From sprawling town home developments to high-rises to quaint four-unit residences, New Jersey is flush with condo communities. It's no surprise then that the state is also no stranger to tough guidelines for multi-family residences. The onus to stay abreast of the law falls with the association—usually with the consult of a qualified property manager. There are all the safety benchmarks, everything from the major (structural security) to the minor (lights in stairwells). And while this can sound quite daunting—especially as boards are often comprised of volunteers with day jobs that in no way pertain to running residential real estate environs—by doing some homework, and aligning with some trusted advisers, an association can stay on top of local building code, avoiding any fines that come with violations, or, in the worst case scenario, a preventable injury from occurring on its property.
Who Run Things?
First, it helps to know from where specifically the mandates governing multi-family residential in New Jersey stem. Martin Laderman, CEO of MEM property management in Jersey City, says the main authority is the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton. “The DCA inspects for health and safety every five years,” says Laderman. “But if residents have a concern in the interim, they are encouraged to call their local city inspector for any concerns about health or the property itself.”
“The DCA also requires each condo property to be registered,” Laderman continues. “And, as an inspection looms for a particular association, the DCA will contact that association in advance, so it can notify owners and any relevant vendors, as the state inspectors require access to 70 percent of a building’s units in order to properly conduct its business.”
During one of these routine inspections, “the association is often informed as to some issues that are deficient, and is then given a specified time period to cure the deficiency,” explains Attorney Stuart J. Lieberman, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Lieberman & Blecher, P.C. in Princeton. “Frequently, fines will not be assessed so long as the association complies to state recommendations in a timely fashion, and that the violations are not particularly serious or an indicator of chronic behavior.”
Should an inspector find an association responsible for a building code violation, an association can be forgiven for spending a fleeting second wondering if this is something that really needs to be fixed—especially should that association find itself short on funds, or in disagreement with the nature of the violation at hand. But Lieberman advises such boards that “ignoring a problem is by far the worst thing that an association can do. Often, extra time is required to take care of a violation, as the problem is revealed to be more severe than originally believed, or more costly. Most of the time, a call to the inspector with a written follow-up is all that is needed to show that a good faith attempt to comply is taking place. A pattern of repeated promises, followed by repeated failure, however, is a recipe for a big fine.”