Changing to Prorated Assessment Difficult
QUESTION: We own a one-bedroom unit in a 72-unit condominium complex. There are 23 one-bedroom units and the rest are two-bedroom units. All owners pay the same assessment amount. The owners of the one-bedroom units feel that their monthly assessments should be less than the assessments paid by the two-bedroom owners.
Our board of directors is going to increase the monthly assessments soon. We would like to know if the assessments can be increased for two-bedroom units so that two-bedroom owners are paying more than the one-bedroom unit owners. What would be involved in making the change?
ANSWER: Since you are writing about an association here in California, that tells me your initial budget and the association’s legal documents were reviewed for compliance with specific requirements of the Department of Real Estate.
The DRE usually requires that assessment amounts are set up in correlation with the units’ square footage if the variance is more than 10% to 15%. Voting power would also be weighted according to the square footage of the units.
In my opinion, it would be nearly impossible to change to prorated assessment amounts. Trying to do so will not bring you any popularity awards from your neighbors since a majority of the owners have two-bedroom units.
You should read your legal documents, especially the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs;), to find out if equal assessments are mandated. Any change in the established assessment provisions and voting percentage would require a vote of the full membership to amend the CC&Rs.;
Specific information in the CC&Rs; will tell you about the amendment process and the percentage of affirmative votes needed to approve a proposed amendment. A vote that would potentially change the voting percentages might require affirmative votes from 100% of the owners and the mortgage lenders.
Minimum Fine May Be Aimed at Saving Water
Q: Our association’s board of directors has approved a new rule that prohibits the washing of cars within the complex. There is a $25 minimum penalty if an owner violates the rule. Is it legal to approve a penalty that provides for a minimum amount? Shouldn’t they also establish a reasonable maximum penalty?
A: Because of the water rationing mandatory in Southern California, many associations are trying to cut their water costs. I have heard of penalties of several hundred dollars being imposed by the Metropolitan Water District.
Your association is obviously trying to get the cooperation of all the owners to reduce the water cost and the possibility of penalties being levied against the association. Based upon the potential cost of these penalties, a reasonable maximum charge might be considerably more than $25. Therefore, if you want to play it safe you should simply abide by the rule so that you won’t have to worry about the amount of a maximum penalty.
In general, an owner does have legal recourse and should contact an attorney if he or she feels that any penalty levied by the association is more than a reasonable amount. Small claims courts deal with this type of conflict unless the penalty is above the small claims court jurisdiction limits of $5,000.
Insistence on Large Dog Violates Rules
Q: I recently bought a puppy that will be about 80 pounds when full grown. Someone in my condominium complex has complained that my dog will be in violation of a restriction that prohibits pets weighing more than 40 pounds.
Other owners have or have had pets that were above the weight limit. Can the board of directors enforce this restriction against me and not others?
A: If you want to have an 80-pound dog, you moved into the wrong condominium complex. And if you want reassurance from me that you can keep your pet, you’ve asked the wrong person. I am not an attorney, but I am aware of a number of legal cases on this subject. I take a very strong stance against anyone who willfully violates pet restrictions. However, you will definitely find attorneys who disagree with me.
You are risking a legal hassle when you disobey the legal documents of your association. The board of directors has an obligation to uphold the documents even if they like you and your puppy. The CC&Rs; cannot be ignored. By purchasing your unit, you agreed to abide by the restrictions in the legal documents.
Although you say that you may not be the only one violating this restriction, you have not given me any specific details. The association’s board may be attempting to correct the problem and your impending violation may intensify their efforts.
It is true that the board cannot discriminate against you if there is another violator; however, one must look at all of the contributing factors. Perhaps the board is not pursuing the other violation because the pet is only slightly over the limit. The board may have determined that a few pounds is not worthy of the expense of a legal battle, but they may feel differently about your pet.
It is impossible to accurately predict how this case would be decided in a court of law.
Why would you want to anger your neighbors and cause the association to spend resources on legal advice when you know that the CC&Rs; prohibit your 80-pounder? Even if the board doesn’t take action against you, any owner has the right to take legal action to require compliance with the legal documents of the association.
Hickenbottom is past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization. She welcomes readers’ questions, but cannot answer them individually. Readers with questions or comments can write to her in care of “Condo Q&A;,” Box 5068, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91360.