1. Archive

Fees for battle of the bulb: $10,000

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Herman "Fred" Olsen won the battle against his condo board, but he isn't winning any popularity contests with his neighbors.

Olsen became a bit of a folk hero among area condominium owners and put a local spin on an old gag: How many condominium board members does it take to unscrew a light bulb?

In his case, board members at the Island Sun condominiums worked for more than two years to get Olsen to turn off the light bulb in his personal storage closet. In the end, after a lawsuit and an ugly battle among neighbors, each condominium owner in the 15-unit building had to pay about $700 to cover legal costs incurred by the condo board and Olsen.

His legal bills did get paid, though some condo owners still refuse to ante up, saying it's not their fault the condo board got into a legal tussle, Olsen said. After his story appeared in Neighborhood Times, a couple people in similar circumstances took him to lunch or requested his attorney's name. Olsen also is now part of a group trying to start a regional condo owners association.

"We're trying to form a group . . . to represent people who are being victimized because you get a board in there, and they think they're Mussolini and Hitler," Olsen said.

Around Island Sun, some neighbors are unfriendly, though Olsen and his wife, Pat, say they have no plans to move.

"I've got letters of congratulations and cards with good luck, spurring me on," Olsen said. "We've been shunned by a number of people, and the board members don't speak to us."

The saga began in January 1997, when the condo association installed electrical outlets inside residents' personal storage rooms, located in the communal garage beneath the 15-unit complex. Olsen and his wife kept a 40-watt light bulb inside their storage room turned on full-time to reduce humidity.

Condominium board members were furious. The electric bills for the storage units are paid with condo association funds, and they thought the Olsens were abusing the electricity. Even when the couple put a timer on the light that shut it off automatically from time to time, and even when they offered to pay the board an additional $15-$30 _ the cost of powering such a bulb full time for a year _ the condo board declined.

The board sued to force the Olsens to turn off their bulb. It lost the battle after both sides incurred about $10,000 in legal fees.

Olsen said he hopes this new condominium owners association makes a difference.

"There's an awful lot of people that are being misruled by some of these condo associations because they've got a clique going," he said.