Last Monday (actually, two Mondays ago now, as I’d forgotten I was drafting this) the annual meeting of my condo association took place. There was NO WAY I was missing that meeting, considering that since I have moved in they have raised my monthly condo fees by over $100, and they currently have a lien out on my property. Yeah, you read that correctly; when I refused to pay the additional fees (and by refused, I mean, didn’t pay them because I WAS NOT MADE AWARE OF THE INCREASE AT THE TIME OF CLOSING WHEN THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO TELL ME) they sent me to a lawyer for collection, who after ONE letter (that they received no return receipt on since I DID NOT RECEIVE IT – the bookkeeper for the lawyer admitted she had not only NOT received my signature, but – after three months – not even received the original back from the post office) put a lien on my property and started the process to sue me for foreclosure.
When I called our board member/bookkeeper (after receiving notice I was being sued) she was VERY rude to me on the phone. I asked her, “well Lori, how much do I owe? I don’t even know. The suit papers don’t tell me. I never received a bill from you to alert me to the fact that I owe money!”
And you know what she said? “Well, we don’t SEND LETTERS! WE ASSUME PEOPLE PAY THEIR FEES EACH MONTH!”
……………let that sink in a little. They don’t send letters to inform you that you are not paying the correct amount of condo fee. A condo fee which was provided BY THEM – TO YOU – AT YOUR CLOSING – AND WAS THE WRONG AMOUNT. Instead, they refer you to their SHADY LAWYERS for collection, who trump up THOUSANDS of dollars in various attorneys fees that – guess what? – according to my condo docs, I am stuck paying, or else they will continue to pursue foreclosure. (more on those nasty condo docs later)
So now you know the back story on why I had a very VESTED interest in being at the board meeting. The board is, as far as I am concerned, NOT acting in the best interest of its owners, not providing due notice of changes and fees, and NOT making sound and ethical business decisions.
Another reason why I was very vested in attending the meeting was on January 3rd (dated January 2nd) I received a letter from the board informing me that our boiler had not “passed inspection,” and had cost over $1,600 in repairs in the past three months, and as such the board had decided to buy a new system – for the low cost of $70,000.
SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. After only $1,600 in repairs.
What that meant for owners is the following: depending on your percentage ownership (mine is just over 2.5%) you will pay an additional montly special assessment fee – mine being $231. A month. Extra. For six months. For work that won’t be done until June.
Now my condo fees when I purchased my condo were $195. Those fees were one of the reasons I bought the condo where I did – if I had wanted to pay $250-$300/month I could have lived in a high-rise in downtown Hartford and had a pool and gym and garage and tennis court at my condo! But I decided to save money, and the trip across the river each morning, and bought my place in East Hartford with the much lower fee (and more importantly, NO GARAGE). Since I have moved in, my condo fee has gone from $195/month to $308/month. Add on this $231 special assessment, and I’m now paying $539/month in condo fees.
Let me put this in perspective:
- My mortgage payment is $516/month. I would be paying more towards monthly condo fees than my actual mortgage payments.
- My 3-year car loan on my 2007 Honda CR-V is only $510/month. I would be paying more towards condo fees than my car payments.
- The sum total of my car insurance, homeowners insurance, Blackberry voice/data service, cable bill, CITY OF EAST HARTFORD PROPERTY TAXES, and average monthly electricity bill is about $450/month. I would be paying more in condo fees than all of my regular monthly bills combined!
Now I don’t even live on a “fixed income,” while most of the owners in my building do since they’re all much older than myself, and some even older than my grandparents. So you can imagine what kind of impact this would have on THEM, who have NO opportunity to say to their boss “hey, times are tough, do you mind if I work some OT this month?”
Now before you think I’m totally overreacting and remind me that special assesmnets are a necessary evil in times of dire circumstance and emergency repairs, allow me to explain to you what I found out at my over three hour condo association meeting…(yes, OVER THREE HOURS)…
- They received three quotes, ranging from around $40,000 to the over $70,000 quote. They went with the over $70,000 quote because “it covered the most work.” My response to the board? “Why didn’t we receive three quotes for 90-95% of the same work so we could do an actual comparison of the costs associated with this work? Comparing three quotes for three different jobs is not making a good ‘business decision’ for the association.”
- One of our board members is demented. Everyone says “he ain’t right,” but after being around enough old people in nursing homes I recognize demented when I see demented. He was strong-armed by Lori to vote for the $70,000 after she told him “the boiler might explode.”
- The $70,000 bid was pushed through by our management company in under 72 hours, and the company whose contract they signed JUST HAPPENED to be company of the brother of the guy who ran for (and lost, I didn’t vote for him) the board with the support/approval of Lori. Everyone mentioned kick-backs. Even the old blind lady from C12.
- Our condo docs are woefully out of date, a subject I brought up and really made people realize how much they needed to be updated by saying “these condo docs have not been touched since BEFORE I WAS BORN. Isn’t it time we should update them to reflect a less powerful board and a more powerful association?” I’m now in charge of the committee to fire our management company and shady lawyer and hire a new, non-shady lawyer to re-write our docs with us. Docs which will allow cats, and other indoor small non-offensive pets. Docs which will NOT allow the board to authorize a foreclosure suit against an owner for under $1,000 in unpaid condo fees. Docs which will NOT charge the owner for unecessary attorney’s fees like $250 letters that get lost in the mail. Two $250 letters. Letters which supposedly let me know I owed money. $250. For a letter. One. Letter. That I never received. Which they never received the return receipt on. $250 for a fucking LETTER. Twice. Times two. $500 in unreceived letters. In the course of two weeks. After which…they sued. SHADY.
- The budget presented at our budget meeting was NOT the finalized budget. It was just ESTIMATES of what we had spent, with additional estimates for what we would spend this year. There were many multi-thousand dollar items that the management company could not explain. My next door neighbor and I are also on a committee to go through the budget line by line and cut all unnecessary expenses. For example, we spend over $6,000/year on “misc. indoor maint.” but considering since I’ve lived there the light bulb on the left side of my storage room has been blown, I see no reason that money should be approved and padded into our monthly fee. I could go on for paragraphs on the suspicious budget items we haggled over during this meeting, but lets just say, this management company is GO-GO-GOING.
- Lori, who has been the bookkeeper for many years and gave herself quite the pay raise last year, is also going. Bye-bye, Lori! It’s been great! But we’ll be doing our own bookkeeping from now on!
So I went to this meeting with the intention of getting people to admit we need to rewrite the condo docs, getting Lori fired, getting the shady lawyers fired, and generally shaking things up…and I believe I managed to do all of that. ::pats self on back:: Oh, we also got them to put a stop payment on the $26,000 “down payment” they put on this work to be completed in six months, and they are no longer holding us to the special assessment fee as a result.