of complaints from condominium owners over the past year involving disputes with condominium associations.

The legislation would create a self-funded state commission — with no financial burden to state taxpayers — to review condominium unit owner complaints concerning violations of state condominium laws by the association’s board of directors, officers or professional managers.

The ombudsman would also review complaints about violations of condominium bylaws concerning finances, calling or conduct of association meetings or access to public records of the association. The ombudsman would review any disputes and, if necessary, it would hold a hearing and issue orders to resolve problems and ensure that bylaws and state laws are respected.

Based on my experience as a condo owner in five condo complexes in my life and on the dozens of serious complaints I have received, this proposed legislation has merit.

Too many condo complexes are run like dictatorships by a few board members who can make life hell for others and can funnel condo work to their friends. As more and more people move to 55-plus condo complexes, a law like this is necessary.

Blumenthal’s proposal encourages that unit owners and associations first seek to resolve disputes through a dispute resolution procedure before relying on the state ombudsman.

“A Condominium Ombudsman would provide help to outmatched, overwhelmed unit owners who are fighting for their basic rights under our condominium laws,” Blumenthal said. “Many of the complaints received by my office concern failures by association boards of directors to follow basic governance principles such as adopting an annual budget with notice to the unit owners, holding fair elections for the board of directors, providing key financial information about the association, and fairly imposing association fines.

“Some of these complaints are based on deliberate indifference by association boards to association bylaws or state condominium laws — or a lack of full understanding of condominium association responsibilities,” Blumenthal said in a prepared statement today.

“The current law is unfair to unit owners. The law imposes certain responsibilities on condominium association boards of directors and establishes certain rights for unit owners. The unit owners must hire — at their own expense — a lawyer to enforce those rights and responsibilities while the association boards of directors can defend themselves using association funds, raised through assessments on the unit owners. Thus, unit owner funds are used to defend lawsuits brought by unit owners themselves.

Blumenthal proposes that the office be funded through a simple fee structure: a small $4 per unit annual assessment on condominium associations in the state. This charge is the same as assessed in Florida in order to pay for that state’s ombudsman program. There are approximately 240,000 condominium units in Connecticut so the $4 charge will yield $960,000.

In addition, the proposal requires a filing fee of $35 (the same as in small claims court prior to last session’s increase) paid by the complainant and another $35 filing fee paid by the association. The fee on the association also encourages the association to resolve the matter prior to intervention by the ombudsman. If there are 1,000 complaints filed, this fee will yield $70,000.

Finally, the proposal increases the condominium manager’s filing fee from $100 annually to $400 biennially. There are 300 registered condominium managers so the fee will generate $120,000 in revenue every two years.

Under this proposal, the attorney general, upon referral by the ombudsman, may bring a civil action to enforce the provisions of the condominium bylaws or state statutes regarding condominiums. A provision of the legislation would allow the ombudsman to impose a civil penalty of not more than $200 for any knowing violation.

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21 Responses to Condo Owner Protection Legislation Proposed by Conn AG

  1. Frank Minutillo on February 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

    As a condo owner, 27 years in the same unit in same condo, as well as a former board member of same I say this is an absolute must.

    I have been both an owner who was nearly forced to have an outrageous assessment imposed and a board member who forced owners to comply with flimsy “rules” through bullying tactics.

    Biggest problem that I see is that most condo owners neither know what a condo really is nor what they are not.

  2. uberVU - social comments on February 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm

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  4. Glen Elliot on February 17, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Be careful what you wish for, Florida has a similar self funded system and when they had a budget deficit a few years ago guess where they found the money.

  5. yellow_dog on February 17, 2010 at 8:38 am

    This is really needed as many condo board members tend to be power hungry and punitive towards their owners.

