Condo, Strata and HOA News

Tag Archives: by-laws

When Considering a Condominium Purchase, Check How Long the President Has Ruled the Roost

If you are looking for a condominium that you’ll feel comfortable with, check how long the current board has been in power. If the board doesn’t turn over, it’s the same names year after year, then add additional caution when purchasing in the condominium or HOA.

I’ve read, and had some personal experience, about too many “lifer presidents” (an example here) that over time begin to treat the board as their exclusive play grounds. Where most elected bodies recognize the threat to good governance elected lifers create – even the President of the United States has term limits – no such measures exist for community associations.

The risk is, and it seems to come to fruition, that over a period of time the basic principles of the board get eroded.

Take for example the board of President Lorraine Walsh, who has held her title for over 20 years at the Deveonwood, Hercules California, condominium. According to one resident the board hasn’t held an election since 2005. Further, though there is a vacancy on the current board and an owner volunteered to fill it till next election – the current board voted down the appointment 4 to 0.

Other shenanigans appear to be happening there as well: holding in camera executive sessions in the middle of public meetings. That’s clearly a method to shut down the meetings.

Often long serving boards tend to use fining as a heavy handed method to enforce compliance, or threaten owners financially if they raise trouble. For the Deveonwood, first time violations carry $350 fines and have been handed out for improper window coverings and poor garden pot locations.

Sometimes I wonder if the property management firms hired by these long term boards are somewhat responsible for the condominium’s or HOA’s decline. If there really hasn’t been an election since 2005 the property management company should resign or make public notice that the board is failing to abide by all rule and regulations. The problem is management companies can fear failing to comply with the board will result in a non-renewed contract. It’s hard to protest the board that pays you. For the Deveonwood, one owner appears to have asked for the record of past elections to confirm when and how the last elections were held, and the management company denied to fill the request.

Condominiums are great places to live, but like any organization they benefit deeply from a regular turnover of the board, and a rotation of the roles. There is nothing scared or amazingly difficult about being on a board, and normally a management company will ensure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. I have yet to see a new board, with none of the old guard remaining, mess up a community.

Allow Everyone Fruit Bearing Plants on their Balconies

In Calgary we’ve maybe had 10 days of cold (sub zero) weather this year – it has been abnormally warm for the year, recently breaking a 90 year day record earlier this month. It gets me dreaming that maybe we can have more gardening in the city. Small plot gardening is something I’ve always supported.

Most condominiums have little in the way of necessary green space for owners to even share in a community garden. In Calgary, there is little development that includes either roof or ground based plots that can be used by owners. In some city locals the community associations have created shared gardening plots – but they are few and far between.

For condominium owners, the ability to raise a little summer patch of vegetation on their balconies is often discouraged by bylaws – controlling type, amount, and use of plants. These bylaws can often shut down any real use due to the risk of watering damaging the structure of the buildings.

Developers need to begin – especially in colder locations like Calgary – to start including 2 or 3 season gardening opportunities for condominiums. Balcony based (using water resistant materials or building approaches with incorporate better drainage – here’s an article about a Florida balcony fruit garden), roof-based (covered or uncovered) or even ground based (hah! Unlikely because that would reduce building and revenue opportunities – though I think people would pay for it) should be mandated or encouraged.

It would go hand in hand with LEED or other green building initiatives.

It would also be an amazing process to build a condominium which would encourage neighbours to talk, communicate, and interact with each other. And that’s something that can be almost priceless – because it is proven conflict between owners decreases as interaction increases.

Hammock Lake HOA Denies Boy Scout Troupe From Soliciting Food Donations

I’ve been reading and viewing the news of a Florida Home Owner Association – the Hammock Lake HOA – that banned the local Boy Scouts troupe from soliciting food donations inside the HOA.

It’s an interesting problem – The Boy Scouts (founded by Lord Baden-Powel – I know that not from Wikipedia, but because I was one) and Girl Guides, founded in 1910 (from the Scouting movement begun in 1907), represent over 100 years of education youth in physical and skill development. They are, by any definition, a highly successful worldwide organization who benefit youth in multiple countries, and relatively non-contentious.

Second, the solicitation was for a food drive – a non-commercial collection of food designed to feed local unfortunate citizens. The food drive is clearly a community building and benefiting.

But the action of going door to door is an act of solicitation. The HOA rules clearly state “no solicitation.” As such, the HOA rejected the troupe request to poll the community for donations.

