By Ann Diamond, Commentary
HARTFORD — On the last day of Connecticut’s 2011 legislative session, condo and common interest owners received another nod of support in the form of the passage of HB 6234: An Act Concerning Elections of the Executive Boards of Directors of Condominium Unit Owners’ Associations and Changes to the Common Interest Ownership Act.
The bill represents a composite of previous bills, introduced to address the many complaints legislators have received from constituents over the management and governance of Connecticut condos.
Throughout the year the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition (CCOC), a newly formed organization of volunteer members whose mandate is to work to protect the rights of condo owners and the health of their financial investments, has provided testimony before committees and to legislators through its membership’s personal accounts of horror stories, designed to demonstrate the need for new legislation that would ensure the enforcement of the current condo laws.
This effort to give condo owners the assistance they need was, also, initially led by Attorney General Blumenthal several years ago; and this year, Attorney General Jepsen agreed with his predecessor by re-submitting the proposal to establish within the Department of Consumer Protection an Office of Ombudsman, where condo owners could go for help in resolving conflicts with their association boards and management companies.
During this legislative session Rep. Jack Hennessy (D-Bridgeport), Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) and Rep. Robert Megna (D-New Haven) worked to craft legislation that would provide some support and relief for condo owners.
Their efforts were met with great resistance by lobbyists of a nationally-connected organization that represents the interests of management companies and attorneys who litigate against condo owners on behalf of their associations.
Some of these attorneys were even members of the Judiciary Committee who succeeded in shooting down the efforts to establish an Office of Ombudsman.
When an attempt was made to follow the examples of Nevada and Maryland and to at least provide for mandatory arbitration of disputes, they blocked even this effort by saying that it isn’t possible to require associations to engage in arbitration.
In the end, they agreed to provide owners with a mechanism for gaining a hearing before their condo boards “before bringing an action or instituting a proceeding against an unit owner….”
While this is a long way from providing the kind of help with enforcement that is needed, it is an acknowledgment that boards have, in too many cases, acted unilaterally and without providing members with even an opportunity to engage in any discussions or attempts to resolve these disputes.
Connecticut is reported to have approximately 250,000 condo units.
This not only represents a tremendously important lifestyle choice–often made by the elderly, but the problems found within those communities have great and long-term implications not only for the individual owners, but also for their communities and for the cities and towns in which they exist.
Currently, the property values of condos vary and many have plummeted, not only as a result of the economy, but also as a result of poor management. More and more owners are leaving and are renting out their properties, which has had a negative impact on the up-keep and climate of those communities.
While attorneys and management companies have prospered at the expense of individual owners and condo communities, they appear to be unconcerned about the long-term ramifications of continual discontent and unresolved conflict.
The pressure of the economic problems facing Connecticut was, also, effectively manipulated by opponents to an Office of Ombudsman in their favor. Funding for this office would have come from a $4/unit/year fee much as has been done in other states and is done in Connecticut to protect consumers who hire contractors for home improvements or clients who use health clubs.
Even this nominal fee was held to be too great a cost, while all the time legislators and lobbyists continued to claim that any disputes between owners and their associations and/or management companies should be funneled through the State court system–a system already over-burdened by pending litigation and a system that is many times more costly to the taxpayers to run than an Office of Ombudsman could ever be….
The CCOC will continue to work with legislators to find ways to protect condo owners and their property. It is critical that owners with problems contact their legislators to educate them of their need for support. Without a mechanism to enforce condo laws–other than expensive, time-consuming and attorney-dependent litigation, the values of these properties and the quality of life are going to continue to decline.
It has been said that all that is needed is a little more time and some education of board members. For many too much time has already passed and no amount of education will change the attitudes and conduct of association boards who feel entitled and unaccountable to anyone for their actions and decisions.
The CCOC is a grassroots organization that solely represents condo owners from 103 cities and towns in Connecticut. There is no membership fee to join. If you are interested in reading more about the CCOC you can go to our website (which is under development) www.ctcondo.org and for more information on joining email firstname.lastname@example.org.