  6. Support SB129 on February 18, 2010 at 9:18 am

    For years, our condo board of directors has refused to allow condo owners to attend board meetings and does not distribute meeting minutes to owners. We have no published calendar of board meetings, and owners have no opportunity to give input to the board on issues discussed because owners are not informed about what is going before decisions are made.
    Our bylaws require our board to bid out large contracts. I discovered that the board failed to bid out the property manager’s contract 2-1/2 years ago valued at over $20,000. The board kept this a secret from owners.
    Last year, our board refused to work with the Building and Grounds Committee to resolve problems. Instead, it abolished the Committee.
    Officers have swayed election results by going around to owners soliciting blank proxy forms so they can write themselves in for re-election. Certain board members have controlled the board for 15 to 20 years or more so even when we owners want to remove directors by trying to vote them out; it is very difficult when officers engage in unfair and deceptive election practices.
    The 260+ complaints the Attorney General’s office received in the past two years is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Our legislators have a real opportunity to help the little guy. I choose to live in a condo, with the expectation there will be some democratic process followed. Boards don’t always follow the process outlined in the bylaws. The system is broken.

    Legislators, please create a level playing field for owners and association boards alike to enable them to resolve their issues without the need to go to court to resolve differences.

    Support Senate Bill 129 An Act To Establish a Office of Condominium Ombudsman proposed by our Attorney General, who has advocated this for years, way before he decided to run for Senate.

  7. Property Manager on February 18, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Condo Boards can run amok without proper guidance by a professional manager. I know because I have been a Condominium Property Manager for over 10 years and live in a condominium.

    Competent managers always facilitate opportunities for owner input either via requests for a hearing with the Board or through open forums as a portion of routine Board Meetings. When this happens, there is awareness by residents of issues, why rules need to be enforced, and decreased need for warnings or fines for violations of association rules.

    They also seek to keep a reasonable flow of info. to residents in annual packages etc. The reality is most condo owners do not want a 75-page monthly financial report and Boards do not want to pay the back office costs to prepare and distribute this volume of information to all the residents. This is essentially what owners do when they elect and entrust a Board to oversee their condominium. Similarly, negotiating contracts and making decisions about services cannot be done by hundreds of people voicing their opinions.
    Boards and Managers usually have keen insight on what work, contractors, and approach is best for the community.

    Professional Condominium Managers do not enjoy citing residents for violations. Most only do so upon direction from their Boards. Yet certain residents fail to grasp this & feel that once warned or advised of an issue, the manager is automatically the enemy. Every Condominium Association Manager is acutely aware of this “Shoot the messenger” syndrome and works with his / her Boards to seek ways to mitigate issues. Often a politely worded “advisory” letter relative to the problem (parking, speeding, noise, messiness, dog poop, etc…) is all that is needed. Boards need to be circumspect in asking their Managers to issue such letters.

    Boards that allow owners unlimited interaction while the Board is meeting to conduct business will degenerate into chaos. Owners who complain that “they don’t know what is going on” are often those who rely on second-hand information instead of attending Board Meetings.

    When a Board member seems to be acting in a discriminatory manner, most Bylaws provide for a democratic process to remove them. Condo Associations are small governmental entities and there is a process to elect Board Members. If an incumbent seeks to guarantee his or her re-election through solicitation of proxies, then those in opposition need to do likewise to ensure another candidate is elected to the Board.

    The bottom line is that there is a % of any condominium community that should have never opted for a condominium home. Nor are they interested in community governance. Unfortunately it is usually these same individuals who routinely criticize their (volunteer) Boards, opt to defy the Association’s rules, want Boards and Managers to intercede with problems with neighbors, ask for levels of service that are not contemplated within the association’s Declaration or fiscal budgets, generally have difficulty functioning as a member of a condominium, and file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office.

    Million $ budgets to fund ombudsmen etc… are going to cost all condo owners more $ as management companies will have no choice to pass on the increased costs through their fees. The # of complaints may seem high to the AG’s office but the reality is most originate from a small % of condo owners who should live be living elsewhere.