I’m on record that I believe condominium corporations and HOAs are overburdened by rules and by-laws that prevent the development of a community of owners. When I use the term community, I mean a group of people, who by chance of living within the same condominium or HOA, become friends and neighbours instead of strangers.

So I am torn by this – the judgement of the HOA to ban the food drive (a fantastic activity) definitely destroys any sense of community. The rules though are clear, and it is an act of solicitation and should not be allowed.

HOA and condominium rules are often very broad and very broadly enforced. The non-solicitation is a good one to examine. No solicitation, no signs, no political expression – all these exist to make a group of people, all with their own world view function and live together in harmony*. It’s important to limit political, religious and philosophical different expressions because these have huge chances to blow up into bigger fights. We’ve all likely heard the line:

They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue.

It’s worse when it comes to politics and religion with neighbours – ever seen neighbours attempt to out-sign (in size and numbers) each other during elections? It’s nasty – and worse when some or all of the board participate as well. It creates a community that is very dysfunctional. It becomes downright unwelcoming to people of different views.

Instead of allowing any signs, the HOA allows no signs at all. It’s simpler to enforce, it’s harder to litigate against, and it prevents the board from being seen as purposefully supporting or picking on specific owners.

If the HOA allows the Boy Scouts, the what about requests from a local synagogue, a chapter of the Red Crescent, Bank of America Community Volunteers, or the local Atheists Organization (the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides require a Duty To God, and a greater participation with God the further along the organization).

“No Solicitation” is neither vague nor ambiguous. “No solicitation” isn’t an aesthetic like “keep your yard neat” which is arguable if trimming the hedge to 3’ in height is neater than 3.5’ high shrubbery. “No Solicitation” is simple – no (as in disallowed) solicitation (asking residents for something or some action).

In this case, it would take a lawyer to say a two word statement is vague or ambiguous.

*These rules are very different than no-parking on the street, no-chickens rules, controls on the delivery of furniture, limitations on access to facilities, lawn and home standards. Those are all “operational” rules which should all be simply trashed.

Patchogue Village Board Completely Wrong in Believing Rental Units Reduce Property Values

On Monday, the Patchogue Village Board unanimously under ignorance, denied an owner the right to rent their unit. The trustee that tabled the motion – Gerard Crean believed it would help protect property values.

First off, the whole “gotta protect property values” is a bunk argument. The role of the board is not to “protect property values”. I’ve not seen a single bill of legislation that has indicated the role of a HOA or condominium corporation is “protecting property values”. They often indicate a mandate to maintain the physical infrastructure and to ensure services. Arguing property values is just a weak excuse a board uses to falsely justify their often ill and often mean decisions. You ever hear “we did this for property values” know that there is likely some sad decision that the board has made.

But let us also evaluate this argument that allowing rental property reduces property values. The neat thing is, the argument is completely false.

An in-depth study by Tsur Somerville – Director University of British Columbia Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, Sauder School of Business, Chris Kay – Head of Acquisitions, Fairmont Pacific Development Ltd, and Seang Dong – PhD Student, Sauder School of Business found:

Rental Restrictions in general Decreases property values by 3.3% to 5.4%.

Wow. That is substantial.

Tangential to this, we can also look at the effect of affordable rental housing on neighbouring property values. “Affordable rental housing” often causes shivers in local owners, as they imagine hordes of smelly dirty people with chipped teeth and pan handling tins at the ready invading their neighbourhood. What really happens to property values as found by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver relying on American publications:

There is increasing evidence that affordable rental units are not a threat to local property values and are instead a net plus.

Yup – those huddling masses of poor (our imagination of them, not reality) are a net plus. So if we’re talking about private owners renting their own asset, who aren’t seeking tenants who are the huddled poor, the positive value should be even better.

And an article by Smart Money indicates that no-rental policies are more likely to force foreclosure or empty units, as depriving an owner of rental income to pay their condominium fees places greater units into fiscal failure. With multiple units in foreclosure, values of the other units are significantly reduced. For single family houses – each one within a block will decrease the surrounding buildings by almost 1%. Especially in today’s market boards should do everything they can to stop foreclosures.

The Iowa Property Owners Alliance indicates:

An outright ban on rentals may not make sense, particularly in an economy where there are many properties on the market. An HOA should consider if it would rather have vacant properties or occupied properties with renters. Additionally, some buyers may be reluctant to purchase a home in a community that does not allow rentals, so an outright ban could also lower property values by creating less demand for properties in the community.

