Consumer Ed Cafe... Food for Thought Transcript (Thursday, January 10, 2013)
Eric S. Friedman: Good afternoon, I am Eric Friedman, the director of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP). OCP consists of a staff of 15 and utilizes the talent and support of 16 volunteers. Our staff of skilled investigators and consumer experts has numerous years of consumer protection experience in various areas and is committed to serving the needs of the community.
The topic of our discussion today is common ownership communities; specifically the services of our Office of Common Ownership Communities, a division within OCP. The Office of Common Ownership Communities registers all common ownership communities, offers a program to resolve disputes between residents and their condominium or homeowner associations and provides educational programs and materials to unit owners and board members. Let's get started with our first question.
Anne from Up County
My question is whether there are any limits to the types of activity that homeowners associations may regulate, or whether this is purely a matter of contract law. I am all for HOA rules that keep up property values, but sometimes I feel the HOA goes much to far in micromanaging. Thank you.
Eric S. Friedman: Good afternoon Anne, As a general matter, an HOA or condo association can regulate any activities referred to in its Covenants and bylaws. There are some limits specified in the Maryland Condominium and HOA Acts. But always remember that members have the right to run for their association’s board of directors, and in most cases they can even petition for special meetings to vote to adopt new rules or repeal old ones. With the proper majority, they can also amend their governing documents. If you think your board goes too far you may want to consider becoming part of the board. I'm sure you would make an excellent board member.
Theodore from Mid County
I live in the city of Gaithersburg and understand that we are not covered by the CCOC. I know Rockville City within the past few years has adopted the CCOC regulations and was wondering if the county is working with Gaithersburg City on adopting the regulations as well?
Eric S. Friedman: Theodore, It is a pleasure communicating with you. The CCOC would be delighted to serve the citizens of the City of Gaithersburg. However, the City Council must vote to bring the City under Chapter 10B of the County Code. The City has held one public hearing so far to discuss this issue and it is continuing to investigate the possibility. We will assist the City as much as we can in the process. I encourage you to contact your City Councilperson and voice your opinion. Thank you.
Eric S. Friedman: What is a common ownership community?
A common ownership community, whether it is a condominium association, a homeowners association, or a cooperative housing corporation, is a legal organization created by filing documents in the land records department of the County. The association is owned by and run by all the members. Usually the members elect a board of directors to handle the day to day affairs of the association. You become a member simply by buying a home or unit in the association and when you do so you agree to obey all the association's rules and to pay your share of the operating costs.
Earl from Up County
Our HOA insists that our storm doors are the same color as the front door. The problem is that the HOA has selected paint colors for the front doors that are not readily available at the home improvement stores, even as a special order. We were forced to paint our new storm door so that it matched. The paint chip and now looks old and worn. How do we get the HOA to change this policy?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Earl, I understand your frustration. First and foremost...Read your HOA documents. They may give the members the right to call a special meeting for the purpose of changing the rules. If they do, you should lobby your fellow members to get support for a new rule that the members can vote on. Have you considered running for the board; then you can work on getting the board to be more flexible with its rules. Maybe you and Anne are members of the same association and can run together.
Anthony from Silver Spring
In our development parking is at a premium. But, the association said that we can’t have people towed from our reserved spaces. Many times we have to park on the street and we own our home? Can the CCOC help us?
Eric S. Friedman: Good Afternoon Anthony, You are correct, parking is at a premium throughout the Wheaton-Silver Spring area. Most associations have the right to regulate parking on the streets and lots that they own. However, the policy should be adopted by the board and should be in writing. In addition, under State and County tow laws, the lots must be properly posted with warnings. I'm curious why the association says it can’t have trespassers towed from reserved spaces, as the law will normally allow such tows if they are properly performed. Anthony, please talk to your association and find out why and then send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
Eric S. Friedman: Red or Yellow; Blue or Green?
An association has a good deal of control over what you can do with your house and your lot. Almost all association covenants say very clearly that no changes can be made to a house or a lot without the association's permission. "No changes" means "NO CHANGES."
