Q: I read your column weekly, but I do not live in a restricted development. I am free to own whatever vehicle I want, such as a boat or an RV. I am stunned when reading some of the comments and complaints from people who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to live in these restricted developments. Why would anyone want to pay a huge mortgage and homeowner dues with the draconian restrictions so often imposed? My question may not be germane to the purpose of your column, but I would be grateful for your thoughts and opinions. How would you advise people considering this potential lifestyle given the current economic situation?
A: To properly answer your question would require pages of information. First, in today's real estate market, it is hard to buy a new home that is not in an association. This is brought on by government regulations and financial institutional policies, and there is a lot of history behind these circumstances. Homes in properly operated associations are thought to maintain their value much better than non-association properties.
Also, my column is based on helping solve problems. The situations posed here may not be true for most associations. Where you live, your neighbors can park their RVs, trucks, and junk cars in their front yards. What can you do if your neighbor does not cut his grass or lets it go brown? Would either of these things lower your property value? You have only one option to correct the situation, and that is to call code enforcement. In my community, the grass is cut, landscape is replaced when needed and irrigation is provided. These services are included in my monthly fee. In addition, we have social areas like swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse for socials. If you want these amenities where you live, you must pay to join a club or have them included on your property (where you also pay to maintain them). There is a lot to say about not living under such strict rules, but there is more to gain by living in a community.
Owner won't pay fees
Q: We have an owner who refuses to pay her condominium assessment fees. She said she is setting up an escrow account and putting her money in it. Is this legal, and what can we do?
A: Owners are not allowed to place fees in an escrow account unless they have a judge's order. I suggest that you send the owner a certified letter and demand immediate payment. Allow one week to pay the delinquent fees, then turn the matter over to your attorney to lien and then start foreclosure. I would try to find out her complaint first. If you find a way to talk with her, maybe you can solve the problem and avoid the legal fees.
Dearth of directors
Q: We are a condominium of 20 units. We are aware of the condominium law that was recently changed that says that two people residing in the same unit cannot be directors at the same time. However, what do you do when quite a few of the residents are not director material? In the past, we had several husband-and-wife teams as directors with no difficulties. What do we do?
A: This is one of the problems with small associations. You are right and you are wrong in whatever you do. The state has done much research on the matter. They think it is less likely for problems to occur when only one owner serves on the board from different units. Otherwise one unit has too much voting power. Do not think that management will eliminate the board. Management is a tool for a board, not a replacement. Your members are going to have to share the workload and learn the business of condominium operations or pay for the expertise and management.
Fee can't be avoided
Q: My apartment was destroyed by a hurricane and cannot be occupied. Am I still responsible for my maintenance fee?
A: Yes. It is unfortunate that you cannot live in your unit, but the maintenance fee is budgeted to maintain and repair the common area, not your unit.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., No. 201, Winter Haven, FL 33884-4115 or you may e-mail him at CAMquestions@cfl.rr.com. Please include your name and city.