Q&A: Raised Maintenance, No Results

Q We are having a few issues with our condo board and the management company. Since the new management company has been “in power” (about three years) the maintenance payments have been raised more than 20 percent in (two raises). The past year we had another large six-month assessment for “lobby repairs.” There have been no repairs and no improvements to the building as well as many visible problems that would be simple to repair. We have asked the management company to share the minutes of the meetings and they refuse. The lobbies are dirty, fire extinguishers expired, light fixtures missing covers, broken windows etc., and nothing is being done. Do unit owners have any recourse?

—Frustrated in Central Jersey

A “From the facts you describe, the unit owners in your association certainly have recourse. As a preliminary matter, your board is obligated to perform maintenance of the common elements in your association,” says Hubert C. Cutolo, Esq. with Sodini & Spina, LLC in Edison. “The New Jersey Condominium Act provides that the association acting through its officers or governing board shall be responsible for the ‘maintenance, repair, replacement, cleaning and sanitation of the common elements.’ In this regard, unit owners should demand in writing that the board fulfill this obligation. If this demand is ignored, the unit owners may wish to file an application with the court to compel the board to fulfill its statutory duties. Filing an application with the court would cause the unit owners of your association to incur expenses. Instead, the unit owners may wish to simply vote for a new board in the next election. The latter approach would be more cost effective.

“Your current board and management company is also required to provide the minutes for open meetings when requested by a unit owner of the association. The New Jersey Condominium Act requires that ‘the bylaws of associations provide that: all meetings of the board, except conference or working sessions at which no binding votes are to be taken, shall be open to attendance by all unit owners, and adequate notice of any such meeting shall be given to all unit owners in such manner as the bylaws shall prescribe…At each meeting required under this subsection to be open to all unit owners, minutes of the proceedings shall be taken, and copies of those minutes shall be made available to all unit owners before the next open meeting.’ Accordingly, your current management company and board are required to provide minutes of the open meetings to unit owners. You should request the meeting minutes in writing. If you still are unable to obtain the minutes, you may contact the Department of Community Affairs for assistance in obtaining the minutes.

“In addition, you mentioned assessments have been increased over a three-year period and an additional ‘six month assessment’ was levied for lobby repairs. In most instances, boards are entitled to raise the annual assessments in a yearly budget. The ‘six month assessment’ earmarked for ‘lobby repairs’ that you describe appears to be a special assessment and not part of the annual assessment. You should inquire whether this ‘six month assessment’ was a special assessment. If so, you should consult your association’s governing documents as to the requirements for the imposition of a special assessment. Many governing documents require unit owners to approve a special assessment by majority vote. Accordingly, the validity of this ‘six month assessment’ may be in question.”

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