GORDON from Silver Spring
It seems that the ex parte rule applies only AFTER the Commission accepts jurisdiction. In view of this what protections are built into your system to assure that lawyers who serve pro bono as panel chairs do not take advantage of their contacts on behalf of clients? Should they not be strictly prohibited from ex parte _at all levels of the process and should the prohibited behavior extend to both Commission staff and County Attorney who wields significant influence in the vote on jurisdiction? Also, it is my understanding of the structure required by 10B that the drafters of the legislation intend that a positive recommendation by Commission staff re jurisdiction must be accepted by the Commission because he is best qualified to make jurisdiction determinations. Is this requirement being followed?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Gordon. Good Question. You will be pleased to know that there is a system in place to address your concerns. The County has an Ethics Regulation that says that once a complaint is filed with the CCOC, then all communications by one party to the staff must be disclosed to the other party. We make this clear in our complaint form and in the letter that we send out with the complaint to the responding party.
In addition, the County’s and the Commission’s ethical rules say that commissioners and panel chairs should not participate in any matter in which they have a personal interest. So if a complaint against a particular association comes in, a commissioner who lives in the association complained about, or who is an employee of that association’s management company, should not participate in any discussions or voting on the case.
You also mentioned the County Attorney's participation in discussions on whether the CCOC should accept a case. The law does not give priority to the staff’s recommendations, because the law does not require that the staff be lawyers. The County Attorney's duties, on the other hand, include serving the legal needs of all county agencies, boards, and commissions. As a practical matter, the CCOC staff works closely with the County Attorney. The Commission will consider both of their recommendations, but it is not required to accept them. Sometimes the Commission will reject the positions of both the CCOC staff and the County Attorney. Be assured that the right to make the hard decisions is given by law to the CCOC members. I hope that you feel more comfortable with the process now.
Cecilia from Rockville
I live in a small section in the Rockville area. We do not have a homeowner’s associations. We have been noticing that lately it appears that my neighbors are not keeping up with the maintenance on there homes and the neighborhood does not look as good as it should. This affects all of our property values. Can you help us start a homeowners association, particularly to deal with home maintenance issues?
Eric S. Friedman: Good Question. To create a new homeowners association you must have the agreement of everyone who is to be a member. This can be difficult. You may want to try to establish a voluntary association, which might help to improve community appearances and safety. You can contact the Montgomery Civic Federation for assistance. Its webpage is: www.montgomerycivic.org
In the interim, you can contact the City of Rockville’s Housing Code Enforcement office about any homes with unsafe, unsanitary or dilapidated conditions. That includes flaking paint, broken windows or screens, rotting fences, etc. Cecilia, talk to your neighbors they may have the same concerns.
Juliette from Eastern Montgomery
I havent seen my associations "governing documents" since I first moved to my condo over 20 years ago. Can I still file a complaint if i dont have these documents or can i get these documents through the CCOC?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Juliette, 20 years, you must love your unit. Generally speaking, we need a copy of the governing documents for the Commission to review at a hearing in order to issue a decision. The easiest way to get a copy might be to purchase one from your association. If that’s not a good option, it may be possible to search the land records in the circuit court for copies of your documents. We also offer informal mediation before a case goes to a hearing. Thank you for your question.
Eric S. Friedman: Do you have rights as a tenant living in a common ownership community?
You should know that the Office of Common Ownership Communities (OCOC) accepts complaints from tenants and residents alike. Visit our website to learn about the complaint process.
Thomas from Up County
Based on your previous response, it sounds like you are saying HOA organizations can do pretty much what they want as long as they have majority support.
At there regulations/guideline put in place by the county to ensure fair treatment of residents. If there are not, what purpose does the county serve?
Eric S. Friedman: Thomas, I hear you. It is true that HOA’s function as “mini governments” in many ways. Their authority is limited by the governing documents and related stated County laws. The CCOC is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for helping to resolve issues without going to court. You have the option before purchasing to carefully read the association’s documents to make sure you understand and agree with their rules and authority. Have you ever considered running for the board? It will give you the opportunity to get more involved. Hope that helps.
