Question: My condominium association is treating me unfairly, what should I do?
Answer: I receive this question in many forms and will attempt to provide a general road map to deal with association-related conflicts. I enlisted the advice of Tiffany Releford, Esq., of Whiteford Taylor Preston, who’s an expert in condominium law in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. I’m also a board member of my association and use my prospective from that side as well.
Hopefully you used the mandatory three-day association document review period before you purchased to read the bylaws, rules and regs, meeting minutes, and other required documents and aren’t taken by surprise. These documents are considered a contract that you are entering with your association so you should make sure you understand what they say. Locate all relevant documents and read them thoroughly, you’d be surprised how many small details are defined in your condo docs. Many bylaws even have dispute resolution policies that you’ll need to follow.
Raise your concern with the property management company first. If the management company can’t resolve your issues, find out when the next board meeting is (usually monthly) and ask to be added to the agenda. As a member of my board, I suggest emailing the board members with a summary of your concerns ahead of the meeting.
Try to keep all relevant communication contained to email so you have documentation and ask to see a draft of the meeting minutes if you present your case there. Anything else you can do to document your concerns is helpful, such as getting a decibel reader for noise complaints and documenting times when it exceeds the allowable level (Arlington County or association).
Before seeking legal recourse, you may want to check with Virginia’s Office of Common Interest Community Ombudsman, which “offers assistance and information to association members regarding the rights and processes available to them through their associations.” I’m not aware of any Arlington-specific advocacy groups or government offices, but would love to hear from the readers if one does exist.
Before paying an attorney to take your case, you may want to pay an attorney like Tiffany to review your bylaws and rules and regs to see if there’s anything you missed or if they interpret anything differently. A good condo attorney will also be intimately familiar with the local laws to provide an early opinion.
If you decide to go to court, be sure you understand what your bylaws say about financial responsibility for attorney fees and costs, as well as court costs. Most cases will be heard in the General District Court (small claims court) and it’s a little easier to represent yourself at a lower cost. If it’s a larger issue such as an injunction for right of quiet enjoyment/use of your unit, you’ll likely end up in Circuit Court which takes much longer and attorney fees on both sides are much higher because of the preparation required.
Remember that when you buy into an association, specifically condominiums and cooperatives, you’re turning over a lot of power to the board. I always recommend that my clients who become condo owners take part in monthly meetings, join committees or join the board.
I’m love to hear from the readers who have useful strategies for resolving condo disputes.