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 associationâ€™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’sÂ proposal encourages that unit owners and associations first seek to resolve disputes through a dispute resolution procedure before relying on the state ombudsman.
â€œA Condominium Ombudsman would provide help to outmatched, overwhelmed unit owners who are fighting for their basic rights under our condominium laws,â€ Blumenthal said. â€œMany 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.
â€œSome 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.
â€œThe 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 stateâ€™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 sessionâ€™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 managerâ€™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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