Neil Kilgallon from Up County
I live in a smaller community in Clarksburg called Gateway Commons. I own a City Townhouse (1400 sq ft). I bought this since it was with in my budget but my HOA fee is now around $307/month. Our community doesn't have a pool or facilities that need upkeep. It doesn't seem right that our HOA fee is so high considering friends of my pay a lot less. We were told that figure would come down soon but nothing has happened; it has only gone up. The management company was Comanco and it has recently changed to Sentry Management. One of my main concerns with this HOA fee when I try to sell the home potential buyers will be turned off.
Why can't each homeowner have there own insurance for the exterior of the home since this would likely give me a better price. Right now if someone claims against the insurance all our fees go up.
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Neil, I can see why you are concerned. It is difficult to judge whether your fees are high or low in isolation or even in comparison with other HOAs. Low fees are not necessarily good news. This may be a clue that the HOA is not properly maintaining the property or that it is not creating a sufficient reserve fund to cover future repairs to the common areas. High fees could be a sign that some owners are in default on their payments to the association.
Here's where to start. We recommend you read the current and last budgets, so you can find out where the money goes. Also, read the most recent audit, to see if your HOA is having any unusual problems. Review the most recent reserve study, which is an expert analysis of the condition of the HOA’s property and how much money the HOA should be setting aside to cover future repairs. If there is no recent reserve study, you can request that the board have one done. Well-managed associations have reserve studies performed every 5 years and base their budgets on the recommendations from the studies. It's okay to ask the board for these documents because under the law, you have the right to inspect the budgets, the audits, and the reserve studies.
However, there is a possibility that you live in a condominium association, not a homeowners association, since you mention that there is an issue over who has to insure the exteriors of the buildings. Normally, a condominium association insures the exteriors and it is required to do so by law because they are common property. In an HOA, you own the exterior of your home so you must maintain and insure it. Your documents will tell you if you belong to a homeowners or condominium association. This is important to know because condominium associations are legally required to have adequate insurance and this affects how much money the members have to pay every month. Neil, talk to your neighbors. I'm sure they are just as confused and concerned as you. Work together to investigate the issue. Please contact the Office of Common Ownership Communities at 240.777-3636 if you discover anything that you don't understand. We're here to help.
Daniel from Up County
My current HOA has niether a webpage nor newsletter creating a massive lack of transparency, do homeowners have the right to publish a website or facebook page to represent the community interests and share information without the consent of the Board?
Eric S. Friedman: Daniel, We shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech. However, to protect yourself, you should make clear that your web site or Facebook page is a private venture, not sponsored by or owned by your association. We also recommend that there be editorial controls by whoever does operate the website, so that you can screen out claims and accusations that could be slanderous. Exercise your rights!
Jim from Mid County
We have had 3 increases in our condo fee within the past 18 months. How can the board increase our fees without a vote? Can they continue doing this?
Eric S. Friedman: Jim, good question. This response comes directly from our common ownership communities’ expert, Investigator Peter Drymalski. Most condominium documents set a limit on how much the board can raise the assessments in any budget year without the approval of the general membership. You need to check your documents. It is possible that even if none of these increases, taken by itself, exceeds the limit, the board must still get the approval of the membership at the point when the combined total increase is going to exceed the limit. But there is an important exception that is found in many condominium documents: if the increase is due to the need to make urgent REPAIRS to the condo, then the board can raise the assessments by whatever amount is necessary to pay for the repairs WITHOUT a vote of the general membership. Again, you need to read the governing documents to see what yours have to say on this exception. There you have it, straight from our expert. Thank you, Peter.
Somica from Up County
Why is there a $50 charge to file a complaint with the CCOC? Shouldnt the association pay if they are the ones not following the rules?
Eric S. Friedman: Thank you for your question, Somica. The $50 filing fee is set by law and is comparable to the fee charged for cases in Small Claims Court. You may be interested to know that if a case has to go to a formal hearing, and the person filing the case wins at the hearing, the CCOC can order the losing party to reimburse the winning party for its filing fees. But honestly, the filing fee does not begin to cover the expenses incurred on a case if there is a hearing, but we have decided to leave the fee where it is so that the process remains affordable. Isn't it nice to know that you are getting more than you pay for with this County service.
