Who Goes There? Accessing Units Without Owners

One of the benefits of transitioning from renter to homeowner is the knowledge that your space is sacred and belongs only to us. But, when it comes to association living, sometimes unit owners have to give building staff or managers access to their homes for repairs or maintenance, with or without the owner being present. While that may be a less than ideal scenario for some unit owners, it is often a necessity. With the proper communication and expectations, those occasional visits can be less stressful and better understood. 

Knowing the Law

Whether maintenance or repair visits are wanted or not, they are protected by the law in most states. In New Jersey, the state statutes don’t address the issue directly. “There is the New Jersey Condo Act, but typically if an association is looking for access to a unit, the rules will be outlined in the governing documents, master deed, and bylaws,” explains Stephanie Wiegand, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Griffin Alexander, P.C., with offices in New Jersey and New York. “That’s where I would primarily go to first see what the rules and regulations are with regards to the association or management having access to a unit, whether it be for general repairs or for emergencies.”

Victoria Simoes, an attorney with the law firm of Hill Wallack in Princeton, agrees. “Unit access is an issue that’s governed by the association’s governing documents. I would think 99% of documents grant the association an easement to access the units to allow for repairs of common elements, or maybe for a DCA [New Jersey Department of Community Affairs] inspection, with reasonable written notice. In an emergency, though, they don’t have to give notice.”

While the regulations for gaining entry to a unit will be spelled out in the condominium’s governing documents, often those documents are out of date and don’t address modern circumstances. “Oftentimes we represent condos that are already decades old, so we’re not involved in the drafting of the governing documents,” says Wiegand. “Whatever was drafted in there is pretty set and done, unless their documents give the board power to make up certain rules and regulations with regard to access to units or caring for common elements. If they do, then we can put together a resolution for our client and the board can sign off on that.”

While the law and governing documents may detail the cut-and-dry questions pertaining to unit access, ensuring an open line of communication with unit owners remains of vital importance. “Sending notice in writing is always recommended,” says Simoes, “because down the line if an issue comes up, you can prove that you sent notice in writing, especially if it’s a piece of certified mail which gives you proof that the notice was sent, with a reasonable amount of time between the date of receipt of the letter and the date that access is needed, maybe ten to fifteen days. Also, provide the manager’s information in the letter so the owner can reach out to them and say, ‘Okay, it’s fine if you guys want to come in, and I’ll be home at this time.’ The notice is to make sure that lines of communication are open and no funny business is going on.”

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