Q&A: Replacing Windows

Q. We own two apartments in our condominium in New Jersey. We moved in 2005 and were told by the board that our windows needed to be replaced because the building had water issues. The board recommended the company to use. We complied, and the window expense for the first unit totaled $5,400. In 2013 we purchased a second two-bedroom apartment and immediately replaced the windows. This was $3,500, bringing our total expenditure to $8,900.

Now we have a new board. The majority now sees fit to change and update the window requirements. Many owners never complied years ago, and I think it is imperative for this to happen. However, there are those of us who did replace windows at a considerable expense.

I have no water issues, and do not want to incur this expense again. One of the arguments given for the window replacement is to update the look of the building. Also the window model being considered is more costly. I am being threatened with penalties if I do not replace my windows. Our governing documents state that owners are responsible for their windows. I gave this as an argument and was told the bylaws can be changed. Wouldn’t I be grandfathered if this is accomplished? This has become a strain on many of us.

                        —Exasperated Owners

A. “First things first,” says attorney Robert C. Griffin of the firm Griffin Alexander, which has offices in New Jersey and New York. “A review of your governing documents is in order. There is a high degree of likelihood that the answer will lie in the master deed to your association. Since I do not have your master deed, this response by necessity is generic.

“Having said that:

Most condominium documents are designed so that windows remain a unit owner responsibility. It is doubtful that the association has responsibility for the maintenance of your windows.

It is true that the master deed can be amended to make window an association maintenance responsibility. This would likely require the affirmative vote of a super-majority of your fellow unit owners (most often a 2/3 majority) to make that change.

This would be very difficult to accomplish, but if it was to be accomplished, you would not be grandfathered. You would start paying an increased maintenance fee to cover the cost of reserve funds and annual repair costs. It is doubtful that if your community knew of these costs, there would be a super-majority in favor of having the association take over responsibility for the windows.

Nevertheless, if the association was to take over responsibility for windows, the association can only assess in accordance with the governing documents; that means that your maintenance fee is either equal to what everyone else pays, or is based upon the square footage of your unit.

If you put your windows in last week, I could see the association not replacing your windows and not assessing you, but in this case, given that your windows are 12 and 4 years old, that is not likely. 

I have seen master deed provisions requiring unit owners to replace windows when necessary because of maintenance concerns. I have not seen governing document provisions requiring window replacement strictly for architectural purposes, especially if you complied with architectural controls when you put the windows in. It is doubtful that if your windows are nowhere near the end of their useful lives, you can be forced to change them out strictly because the association wants a ‘new look.’ 

I might recommend that you have the windows evaluated by an architect, engineer or window manufacturer, or approved installation contractor. A written opinion from a window professional, saying that the windows are sound and do not leak, would be very helpful in terms of making the case for keeping your windows. If the only issue is aesthetic, I might recommend painting them in an appropriate color, if you can.”

Related Articles

Q&A: Use of the Crawl Space

Q&A: Use of the Crawl Space

Q&A: Who Owns the Floor?

Q&A: Who Owns the Floor?

Q&A: Common Property and the Board

Q&A: Common Property and the Board