Tiffany from Up County
I live in an HOA and my assessments go up every year even though my income does not, plus social security tax will be up, or the income might even go down. Can my HOA keep raising its fees even if the members have trouble paying the fees? Thank You!
Eric S. Friedman: Are you the same Tiffany that helped us with our Webpage? Your question about HOA fees is very common. We just posted an answer regarding raising fees. See the response to Jim’s question above. Stop by and see us sometime and let us know how you are doing?
Eric S. Friedman: I received a message from Montgomery County Police (MCPD) Chief Manger to warn homeowners to be careful when leaving outgoing mail for pickup at residential mailboxes. The Police Dept is investigating a series of thefts of residents' mail in the county, some of the mail included checks that were altered and cashed by the thieves. I’m sure we are all thankful to Chief Manger and MCPD for their diligence. We have time for a few more questions.
Henry from Up County
Why can’t there be a law that allows the HOA to offer the available amenities in an ala carte manner. I pay for amenities that I never use or are interested in. Also, the folks that do use the amenities always have a ton a guess with them. It is too costly and sometimes the high HOA fees prevent people from qualifying for mortgage loans. Why do I have to pay for maintenance and usage of amenities, if I never use them?
Eric S. Friedman: In today's economy I understand your concern. Some associations do what you suggest, especially with regards to the use of community rooms and swimming pools. The problem is that your documents might require that all common expenses be shared equally. If they do, and they don’t allow for any exceptions, you have to consider amending the appropriate document, either the Declaration of Covenants or the Bylaws. Amending the Covenants may be difficult, as it often requires a super majority of the members to do so. Under County law you can amend an HOA’s bylaws by a simple majority. Henry, it is well worth your time to do a little research. It may save you money.
Martin from Silver Spring
I live in a high-rise condominium in Leisure World. Every year, our Board of Directors approves a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. For the past several years, the Board has approved such budgets with income less than expenses (i.e., deficit budgets). The deficits were eliminated by using a portion (about 50%) of the surpluses available from previous years. The Maryland Condominium Act, paragraph 11-110 (a) states that “All common profits (i.e., surplus) shall be disbursed to the unit owners, be credited to their assessments …, or be used for any other purpose …” Is the retention of a portion of the surplus or common profit from one fiscal year to another in accordance with this paragraph of the Maryland Condominium Act?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Martin, Thank you for participating. In our opinion, the board of directors has the right to decide how to deal with budget surpluses, so long as it has a good reason for its decisions. The law you quote specifically allows for the board to refund the surpluses or to use them for some other proper purpose. If you live in a high rise condominium you know you must have a sizeable reserve for future capital repairs. That sum can never be predicted in advance with certainty and the board might wish to retain part of the surplus as insurance against having to raise fees later. Still in doubt? Look into the association’s budget, audits, and other documents and find out why the board is doing what it does. If you need assistance, please contact the Office of Common Ownership Communities at 240.777-3636.
Eric S. Friedman: Feeling low? Assessments too high?
Unfortunately, the law does not control assessments. The regulation of assessments is usually found in your association's own bylaws that often set a limit on how much the board can raise the assessments without the approval of the membership.
Victor from Eastern Montgomery
I have a truck that I use for my work. My hoa tells me that I cannot park it in our community but it I need it to stay employed. I don't see why they should force me to park outside of my neighborhood.
Eric S. Friedman: Hi Victor, This is a common complaint and we understand your need for your truck. Everyone needs to make a living. Sometimes the covenants and bylaws specifically declare that no commercial vehicles can be parked in the community. Sometimes the board passes a rule or regulation prohibiting commercial vehicles. As a general matter such restrictions are valid and the residents must obey them. However, you can consider applying for an exception. You can also make sure that you are being treated fairly and that other people are not allowed to have trucks parked in the community when you cannot. We recommend you check the association documents. If you think the association does not have the authority to ban your truck from the community parking, or if it is not treating you the same as other members, then file a complaint with our office http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocptmpl.asp?url=/content/ocp/ccoc/ccoc_complaints.asp.
Linda from Up County
I have fallen behind on my monthly payments and my hoa is not allowing me to use common areas. Can they do this?
