WARNING ALL POTENTIAL CONDO OWNERS! If you choose to buy a condominium or "condo," be sure to fully research the property and get everything in writing. . . Although there are many reputable developers, management companies, condo associations and trustees - condo ownership can become a nightmare! There are many frustrations: from raw sewage overflows, violent, loud and unruly neighbors, unleashed and predator pets, dog poop, second-hand smoke and offensive cooking orders, water damage, and repeated violations of condo trust rules. Condo living can make you sick, angry, sad, exhausted, broke, and at times, extremely lonely.
People may buy condos because they don't want the hassles of maintaining a house and lawn. The myth is that condos allow the painting, roof repairs, snow-plowing and lawn mowing to be someone else's problem. However, not only do condo owners have the same issues as people with houses, they need to get these problems fixed by committee and consensus - when condo boards/trustees do not seek consensus with unit owners their decisions can cause resentment and ill-will between unit owners. Self-serving neighbors and poor trustee decisions - especially when it comes to social status, and/or financial resources - can be extremely detrimental to harmonious community existence. Making sure that your trustees and/or the management companies are not mismanaging condo funds or misrepresenting your interests, is a must. . . .
Condo Nightmares and Other Enigmas
Doggy Doo-Doo Bags, Flippin' the Bird, and Grumbling Signs
Complaining About Condominium Management Is A Constitutional Right
Old Colony Village Condominium v. Preu, Massachusetts Appeals Court
No. 10-P-875 (Oct. 31, 2011) Click here for link to full text of case.
I love when constitutional law intersects with real estate law. It's rare, and full of drama. A recent decision by the Appeals Court considered a condominium unit owner's unalienable right to complain, moan and kvetch about condominium management. The First Amendment and the unit owner won this battle.
Doggy Doodie Bags, The Bird & Signs
The case is right out of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's dad, Morty, is embroiled in a condo trustee election battle at the "Del Boca Vista' condominium project in Florida. . .
Mr. Preu and the condominium management had a history of, shall we say, bad blood between them. Mr. Preu ultimately went on a rampage, placing in the common area bags containing dog feces and labeled with the name of board president Gerard Ritzinger, apparently in response to Preu's belief that Ritzinger had allowed his dog to defecate in an area in which it was forbidden. He gave the middle finger to condo trustees walking through the hall and to security cameras. He wrote nasty memos on his condo fee checks. He also obstructed common area fire doors. Lastly, he posted signs in the common area and a note on a unit owner's door about the cleanliness of the condominium.
The trial judge found that the bag of doggy doo-doo and messing with fire doors violated the condo rules, but that the posting of signs, flipping the Bird, and the nasty memos were protected speech under the First Amendment. The Appeals Court only considered the free speech issue.
Check Your Free Speech Rights At The Door?
The Court held that condominium unit owners do not check their First Amendment rights at the condominium door. "A condominium association does not have as free a hand in restricting the speech of unit owners in the common areas in which those owners share an undivided property interest as another property owner might in dealing with a stranger on his or her property," the court held. Accordingly, the court ruled that Preu's posting of signs, flipping the middle finger and nasty memos - although not the most civil of behaviors - were protected First Amendment speech which could not be punished under condominium by-laws and rules. . .
So. . .
For prospective condo buyers, know what you are getting yourself into before buying a condominium unit. Ask for the condo meeting minutes going 3 years back to see whether there are a history of internal dysfunction and disputes like the Old Colony Village Condo.
For condominium trustees and management, the lesson is a bit tougher. While you don't want to put up with a lot of over-the-top "crap" from unit owners, think twice about starting World War III litigation like this case. The only person in this dispute who made out well is the condo board attorney, as this dispute easily ran over $25,000 in legal fees through a trial and an appeal. Was that a solid investment of condo funds by the board? Over dog poop? Probably not.
" 'Buying a condo is a very serious business. People put up a lot of money without their eyes being wide open. . ." said Alan Slawsby of Wellesely. . . He advises buyers to have the home inspected and get as much financial information as possible. 'Obtain copies of minutes of board meetings, going back a year or possibly two. Make every possible inquiry as to the history of the building and the people who live there, and the neighbors of your unit in particular - people never ask to meet the neighbors - and don't rely on real estate brokers or their inspectors. And have your own attorney represent you and not the bank's attorney. . .' "
". . . As a real estate lawyer, Shauna Rives knows an owner's rights are spelled out in the condo documents. So when the 35-year-old wife and mother of two bought into a South End building three years ago, she had it written into the documents that she could leave her heavy two-seat stroller in the downstairs hallway instead of having to lug it to the top floor. When the childless couple on the first floor objected, 'we told them to look at the condo documents. We tried to resolve it in the nicest way possible, knowing we had to live with these people. But it was really stressful for them and us because you're sharing such close quarters. . .'"
State Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, has discussed ways to protect condo owners in small buildings. 'This office has been brainstorming several possible initiatives to bring before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. At this time, we are still considering ways to properly approach the matter, as it is a novel area of the law. . .'
Your Small Condo Association
"I'd never live in a condo again!" said former condo owner
after her experience with "two good neighbors and one nightmare."