  8. Terri on February 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    We live in a small new condo project in Old Saybrook. Shortly after we moved in, we had a leak around one our windows. When it rained and snowed, we had discolored water dripping down on our sill and to the floor. The general contractor made a few different attempts to fix it. We let our property manager know of the problem as well, and she sent one of her people to check it out. He insisted it was a siding problem and would not be fixed by the attempts of the general contractor. A few more 2-story units had the problem as well, and finally the general contractor and developer hired an architect to determine what the problem was. We have cantilevered decks off the second floor, and the architect recommended the best solution was to make these free-standing decks supported by posts underneath. Work was begun, at the cost of the developer, on our unit. Our Board of Directors stopped the work, saying that they did not have approval to change the exterior of the units without the board’s approval. (There has been a power play between the board of directors and the developer/general contractor on many issues, and the board has been unwilling to budge unless things go their way completely.) The Board of Directors now is embroiled in a lawsuit against the developer and against the town of Old Saybrook on this and other issues. My house was left exposed to the elements because the siding and deck had been removed. The general contractor was not allowed to finish the work, even though we approved of the changes and still considered it a warranty issue. Finally at the expense of the homeowners, instead of letting the contractor put siding back up and fix the deck, we have the wall covered with siding again. We have been unable to use our deck or have our upstairs sliding glass door open for over a year, and it appears this will not be settled until next September at least. I have unsightly construction tape and signs all over my windows and outside. This is not the first and only issue with our overbearing Board of Directors who stays in power by getting absentee ballots from homeowners not here for wintertime residence (when our general yearly membership meetings are). Our budget is not balanced, and they think with the proceeds of the lawsuit things will even out. I’m afraid we will see big assessments when they fail in their lawsuit. I wish we had an ombudsman office to help us avoid costly lawsuits and help with complaints regarding unrighteous and biased board-of-director power!

    • fellow condo-er on February 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm

      Instead of ranting and complaining about how bad your (volunteer – works for free Board of Directors is, why not take action to get yourself elected to your Board so YOU can make change happen YOURSELF versus whining about these “bad people.” People who want to see their condo fees spiked to support another silly CT. bureaucratic empire of Condo Ombudsman are the same people who spent most of the 3’d grade in the Principal’s office crying about the bullies on the playground.

      • John Daniell on February 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

        Running for the board and being one dissenter just doesn’t work. There have been cases where such directors are ignored as a minority of one, or even not informed of forthcoming board meetings at all. It’s very hard to change the culture of an entrenched board. Often they just won’t listen, safe in their assumption that most owners don’t care. I think this proposed legislation will really help.

  9. ACPD on February 19, 2010 at 11:19 am

    This option is desperately needed to protect both condo owners and their investments. I have been amazed at how frequently I hear the same complaints from owners of condos everywhere. The problem is that these communities are relatively new and have evolved into complex, but completely unregulated investments and communities.

    No where else would one hand over the management of thousands of dollars of personal property to amateurs and individuals whose motives are often less than fair. In any organization conflicts will arise, but without a mechanism for resolution of those conflicts, abuse and malfeasance can easily result. That is what has happened in many condos.

    Going to court for help with these problems, is not realistic or even sensible. First of all, the courts have repeatedly not been interested in getting involved in condo disputes. Secondly, the Boards merely use condo money to defend themselves in court actions, which completely defeats the purpose of trying to hold the Boards accountable.

    Furthermore, while there may appear to be a process and democratic procedure provided in Bylaws, without enforcement and oversight the Bylaws often are simply ignored. Just as a dictatorship controls and protects its power base, so do dishonest and incompetent Boards in condos. Removing them often only appears to be a theoretical possibility and is actually not a reality. I know, I’ve tried in several different ways….

    As for the cost of this protection, regulatory fees are a reality of doing business; and if humans were completely trustworthy, community minded individuals, we wouldn’t need any laws. Given the fact that condos can easily be taken over by a few selfish and small-minded individuals, we need some place to go for mediation of conflicts and misunderstandings.

    We need this to protect our investments, as well as to insure our peace of mind and right to live in tranquility. Otherwise, word is going to spread that condos are snake pits in which to live and no one is going to buy them. So, in the end, everyone has to gain by this oversight and clarification of the roles for owners and Boards alike. This is no time for being penny wise and pound foolish….