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Linda, I'm very sorry to hear that you are having difficult times. Unfortunately the answer is yes, provided that the board of directors is following your governing documents. You can read the bylaws governing Assessments to see what powers they give the board when a member falls behind in the payments. There may be a section allowing the board to “revoke privileges”, which means it can deny pool passes, revoke reserved parking spaces, refuse to allow you use community rooms, etc. But, if you think that the board has taken an action against you which the bylaws do not permit, please contact our Office of Common Ownership Communities for assistance, 240.777-3636. I'm sure better times are ahead for you.
Anne from Up County
I have ongoing mold problems because of leaks from the upstairs unit. My condo association refuses to do anything about it but I think that they should be responsible. Please help
Eric S. Friedman: Hi Anne, Let's get right on this. If you have an ongoing leak from outside your unit, you should first ask for a Housing Code inspection by calling 311 (Will Get It Done!). If the leak is fixed but there is mold, then you should make a written request to the board of directors—not to the manager—to remove the mold. Be assured that the Maryland Condominium Act says that if any unit is damaged by a cause from outside the unit, then the Condominium must repair the damage. It can require the owner of the unit that caused the damage to pay the first $5000 of any repair costs. If your board ignores your request, or rejects it, you can file a complaint with the Office of Common Ownership Communities. Our complaint form is online at the CCOC website, http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocptmpl.asp?url=/content/ocp/ccoc/ccoc_complaints.asp.
Thomas from Up County
My Name is Thomas ### I currently live at ### managed by the ###.
I feel very strongly the policies/fees associated with the use of the pool discriminates against household containing small families.
When I purchased my house, I was required to signed an agreement to pay $25.00/month ($400.00/yr) to cover the construction/operation of the pool.
Since every household pays the same amount, then each household should have equal access. Under the current policies/fees, they do not.
Each house hold get pool passes based on the number of people in the household and 10 guest passes per Household.
A guest Pass, will allow you to have a guest use the pool and your number of guest passes is reduced each time a guest uses it ( i.e. If you bring one guest , after use you will have 9 guest passes left. You have the option to buy additional guest passes.
A Pool Pass will give that person unlimited access to use the pool during
Eric S. Friedman: Hello Thomas, The dreaded pool passes question. The process of pool passes is not a simple issue and there is no simple solution to it. No matter how the association chooses to allocate the pool passes, there is always the potential that a household will feel it is being treated unfairly. But, let’s try to take the bull by the horns and give you some answers. You are entitled to take up this issue with your neighbors and with the board of directors. Your governing documents might give you the right to petition for a special meeting of the general membership for a vote on a new pool pass policy. You seem like a very reasonable man, just what any association needs. Consider running for a seat on the board so that you have a say in proposing and voting on a different policy. Ole'
Derrick from Up County
My HOA recently rasied our fees due to late payments or lack of payment from others in the community. I have never been late and am now paying more because others were not responsible! Is there anything that can be done to reverse this issue?
Eric S. Friedman: Derrick, This is an unfortunate situation; but, the answer is no. I know it feels like your being penalized. However, your HOA is caught between a rock and a hard place. It must pay its bills and if it does not it could lose its utility services, get sued for broken contracts, etc. It has no choice but to raise assessments to cover the bills. On the other hand, the board should take all REASONABLE steps to collect the assessments. It can place liens on the homes of those who are not paying, it might be able to deny them the use of the common areas, and it can take legal action against them. However, in spite of its best efforts it cannot guarantee that any legal steps will actually bring in the money. The problem is essentially the result of the current weak economy and the fall in property values. Hopefully the economy will turnaround soon. Take care, Derrick.
Eric S. Friedman: Having problems settling a dispute with your association?
Contact our office to discuss our alternative dispute resolution program. The Office of Common Ownership Communities can provide professional mediators to help you reach a mutually agreeable resolution to your issue.
