By George Gombossy
While Connecticut has one of the weakest set of laws to protect condo owners from unethical boards of directors, board lawyers and property managers, there is finally a place they can turn to: The Connecticut Condo Owners Coalitition.
Since the CCOC was reconstituted this spring, we have received about 20 complaints from condo owners in virtually every part of the state.
Initially, the complaints are being investigated by the Executive Committee of the CCOC, but since we asked for volunteers in our last news letter, we have had a half dozen qualified applicants offering to join us.
Executive Committee member Gail Egan has been named as coordinator for the Investigations Committee. CCOC President Brian Harte and CtWatchdog Publisher George Gombossy are heading the committee and are reviewing all cases to make sure that our recommendations are the best we can give. Neither one of us is a lawyer, but Brian is a veteran law enforcement officer, and George has been an investigative reporter for most of his life.
We are also lucky that we have one lawyer, Patricia Ayars of Glastonbury, who has volunteered to provide legal advice to us and to CCOC members, at a discount. We welcome other attorney volunteers who have expertise in condo law. We hope to have at least one attorney available for CCOC members in each county.
But keep in mind, some aspects of Connecticut Condo laws are not clear, so we can only give you our best non-legal opinion and everyone must check with their lawyer to make sure they act properly.
The complaints that we receive are being handled on a confidential basis - as is the list of our membership - unless the person making the complaint wishes to go public.
We don't assume that all complaints are legitimate. We require that all those who wish to have us look into our issues to be CCOC members - we only have so much time and we are all volunteers - so priority goes to members.
Whenever possible we try to help resolve issues amicably. We will talk to the boards, property managers, to get their side of the issue and determine whether we can help mediate so that everyone can shake hands and go back to enjoying their lives.
However, if we find that the condo owner has a legitimate complaint and the other side is not willing to correct the issue, we have ways to help the owner. If a condo law is violated, we can help the owner file a formal complaint with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. If its more of a grey area, we will have lawyers available who will provide legal counsel at a discount to CCOC members.
And of course shinning a bright light on wrongdoers is an effective tool. As editor and publisher and CtWatchdog and CtCondoNews, and one of the most respected journalists in Connecticut, a story of wrongdoing by George will have consequences for bad actors.
Here is a sample of complaints we are or have investigated: property managers or board of directors are demanding outrageous fees to provide association financial documents to owners. Others have complained of boards using improper and illegal tactics to prevent reform candidates to be elected to their boards. Others have complained about being singled out for harassment over minor issues while friends of board members get a pass for similar violations. One interesting complaint was about whether unit owners could do anything about second hand cigarette smoke.
We have also had at least three cases where condo owners refused to pay fines or withheld maintenance fees in protest. Those are of course the clearest cases. Condo boards have tremendous legal power to impose fees and fines. The only way to contest them is AFTER the owner paid them. They can then file a small claim suit. However, if the board can prove that an owner refused to pay a fine or fees, they will pretty much automatically win in court. And on top of that the person sued will not only have to pay for their lawyer but also for the association's lawyer.
So in those cases we clearly told the condo owners to STOP their protests and immediately pay the fines or fees.
Our investigations will produce more than just help for individual condo owners. We will be looking for patterns of abuse, property managers who are either incompetent or acting illegally. It will also help us develop our legislative initiative and we will have the horror stories to back up the legal changes we advocate.
If you have a good working knowledge of condo laws and are willing to help the investigative committee please let us know. We are also seeking accountants and those with working knowledge of data management.
We have several avenues to recommend once we have concluded whether the unit owner or another party is at fault.