Q: I want to reduce my monthly condominium fees. Do I have a right to see contracts that my condominium association has entered into with vendors such as lawn service, cleaning and elevators? Do I have a right to see the competing bids as well? I am a condo owner.
A: You have a right to inspect the association's records. However there is a procedure for these inspections. You must send a certified letter addressed to the board of directors and request to inspect the records. Be very specific as to what you want to see. Do not ask to see the "financial records." Instead, indicate that you want to see "the contracts for the lawn service, cleaning service and elevator service for this year." Ask first to inspect the records; don't ask for copies. If you ask for copies, the association can charge a copy fee.
As for the lowest contract price, the board is not required to always accept the lowest price for contract services. The board has the duty to make prudent business decisions. They may select a vendor based on the vendor's record of superior performance, not just the lowest cost. If you want to have an impact on the budget, volunteer to become a candidate and then help develop the budget.
Take complaint to owner
Q: Our condominium has a strict screening policy, and our rules include a clause regarding peaceful domicile. Recently, a new renter was interviewed and received the rules. Now she causes loud noises and disturbs other residents at all hours. She also has allowed a man to move in with her who has made threats against the neighbors. As a result, no one will file a police report on the disturbances. The owner lives out of state and refuses to help as he believes it is the board's responsibility. Our attorney advised us that nothing really can be done without much expense, delay and possibly no resolution. Can you make some suggestions?
A: Your attorney is right in that it will involve time and money to resolve this legally. I would suggest that you write the owner of the unit a certified letter and copy the tenant. In the letter, state the problem with the noise and the non-approved tenant living in the unit. Indicate that the association will not renew the lease at the end of the current lease. Also, say that the disturbances must stop immediately or the police will be called and the matter turned over to the attorney for legal action. You must determine if the matter is beyond the point of affecting the value of the units. The board has a responsibility to maintain the values — and the peace and quiet. If this tenant is violating the rules, turn the matter over to the attorney.
To protect from future problems like this, have your attorney draft a lease addendum for all future leases. In that addendum, provide the association the right to terminate the lease and evict tenants that violate the rules.
Getting down to business
Q: Our HOA documents say that all lots must be used as residencies and no business can be conducted on the property. One couple runs a travel agency from their home. They use the home address and telephone numbers on their brochures, cards and correspondence. They do all business by computer or phone; they do not have walk-in traffic or signage to their home. Our board feels that a computer business is not covered by our rules. I would appreciate your input on this matter.
A: I am unable to offer a legal answer, but I have used the following suggestions for the board to evaluate the situation of conducting business in the home. Is an occupancy or business license required to operate the business? Is it a violation of zoning or code enforcement? Is a professional license required? Do they have clients or employees coming to the home? Do they have materials delivered? Do they store or warehouse inventories? As you can see, this is not a black and white situation. To determine the final answer, the matter must be taken to court and a judge must decide.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., No. 201, Winter Haven, FL 33884-4115 or send an e-mail to him at CAMquestions@cfl.rr.com. Please include your name and city.