All arguments point to the justification (which is a stupid justification all on its own) that “rental reduces property values” is completely bunk, wrong, stupid, and dim witted.

Remember how I said above that if you hear someone use the property value excuse to justify a sad board decision, it applies is spades to Gerard Crean and the Patchogue Village Board. They denied Lori Patton the right to rent her unit to help cover the costs of treatment for her two-year-old daughter’s rare blood disorder. It is a disorder that requires costly transfusions and, at some time, a wonderfully expensive bone marrow transplant.

Way to go Gerard Crean and the Patchogue Village Board! You win the current award for “stupid decisions that show you have no humanity, using arguments that are completely contrary to facts”. You. Are. Awesome.

More links indicating rental effects of property values:

How Do Rental Properties Affect the Neighborhood?
There Goes the neighborhood: The Effect of Single-Family Mortgage Foreclosures on Poperty Values
Field Guide to Effects of Low-Income Housing On Property Values

Dog Poo Bad, Flipping the Bird Totally Cool

I’m a big fan of ensuring that residents can communicate with each other, even if what they want to communicate is that they hate the board. Condominium Boards tend to be very sensitive, baby-soft-skin sensitive. I’m not sure what it is, but the moment they get on the board they won’t stand for any negative comments. Part of what drives this SOS (Sudden Onset Sensitivity) comes from board members access both to money (condo fees) and a lawyer (most corporations have a lawyer on call for foreclosures, advice, and general council).

So when Steven Preu was found by a judge to be well within his First Amendment Rights to flip the bird to the board, security cameras and the condominium manager; it seems reasonable to me. Flipping the bird is an expression of aggravation and completely impolite, and while society works better when everyone is polite, I myself have flipped the bird at times (to drivers mostly, not yet in a condo related space myself).

The judge also confirmed his right to write “insulting messages” within the memo section of his checks to the corporation, and his upheld Mr. Preu’s right to post messages in the trash room, and on a neighbour’s door.

Seems pretty good so far, but Mr. Preu’s actions at free speech weren’t completely ok, and even I knew – when reading the case – when he went too far.

He additionally blocked open fire doors that are required to be closed, and closed and obstructed fire doors required to be open. That is just plain dangerous. Fire doors must always be treated with respect.

Finally, he twice decorated common areas of the condominium with bags of dog poo, labeling the condo president’s name on the bags. Placing the name of the president is a non-issue to me (but likely does a fine job piercing the president’s skin), it’s the act of littering that become enforceable.

I’m just glad that the bags of poo weren’t flaming bags of dog poo – a fatal mixture with fire doors that were interfered with.

Board Insanity Stories #98457892374 – Only Allowing Rentals to “Families”

I’m not sure I want to even start with guessing what the definition of a family is – blood relationships, marriage, are adopted children ok, how about a two person same sex union, or one lady and seventy-two cats?

Thankfully a condominium corporation has been able to figure that out for me! Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 24 of Ottawa, Ontario, has been able to clarify that challenging definition:

unit owners can only rent to single families, which includes parents and children, married couples or people in a ‘conjugal relationship,’ two or more persons intending to live together permanently, two or more persons who own the unit, or someone who is a caregiver for someone else.

Caregiver? Really – an assisted living support nurse can be family? The intention to live together permanently (really, how can that ever be challenged or proven) is a definition of family – so Felix and Oscar, or Bert and Ernie, those lovable non-gay roommates, would count?

What’s up is Carleton Condominiums attempting to remove student renters from their condos, whom occupy about 20% of the units. The board claims these student rentals are rooming houses renting by the room, with upwards of 8 people per unit. The condominium is close to transportation and popular with students.

I’m pretty sure this will be appealed to either a court or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

As to that definition of family, I love the idea of “conjugal relationship” – does that mean if each of the eight students commit to some sort of regular orgy that they classify as family? Right on – I knew university is supposed to be an awesome experience!

Nice to See: A Very Active US Department of Housing and Urban Affairs

Often referred to as HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Affairs has been tearing thought the news lately with an aggressive policy of charges against condominiums and HOAs failing to offer basic accommodation to the disabled.

Hurray! This week HUD charged Philadelphia Parkway Condos with violating the Fair Housing Act for refusing to revise its “no pets” policy for residents requiring assistance animals.