Noelle from Silver Spring
How long does it typically take to resolve a complaint filed with the CCOC? What is the process? Thanks Noelle
Eric S. Friedman: Not as long as you may think, Noelle. On the average, we can resolve a complaint through mediation in about 3 to 4 months, but if we have to hold a formal hearing because the parties could not settle, then the amount of time will increase. Much of the CCOC process is regulated by law which mandates fixed periods of notice throughout the proceedings. Noelle, please visit our website, for a step-by-step description of the entire process, http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/ocp/ccoc/pdf/complaint_process.pdf.
daniel from Up County
I was a project manager for 12 years with a good deal of experience in planned communities. After relocating to Germantown recently I have noticed that my HOA is comprised mostly of inactive volunteers with little to no experience or in some cases understanding of basic principles from maintenace contracts to real estate markets. As a result, they seem to have differed to a property management company that is acutely aware of the boards ignorance. As a result I suspect massive overspending and budget inaccuracies. Simply voicing my concerns to the board is not an option as the PM has arranged for all correspondence to go directly through him. How can I help institute a system of checks and balances between board and PM to help justify contributing fees to a bloated ops budget?
Eric S. Friedman: Good Afternoon Daniel, Okay you say you “suspect” overspending and inaccuracy, so that sounds like you don’t know for sure. So your first step is to do some research and exercise your rights under the HOA “open records” law. Under that law you have the right to see all of your association’s budgets, audits, and financial records. You can see bank statements, checks and invoices. You can ask to inspect such records to see for yourself where the money goes and to help you decide if in fact the money is being properly accounted. If you think the manager is not going to forward your concerns, go to a board meeting and ask to speak briefly on the issue, or find a board member and speak to them directly. You can also ask that the board appoint a budget committee that will include both board members as well as volunteers from the community. Another option is to check your documents to see if the board has to have periodic audits and make sure the board complies. Talk to your neighbors. Other residents may feel the same as you do. Maybe you or one of your concerned neighbors can run for the board at the next election. Daniel, it appears that you have valuable experience that would make you an excellent candidate.
Gretchen from Rockville
Thanks for CCOC’s efforts to level the playing field when owners have complaints about boards, but it isn’t enough. We’ve documented some serious offenses and could get documentation on more, but we haven’t been able to get an attorney to guide us. Even the man at the CCOC forum in November who said he was one of the few lawyers would take such cases never returned our call. The board, on the other hand, has attorneys and money to finance a defense. This seems an insurmountable obstacle.
Eric S. Friedman: Good Afternoon Gretchen, The number of attorneys who represent homeowners is small and unfortunately there is not much we here can do about it. Our staff does maintain an email list of attorneys to whom we frequently send information on common ownership issues so that they can be kept up to date and be more likely to take common ownership cases. We also have online our staff’s Guide to the Procedures and Decisions of the CCOC http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/ocp/ccoc/pdf/staffsguidenovember2012.pdf, that you can read for general information and guidance. I do recommend you keep trying to contact an attorney so that at least you can meet with one to review your case and get advice on how to proceed, even if the attorney does not take the case himself. If you think you have the evidence to show that the association is in violation of your rules or of the law, then bring it to our office. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have an attorney stop you. Gretchen, keep up your vigilance.
Thomas from Up County
My Name is Thomas ### I currently live at ### managed by the ###.
When I purchased my house, I was required to signed an agreement to pay $25.00/month ($400.00/yr) to cover the construction/operation of the pool.
Today money collected from the monthly fees are use to support the swim team. For example they pay about $14,000.00 a year for coaches to coach the swim team. This is not right, when my son played hockey, the parents paid for "ice time" and the coaches fee/cost. Why are we forced to pay this.
They get priority when using the pool, impacting the availability of the pool to the people who paid for it.
I did not sign up to sponsor/subsidize a community swim team. If I had to guess, less than 5% of the households families in the community participate on the swim team.
I feel the swim team expenses should not come out of the money we are required to pay. Maybe there should be a separate "bucket of money", where home owners can donate money if they ...
Eric S. Friedman: Thomas is back with another question. You have raised a serious question. Normally the board of directors has a lot of discretion in how to use the association’s money but it does not have unlimited discretion. The association’s bylaws or covenants might require that the common funds can be used only to maintain the common property. If they say so, and if there are no other exceptions built into the documents, then it is possible that the association does not have the right to use the common funds to maintain a swim team or other athletic team or club to which ALL the members of the association do not belong. It appears that you have quite a few issues with your association. I would like for you to contact our office at 240.777-3636 to discuss your concerns with our common ownership communities expert, Investigator Drymalski. Thank you, Thomas.