  10. John Daniell on February 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Any fines levied against an association end up being paid by unit owners. These need to be levied personally against the current board members if they are to be any deterrent. After all it is their collective responsibility and ability to avoid the fines in the first place. The State ought to require a mandatory course in Condo law for any new condo director not holding any property management qualifications. Even a one day course would suffice. Many directors have never read their bylaws or declaration and some have no interest in doing so.

    • fellow condo-er on February 19, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      If a CT Condo Ombudsman decides to fine members of Condo Boards for what they determine are improper actions, you can be ABSOLUTELY certain that no one would EVER run to be on a condo board. (Do you think a Board Member, motivated by wanting to be sure his community is efficiently run, will continue if he knows that someone can have him personally fined because the Board that (improperly) fined someone who escalated their roof leak, dog pile, or non-payment of condo fees issue to a State Ombudsman?) The end result of allowing a state bureaucracy to go after board members personally would be to ensure that virtually all condos fall into chaos because there will be no one interested in placing themselves in the line of fire.

      The common theme of most of these postings is that the evil BOARD OF DIRECTORS is the ENEMY. This is 95% hogwash. Out of the whole barrel, 5% of the Directors are on Condo Boards for reasons of control, personal agendas, and wanting retribution. The other 95% of the people do it because they genuinely want to make their communities better places to live. Similarly, 95% of the people understand that these volunteers are working FOR (not against) them. The other 5% are the ones have generally been in conflict with those in authority most of their lives, consume most of the Board’s time, and cause unnecessary problems managers have to deal with, at the expense of more important Association issues.

      CT does not need another state bureaucracy to solve problems for 5% of people living in condos who never grew up or the 5% of bad Board members. Associations have an inherent democratic process of elections. If people feel strongly, they need to GET INVOLVED, GETTING ELECTED, or electing directors who will represent their interests, instead of complaining and looking for an outside state ombudsmen to solve their problems..

  11. Condo Board Member on April 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    What happens when the Board members are honest and one or two unit owners go on a hate campaign against the Board? They make outrageous allegations and threats, until finally no one wants to serve, and the lunatics take over. This is real, people! The General Assembly gives the advantage to homeowners without providing protection for Board members who are actually doing the right thing.

    • Concerned Condo Owner on April 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      Do you have a sitting board memeber that has tenure of over 5 years. It is a natural instinct to be “territorial” and circle the wagons regarding their decisions. Boards and their managing agents become conforentational and absolute offering no impartiality to their community members. tehy are self serving , aggressive against those that want explanations and punitive….

  12. Concerned Condo Owner on April 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    In response to the article relating to the Act to Establish An Office of CT Condo Ombudsman, many of the responsed were generated by those that oppose the attempt to level the playing field a new law. while the changed to condo laws that takes effect on July 1, 2010 fall short of protecting homeowners from “run-away” and agressive boards and managing agents, the CT-CAI (Community Association Institute) has launched yet another campaign to persuade condo homeowners to “vote no” on the pending SB 129/ File 123, the Connecticut Condominium Ombudsman act.
    They are basing their positions based on conjecture, speculation while offering misleading using half- truths and innuendos to persuade this legislature to oppose SB-129. While many points surprisingly lack in merit, it is quite evident that they are more worried about their ability to govern and influence CT condo homeowner association boards and their managing agents. They are hoping to do so without any opposition.

    The current form letter distributed this week, cites five points that CT-CAI is representing to homeowner’s and homeowner associations., Their Legislative Action Committee (LAC) is made up by a majority of attorneys and managing agents whose incomes are a direct result of the fees they generate from the doing business at this level. This creates more than a partisan bias in attempting to maintain the status quo while serving their own interests at the expense of condominium homeowner communities.