Indeed, the Parkway Condos go out of their way to attempt to circumvent the necessity of allowing assistance animals. From HUD’s charge:

In a new 2011 policy, the POA issued detailed “Instructions for Physicians for Documenting Disability under the Federal Fair Housing Act,” which required exhaustive documentation to support a doctor’s opinion about the necessity of an assistance animal, and stated, “it may be necessary for you [the doctor] to testify under oath in federal court about your opinion.”  The 2011 policy banned persons using assistance animals from accessing the main lobby, shuttle bus, social rooms, fitness rooms, mail room, and laundry room, and required them to use the service elevator.

Says John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity:

Assistance animals are not pets. They play a vital role in helping people with disabilities conduct everyday activities and fully enjoy their homes … Condominium associations have a responsibility under the Fair Housing Act to grant reasonable accommodations when they are needed.

I can only full-heartedly agree. Condominium and HOA should, by nature, be designed for accommodation. This not only includes the requirement for allowing owners with disabilities pet exemptions, but others – for example, those with Multiple Sclerosis to have air conditioning (for buildings that ban it for “the look it applies to the exterior of the building”).

There is no reason that exceptions cannot be made for those in need. An exception to the bylaws in no way harms neighbours, effects resale value, or lower the community’s standard of living.

People who believe they are victims of housing discrimination in the US can contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 to get advice and report the incident.

Inconsistent Bylaw Enforcement will Not Get You Off The Hook For Your Own Violation

I’ve had the opportunity, as a board member, to listen to owners indicate why they shouldn’t be fined for violating bylaws. The most common (amongst many) defense against being fined is “but you didn’t enforce the bylaw in these 12 different issues or instances.”

It is a very rare event where a board will use the bylaws to personally target a specific owner. In the vast majority of cases, the board is working as best they can to enforce the bylaws on all owners. Most boards constantly attempt to respond to all the violations that are presented to the board.

This is fine as there isn’t a standard of duty for boards requiring perfect enforcement of the bylaws. The board is required to be neither omniscient regarding the depth of bylaw violations, nor perfect in its application of the bylaws. They are allowed to be reasonably inconsistent. Really!

In the 2011 ruling of Peel Condominium Corporation No. 108 and Donna Young, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that even though the owner accurately identified many other violations of the condominium bylaws that haven’t been addressed by the board. The court continued that

there has been a degree of selective enforcement by the applicant sufficient to give rise to a concern.  However, it does not approach the sort of rampant non-enforcement that has arisen in some cases


There is an interest, in the collective, in having the Declaration enforced, even if some transgressors have been allowed to violate it.

So, highlighting that your neighbours seem to have escaped the gaze of the board and you haven’t will likely prove a poor defence (and in essence an admittance of guilt) to your violation.

Condominium Corporation Forecloses on $4.70 Outstanding (Plus $3000 Lawyer Bill)

In 2009, Geeta Ramcharitar of the Venetian Village condominium, in Melbourne Florida, had a $4.70 outstanding sum owed to the corporation. It’s not clear why the sum was outstanding, or why the board simply didn’t write off less than a fiver in debt, but the debt existed.

Instead of resolving the issue – the corporation requested their law firm to start a collection process. By the middle of 2010 the law firm had billed about $3000 to collect this fiver. The corporation was then able to retain a court hearing to foreclose on the unit to collect outstanding amount, interest, fines and lawyer fees. The good news is the judge threw out the foreclosure and the amount owning.

The board of the condominium should literally be slapped. Multiple times. In order to collect on $4.70 they wasted a huge amount of people’s time – including mediation and court time – and a lot of people’s money. In essence, the board made a very very stupid decision (they are there to make decisions in the best interest of the condominium) – and should have written off the amount a long time ago. For good measure the lawyer should be slapped too – for padding her income on such a frivolous request.

Canadian Law Would Allow Condo Owners to Fly Flag In Face Of By-Laws

Ahhh, another person who feels that patriotism requires legislative support to survive. In Canada, Conservative MP John Carmichael has tabled a private members bill that will “protect the rights of Canadians to fly their national flag where they live.”  Ghaaa – really? Is patriotism in such a short shift that it requires legislation to ensure condo owners can display a flag on their balcony or in their window? Nay I say. Nay.

I will always stand on guard for Canada. I’ll do that forever, even without the need of being reminded by flags from my neighbour’s condominiums.