These days, young professionals often opt for condo living. Condos can be a great option for those who want city living but cant afford a large single family house near the city. The process of buying a condo can be long and strenuous even if all things go well.
It can also be euphoric.
But the cloud of euphoria that accompanies buying your perfect “home” can often distract even the most savvy buyer from the most important factors to consider before buying a condo. Condos are unlike any other real estate purchase in key ways:
- although you own your condo the trustees of the condominium association have an enormous amount of control over your home. Some examples from Massachusetts case law and clients of The Jacobs Law make this point; trustees can control whether (a) you can put up a bird feeder, (b) feed birds on your porch, (c) hang things in your window, (d) use certain window treatments, (e) make noise after a certain hour, (f) have new furniture or appliances you just bought delivered to your home or removed at set times and on set days, (g) rent your unit to tenants, (h) fix things in your unit, (i) allow visitors to park in the condo lot, (j) repair or wash your car or change your car’s oil while it’s parked in the condo lot, (k) put lawn furniture on your porch, (l) have pets, (m) leave wet and muddy boots outside your condominium door, (n) hang things on the exterior face of your condo door, and the list goes on and on…
- trustees of the condominium association can assess you with just about any kind of fine, in any amount they choose and, no matter how unjust or unwarranted nor how high the dollar amount, you MUST PAY IT before you can dispute it in court, you must pay it ‘timely’ and, if you plan to dispute it, you must pay it “under protest”.
To illustrate just how bad ownership of a condo in the wrong condo association can get, imagine that your neighbor down the hall buys a great new couch and 65 inch flat screen from those good ole ‘furniture brothers’. A few days later, the new couch and flat screen are delivered, the delivery personnel carry his couch and tv up the stairs and into his unit and they remove the old grimy couch.
That Sunday you’re watching the Patriots play in super bowl 50 on your tube tv, sitting on your old grimy couch, and you get an email from the board of trustees. You’ve just been assessed a fine of $1200 for moving items into and out of your condo without prior approval, and having failed to prepay a ‘damage’ deposit of $500 and hiring a board ‘crony’ to ‘supervise’ the move at $25/hour.
WHAT? (you think) That wasn’t you, it was your neighbor. You respond and dispute the fine. No response. You write letters stating that it was your unit, not your couch, not your tv. But your appeal to the board is denied by a board of trustees that are all too busy to really give it a 2nd look because a unit owner has claimed he/she saw the couch and tv being moved into your unit. (this is not entirely made up – these facts are similar to a case we litigated).
If you fail to pay that fine in a timely manner, with the words “under protest” on the check, you cannot dispute it in court. If you file a lawsuit before paying the fine, your case will be dismissed and you will forever lose the right to fight it in court and, for good measure, you could be assessed the condo association’s legal fees and costs. No joke – that is the state of condominium law in Massachusetts. And if you fail to pay the fine, legal fees and costs, the condo association can get a ‘superlien’ on your condo unit and move to foreclose on you.
Here are 5 things EVERY condo buyer should consider before buying:
- Get References – Insist that your real estate agent get contact information for at least 2 or 3 other unit owners in the condo building who are not on the board of trustees. Ask them (i) how often do unit owners get punitive assessments or fines (i.e. fines for breaking so-called rules and regulations), (ii) what are the amounts of the fines assessed (there should be a schedule of fines and if they seem excessive; run), (iii) Are the other unit owners and, more importantly, the board of trustees, friendly and reasonable?
- Is the condo association trustee/unit owner managed or professionally managed? If professionally managed, get online and search for complaints – the more complaints you read, the more likely you will be the one writing a complaint one day. If trustee/unit owner managed, ask other unit owners for their opinion on how the building is managed.
- Is there good trustee turnover? Trustees that have been in ‘power’ for years and years or a board of trustees run by essentially the same group can often mean those people have nothing better to do than impose and enforce condo rules and regulations. They can run the condo association like their personal fiefdom. These are the ‘busy body’ people on steroids – where once they could only complain and nag about the unmentionables hanging on your clothes line, now they can fine you into compliance.
- Does anyone in the building own multiple units? Condominium buildings where one or two unit owners own multiple units means those unit owners also have multiple votes for trustees, and can submit those votes in blocks to re-elect themselves as trustee. This leads to the problems discussed above.
- Check the registry of deeds for the condo association (not just the unit you plan to buy). If you see an excessive amount of filings for things like recording ‘superliens’ or notices of a complaint, that’s a good sign excessive fines are being imposed. Contact those unit owners and ask them what the circumstances were.
Buying a condo can be a great experience and an excellent real estate purchase. The most important thing is to understand what you’re buying and how it differs from a single family home, and to know the environment you’re into. Good, reasonable people buy condos too, you just want to do everything you can to make sure those good people are living in and running the condominium association you b. And these 5 things can save you from years of frustration and unhappiness living in your own home.
And if you’re reading this after you’ve purchased a condo in the wrong condominium association, please feel free to contact us at The Jacobs Law LLC.