    While the organization references their concern for CT condo owners, their website claims one that they offer and promote value added services is to educate and train CT condo associations and their managing agents. In the past 15 plus years, CT-CAI has miserably failed in that area and lacks proactive steps to fulfill those promises through their marketing arm. The pending revisions to the existing condo laws that takes effect on July 1, 2010 is a good starting point, but stops short of protecting the condominium homeowners against powerful boards and managing agents that lack the sensitivity and training to deal with hundreds of complaints filed with state agencies each year. To that end, CT-CAI has failed to meet their obligations. Please consider the following points:

    1.CT-CAI cites “that any passage of the Condominium Ombudsman bill will immediately result in significant increases in costs to ALL unit owners”. It should be pointed out that while this still remains to be determined and there is no evidence that would support this, all condo associations’ have the ability to shop around for competitive rates that meet their budgets. Unfortunately, the managing agent in my community uses his own insurance broker who charges a premium for the rate. The MA refuses to solicit bidding that would offer competitive rates throughout the state.

    2. CT-CAI also defends it position that “associations will require additional insurance against liabilities”. Again, this is a scare tactic to convince members of the CT Legislature as well as condo associations to increase their liability insurance. Most policies already have this clause included into their existing policies. The extra monies for insurance is spent on high premiums to indemnify the managing agents and members of the boards can now include protecting owners from aggressive behavior exhibited by homeowner association boards. This new bill, if passed will serve as a reasonable deterrent and forum for all parties to work out complex grievances before they get to the ombudsman’s office.

    3.CT-CAI states “that if passed, communities will experience and immediate decline in willingness to serve on association Boards and Committees”. One of the problems that has increased the levels of complaints to the Attorney General’s office is that many people in power on these boards have been serving upwards of 20 years. In my own community, we have had the same board members for 15 plus years. This is a form of excessive monopoly of power and entitlement and in some cases retribution against neighbors that “rock the boat”. The cause and effect has resulted in decisions and a reduction in transparency and disclosure to their own communities. In any organization, when someone who serves as a volunteer for a lengthy period of time, can be venerable and susceptible to become territorial and adversarial. Additionally, in many complaints sent to the CT AG’s office- it has been disclosed that elections are manipulated by soliciting proxies and blocking others from being elected. There lacks an open and fair election in some communities. Cited in more than a dozen associations’ across the state, sitting board members actually went door to door to influence and cajole unit owners to stay home and vote by undirected proxy (the holder of a proxy can vote as they wish). On July 1, 2010, Public Act – 225 addresses that issue to some degree.

    4.CT-CAI is suggesting that as a result of SB129, condo homeowner associations can expect a “significant increase in costs for professional management companies” as well as their legal and insurance costs. They are even boldly predicting that this “will immediately increase the costs on to the associations”. While this is another scare tactic, associations and managing agents, like any other business relationship, can negotiate rates and services. Included in SB129, would be the new requirement for managing agents to registration process (of managing agents) If a managing agent has numerous complaints against them, this can be leveraged and considered in maintaining or hiring their services and negotiating new rates on renewals. For CT-CAI to make the assumption that condo associations would not consider or accept rate increases without conducting due diligence of managing agent, is insulting to homeowners.

    5.The only fee that will be passed onto each condo owner would be a nominal $4.00. This would also contribute to a surplus in the first 2 years upon passage, creating this bill to be self funding. Unit owners that we have been polling and talking with, have unanimously concurred that this is a small price to pay for fair representation for leveling the playing field for all…

    6. CT-CAI is also claiming that competitive market value of condos generally, compared to individual homes, will decrease as a result of such legislation. In fact, by giving condo owners a fair playing field, it would encourage many potential buyers who have been pushed away from the condo market (hearing horror stories about association living), to reconsider. The state of Connecticut has so many community associations made up of individual homes. Will they suffer as a result of this bill too?

    While some maintain that problem areas that exist between boards and their HOA communities, they do not take into account that some board members have served for over 20 years. they accrue power and the ability to punish any owner for speaking up or asking questions. As a condo homeonwer, I personally try to work out any conflicts with my board and in some instances to deaf ears. in my community, the managing agent thrives on confrontation and bullying, while sucking up to the board for approval and hiding behind them on his questionable tactics. He gets his way at our expense. Since he has been working with our community, fines are up 145%, his fees 75% and our expenses, over 200%. there have been attempts to terminate his services, but the board protects him

    In an age of change in the way we all look at our state and federal governments, it is the constituents that want to be fairly represented without being silenced by the money and power of lobbyist who are looking out for their own self interests. We urge you to do the right thing and level the “playing field” for the thousands of condominium owners through out our great state.

