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KASS: How should a condo apportion assessments?

Q:   We live in a 12-unit condo with six units two-bedroom and six units one- bedroom. The building was built in 1979. We have always paid the monthly assessment according to our percentage of ownership. Each unit’s assessment is different. We also have used percentage of ownership for special assessments. The one-bedroom square footage is 846 (3) and 781 (3). The two-bedroom square footage is 1115 (3) and 1127 (3). Should we be paying one amount for the one-bedrooms and another amount for the two-bedrooms or do we go by the percentage of ownership?

One more question: Can we have the by-laws changed so that all units will pay for a special assessment the same or do we have to go by the percentage. Ann.

A:     Dear Ann, in every condominium document – typically called a declaration – you will find at the very end a list of the number of units in the complex. That list will state the percentage interest each unit has, and if the developer (or the lawyer that drafted the document) had a calculator handy, this should equal 100 percent. (FYI: I have had to go to court on several occasions to correct the allocations so they would total 100 percent).

The percentages have two basic functions. First, the condo unit owner pays his/her condo fees based on the number allocated to that unit. For example, if the annual budget is $100,000 and Unit 101’s percentage was 1.0, the annual fee for that unit would be $1000, or $83.33 per month.

A second function – although not always used – is that the unit owner’s vote is based on that percentage. However, in some associations, even though there are different percentages, each unit has only one vote.

Turning to your question, you are bound by the percentages in your legal documents. To my knowledge, throughout this country, in order to change any percentage, you need the approval of 100 percent of all owners. It is hard to get a supermajority of 66 2/3 or 75 percent to amend the legal documents; it’s next to impossible to get everyone to agree.

So, Ann, you have to live and abide by the legal documents.

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Q:     I live in a condo, and the management company says owners should not talk to the board of directors because they are volunteers and they should talk only to the manager. But the manager does not solve any of our problems. I wrote a letter to the president of the association but have not heard anything. Can I contact any government or state official to help me? Jamie.

A:       Dear Jamie, many states have offices that deal with association problems and concerns. You may want to contact the Community Association Institute (CAIONLINE.ORG) which is a national association that deals with community association problems all over the United States. In fact, you may want to become a member of CAI.

You have the absolute right to talk to and with board members. You elected them and they are your representatives in the community. You should attend board meetings – they should be open to the public – and express your concerns.

One additional avenue to consider: contact your state’s Attorney General. From my experience, every Attorney General has an office of consumer affairs, and that office should be able to assist.

Finally, are you the only one in your association that has problems? If there are others who share your concerns, I strongly suggest you try to get a large group of owners who will join you in trying to solve the problems. You have the right to “throw the rascals” out of office, if you can muster a majority of owners to support you. You will have to carefully review your association legal documents and follow the rules spelled out for “removal of directors.” You should also consider retaining a local attorney who is experienced with real estate and condominium law. CAI can assist you in finding such a lawyer.

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