Tag Archive | "Condominium Association"

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Condo Bill Passes Connecticut Legislature


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 ctcondoowners@yahoo.com.

 

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AG Urges Legislature To Protect Condo Owners


HARTFORD — 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 association’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.

The proposal encourages that unit owners and associations first seek to resolve disputes through a dispute resolution procedure before relying on the state ombudsman.

“A Condominium Ombudsman would provide help to outmatched, overwhelmed unit owners who are fighting for their basic rights under our condominium laws,” Blumenthal said. “Many 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.

“Some 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.

“The 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.

“A Condominium Ombudsman will provide much-needed assistance to unit owners and provide an important enforcement tool for our condominium laws.”

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 state’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 session’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 manager’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.

Blumenthal’s office has received hundreds of complaints from condominium unit owners regarding violations of state condominium laws or condominium bylaws by their association board of directors.

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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