Gregory from Silver Spring
I receive a violation letter from my hoa after I painted my door. My problem is that there are many houses in the community that need repairs. I feel that if they are sending a violation it should be to them not me when I am taking care of my house. Can I do anything about this?
Eric S. Friedman: Gregory, I’m glad we were able to get to your question before we ran out of time. I’m assuming that you received a violation letter because the HOA believes that you painted your door the wrong color. Unfortunately, the architectural rules of the HOA may stipulate what color your door must be painted. However, if other people are not maintaining their property the HOA should uniformly take action against all homeowners. If you think that you are being treated unfairly you may want to file a complaint with our office. Hopefully, you will find a mutually agreeable color.
Ruth from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Our condo association's by-laws (written in the early 80's) does not restrict term limits for Board members. Some of our current members have served for 12 years (4 terms)!
Knowing that achieving such a provision through a by-laws amendment would be close to impossible, does CCOC have any jurisdiction to suggest/impose such term limits -- as a "best practices" approach on the condo association?
Eric S. Friedman: Ruth, Thank you for your participation. Yes, the CCOC could suggest such a limitation if it thought it was indeed a good practice, but it could not impose the limitation. Your bylaws would still need to be amended. In our experience, the main problem associations experience is finding enough members who are willing to serve on the board at all. Preventing experienced members who wish to serve from continuing to serve might make that problem even worse. Honestly Ruth, the best term limit is simply to vote for someone else.
Theresa from Mid County
My condo assoc raised our condo fees 30% for 2013 which is an extra $150 per month for me. The condo fee has always been higher than neighboring communities and an impediment to being able to sell our units. There are no elevators in these buildings to maintain, and I pay for my own utilities and water. There was no vote called for to approve this increase, but basically a monthly condo board meeting where the board listened to upset owners who were basically told by the board "too bad this is how it's going to be since the condos are 20 years old now". What type of recourse, if any can we owners take?
Eric S. Friedman: Hi Theresa, we can understand that having to pay an extra $150 per month is going to be a burden for you. We have 3 things we want to emphasize. FIRST, you need to read your bylaws. Most bylaws limit the amount by which a condo board can raise the fees in any given year without the approval of the general membership. Be aware that there may be an exception to the limit, which allows the board to raise the fees in any amount if the increase is needed for urgent repairs. SECOND, you have the right to inspect not only the proposed budget but last year’s audit and any other documents to find out where the money is going to go. The Maryland Condominium Act gives you the legal right to go to the office to inspect the financial records of your condominium. This will probably some time. So try to get other concerned members involved. But, you really need to take the time to do this. THIRD, raising the fees may be necessary if it is required to create a proper reserve fund for future repairs, because the Federal Housing Administration will not back mortgages in condos that do not meet FHA standards. FHA requires that 10% of the assessments be set aside for capital reserves and that the reserve fund is sufficiently large enough to satisfy the FHA. If your condo cannot meet the FHA guidelines, that will make the units very difficult to sell because the prospective buyers won’t be able to get FHA-backed loans. Theresa, please let us know if you need our assistance with this process.
Eric S. Friedman: We have run out of time and responded to our last question for today. We had overwhelming participation in our discussion today. Unfortunately, we did not get to all of your questions. If we didn't get to your question, we will post as many responses as possible on our webpage or will respond to you directly. I have enjoyed this discussion and hope that we have provided you with useful information about our Office of Common Ownership Communities. I encourage you to take advantage of the services and educational materials that we provide in reference to common ownership communities. Until we have the opportunity for another live discussion, please visit our website (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer) to file a complaint or get additional information about our services. For consumer questions or to speak to an investigator, please contact us at 240.777.3636 or by email at email@example.com. To subscribe to our electronic newsletters, please visit http://bit.ly/w7XFdM and select Consumer Protection and Common Ownership Communities. If you would like to volunteer with our office, please visit our website (http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/ocptmpl.asp?url=/content/ocp/consumer/volunteer.asp).