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5 common condominium disputes

Owning a condo isn't the same as owning a single-family home. On the one hand, you don't have to deal with unending yard work or maintenance nightmares. On the other, you don't have quite the same latitude of freedom as you would in a freestanding home. Your condo is just one part of a larger community, which means your individual property rights are subject to broader restrictions than most single-family homes. Disputes are virtually inevitable in condominiums, as in any common interest community.

Understanding which issues are most problematic is the first step toward mitigating disputes. Disagreements frequently involve the following.

1. Common versus individual elements

Defining who owns what isn't always an easy task. As a result, disputes often arise over who's responsible for what. For example, when the balcony of an individual unit needs repair, who's on the hook - the unit owner or the association? The community's governing documents should be clear about which aspects of the property belong to individual unit owners versus the association as a whole, but in many cases, they're open to conflicting interpretations.

2. Restrictions and violations

Condo owners are subject to the covenants (that is, rules or restrictions) that govern the community. When one owner violates these rules - perhaps, for example, by keeping a large dog, renting their condo out through VRBO or exceeding the occupancy limits - it can affect everyone else, leading to enforcement measures such as fines. Owners may also butt heads with the association over approval for major changes to their unit such as taking out a wall or adding a window.

3. Noise and nuisance complaints

Condominium living involves shared walls and close proximity to neighbors. Your actions may affect your neighbors in a big way (and vice versa). Loud parties, blaring music, unkempt doorways or even a revolving door of unfamiliar guests may ruffle feathers.

4. Board mismanagement or sloppy record-keeping

Condo boards have important responsibilities. Yet they don't always uphold their duties with the care and attention they should. Disputes may involve:

  • Failure to hold regular meetings or elections
  • Failure to provide adequate notice to association members
  • Failure to keep proper records
  • Failure to properly investigate complaints or enforce rule violations

Condo owners have a right to inspect the board's records - including financial records. When the board doesn't give owners access to these records, that's a big red flag. An investigation could reveal negligence, mismanagement or even misuse of association funds.

5. Assessments

Condo owners are responsible for a proportionate share of community operating costs as well as maintenance and repair of common elements. Disputes frequently revolve around special assessments for unforeseen repairs, major defects or improvements. When assessments go unpaid, the burden falls on everyone else to supply the shortfall. Protracted legal battles or proceedings to secure liens may also follow.

By clearly spelling out rights and expectations in their governing documents, condo associations - and the individual owners who comprise them - can help keep potential disputes in check, saving everyone time, money, hassle and hurt feelings.

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