  13. rose bottinick on March 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    we chose to try condo living with the understanding that we would sell if we didn’t like it– our board has allowed our condo to deteriorate with peeling paint
    and rotting wood- they said they were going to raise the fees by $100 per month so owners panicked and the deterioration continued– based on the poor condition of the buildings our units are now unsaleable– money that had been collected topaint all 5 of our bldgs were used to paint only 3 bldgs and 2 bldgs are peeling and rotting- now they want owners to come up with more money to paint the remaining 2 bldgs.– i say- let the board that chose to spend owners money in an irresponsible way and have left us with unsaleable units–pay for the painting–

  14. PATTY CRAY on June 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I would like to know what steps I need to take if the management co will not respond to e-mails for water damage & black mold. I had water damage they were advised of in Jan. The insurance adjuster was out in March. We were told we could not ask the adjuster any questions. I have asked for the insurance policy and phone number and the mangement co will not answer my questions.

  15. Pat on August 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    What happens if the builder refuses to give the owners the association? I purchased my condo 4 years ago and the builder refuses to give us the association nor doe he provide financial statements or conduct any meetings. We continue to pay our dues to him with no explanation.

  16. Joan Bernardo on April 26, 2012 at 10:12 am

    We live in a small condo in Seymour Connecticut which has a mangement company. After the ice dams in December 2010 (of which we notified both the board as well as the management company) we had extensive damage. I became severly ill and “begged” them to fix the mold situation – they sent in a part-time handiman who said you don’t have mold I can’t see it or small it. We had an environmental (national) one come in who gave us (at our expense) a 14 page report which we gave to both the Association and the Management Committee. This report named the mold, which is highly toxic and can result in shortness of breath, heart problems and could eventually mean death.. From being a healthy individual I had to have all kinds of tests done and am now on 14 pills a day and still only have my heart operating at 20% instead of 60%. Another ultrasound is due next month. I can go on and on but it is the same thing over and over – no response from Connecticut Condo Connections. I finally called the Health Deprtment who came to our unit along with the head of Condo Connections – now this was October 28 of 2011 (almost a year went by) and explained to Condo Connections that when there is water damage the sheet rock and insulation should be removed IMMEDIATELY and the area washed with soap and water and then a bleach solution whould be applied with a rag, not aprayed on – this IS TO PREVENT MOLD FROM GROWING. After that when the areas are completely dried then insulation, sheet rock, etc., and painting should be done. Theperson from Conn. Condo Connections said “I knew that”, I almost fell through the floor and said then why wasn’t it done – no answer and the person from the Health Department said “nice to be ignored, isn’t it”. Bottom line the problem was fixed 1/6/12 from its inception it took over a year.

  17. Charles Monaghan on September 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Would you be so kind as to please answer a question for me? My Wife and I live in a Condominium in Wallingford. We have a number of people here who do have Playscapes and have had them for a while. Some members of our new Board of Directors are against Playscapes and want to pass a law retroactive to July 4th…saying that after that date anyone wishing to put up a playscape has to abide by strict parameters which make it almost impossible to put up one similiar to those already up. At the present time, there are no rules in effect regarding Playscapes. If they do this it would hurt the value of many homes and hurt us financially as the homes would not be attractive to young people with Children. My question is.can they just pass a law retroactively with no meeting of the community and hurt many home owners. It would seem that such an act would be biased and favor those who already have playscapes. My understanding is that a retroactive Law to be passed must somehow be at the benefit of those affected by it and not hurt them..but I am not a Lawyer and obviously could be wrong. It just seems like favoritism on their part.

    Thank you very much,

    Charles and Mary Monaghan

    Wallingford

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