“Now, my attempts to communicate, on any issue at all, have been met with radio silence.”

Photo by PoPville flickr user slightlyworn

“Dear PoPville,

Less than a year ago, I bought a condo in a small building. The building is so small, that ALL of us are on the condo board. I’m a rather young homeowner, and a woman, while the other board members are older and male. I think they are used to running things their way without much opposition. Despite dedicating hours of my time to solving issues with THEIR units and tenants, I feel like my concerns are consistently ignored. The first time I questioned why I was being forced to participate in resolving issues with their units, they told me that there was a legal liability in not addressing it as a condo board. Since then, the threat of “legal liability” seems to be constantly held over my head to bully me into agreeing to their demands.

Recently, I demanded that if we continue to make decisions based on protecting ourselves legally, we need to be talking to a lawyer. I pushed back on some of the issues my co-board members brought up, mostly pointing out that we are not legal responsible for doing most of the things they claim. I think my condo board members think I can’t possibly know as much as they do, but I have quite a bit of experience in the DC housing code, tenants rights, and so on. I know my rights and responsibilities and I’m not going to be afraid to express them. Before this point, my demands were acknowledged but not met. Now, my attempts to communicate, on any issue at all, have been met with radio silence. I’m paying my condo fee. I’m at a loss about what to do and how to get a response out of the board.

If need be, I’m willing to pursue legal action, since the threat of legal retaliation seems to be the only thing this group of people understands.”

63 Comment

  • I don’t understand what advice you’d like from PoPville readers? If you know your rights and responsibilities why don’t you just go straight to a lawyer? If you want feedback we probably need more details.

  • Need for information/ specific examples. The explanation given by the OP is too vague to determine who is at fault.

  • This story leaves me a bit skeptical… and throw in the lack of specifics, and I’m even more skeptical.

  • Agreed with the other posters — I’m not quite sure what the OP wants help with or advice on, and the story is really abstract/vague. Without specifics, it’s hard to tell whether the OP was justified in feeling that she was “being forced to participate in resolving issues with [the other owners’] units.” And I’m not sure what exactly she’s trying to get the rest of the board to respond to her about — her not wanting to be involved with what she perceives as issues specific to their units? Something else?

  • Please name a specific issue. A lot of people on here own a condo or used to own one. If you could give us an example we could probably give you advice. Or every thing they said could be correct and your just a crazy girl who thinks she is being bullied.

  • Agree with other comments that it’s hard to opine/advise as any good PoPvillian would do without specifics. Generally, the condo docs should lay out what is a common element and the responsibility of all owners. If it’s not specified as a common element and the problem is contained within the unit, my guess would be that it’s the unti owner’s sole responsibility.

    • My concern is less with what is the responsibility based on the specifics of our units and property, and more what is the responsibility of the condo board in regards to communication. I’m not terribly concerned that the things I want for the building aren’t happening. Whatever, I can deal with it. I’m concerned that the board is just not acknowledging any of my communication attempts, at all. I’d like to get a response, even if it’s not the response I want.

      • Per your note, you’re on the condo board. Read your bylaws. I have a feeling theyre required to send notifications out about when and where meetings will take place. You should go to one of the meetings.

        • I do go to those meetings, we’re not due to have another one for a couple of months. I don’t want to wait that long to get responses to simple requests, which is all I want at this point.

  • I’m sorry I can’t help you with this particular issue but I can say from someone who works with all shapes and sizes of boards, if anyone has a choice in the matter, please, please stay as far as possible from Condo or HOA boards. They are some of the most dysfunctional groups ever invented.

  • President of a condo board here. Without some specifics (or even a precise question)I don’t know how anyone can help you. Perhaps what you need are some sort of bylaws that clearly delineate between the common areas and the individual units so that the condo association isn’t stuck paying for (or taking care of) repairs to individual residents’ dwellings. If you had that, then you might be able to bring it forth and say, look, issue “X” is an issue that the unit owner is responsible for, not the condo board.

  • Agree with the above posters. Not much to say here. Other than, if you buy an apartment, you need to know that you’re throwing your lot in with a bunch of strangers. That doesn’t always work out.

  • “I think they are used to running things their way without much opposition.”

    If ‘they’ are all the other members of the condo board, they probably are used to running things their way without opposition considering THEY ARE THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE CONDO BUILDING.

    But seriously, it’s hard to know what you are asking here.

  • Question: How do I make people listen to me?
    Answer: You can’t.
    That was easy.

  • You were super quick to imply the others were sexist. While it is entirely possible, heck even likely, I found it very interesting that this detail was the only one provided. Maybe they just dont like you? maybe you’re wrong? Maybe theyre sexist pigs. Heck, maybe all of htis true? I dont know.

    What I do know is that this is even more justification for me staying as far away from condo boards, the smaller the worse the issues.

    • Yeah, it is possible they just don’t like me. That’s ok. It’s not ok to ignore someone’s continued requests and communication when you are in a position of authority.

    • Agree. “Questioned why I was being forced,” “demanded,” “threat of legal retaliation”–your post doesn’t sound like you’ve tried to understand why they’re doing it that way or that you’ve been non-confrontational with your requests. You may have just not mentioned that part but, at the risk of beating a dead horse, we can’t help without knowing more.

      • I mean, yes, I questioned why I was being asked to mediate a dispute among my neighbors, the two tenants of the other owners, that I was not involved in. I was told, I had to because I was on the board, as we all are, and this was a board issue. When I asked why is was a board issue, I was told it was because we had a legal liability. At one point, I asked our PM, are we legally responsible for this and she said it was incredibly unlikely, but that point I had been dragged through all of it. I don’t think these are unreasonable things to ask. My way of asking for requests is equivalent to saying “I noticed xyz and I believe it is a condo concern for abc reason. Can we look into this?” More recently it has been requests to see a document or get a key to something, small things, but just not met with any response.

  • Hey I’m the OP,
    People asked for specifics, here they are:
    1. The issue with the other owner’s units involves dealing with their tenants. I am the only owner who lives on the property, so when their tenants had issues with each other (not with me), I was asked to mediate. When I said I didn’t feel comfortable mediating a situation that I knew nothing about, that I was not involved in, and that involved the people who were essentially my neighbors, I was told I had to do this because otherwise it put the condo board at legal risk.

    2. The legal risk issue was continually brought up when someone on the board wanted to push their idea through. For example, someone suggested that if a tenant (or I assume a resident in my case) violates the noise ordinance that the condo board would be legally liable. This sounds weird to me, and I insisted on talking to a legal expert before making our decision based on that. Legal liability was brought up a couple more times, each time it sounded like I would never expect the condo association to be responsible for.

    3. Here’s what I’m asking: I’ve reached out several times on a number of issues, large and small, and have gotten no response. That’s what worries me. It’s been weeks, if not longer, at this point, and I’m concerned. Is there a way people recommend approaching a condo board about this? I mean, at the basic core of it, I’m paying for a service with my condo fee. The non-response of the board tells me, that service is not being provided. A follow up question would be, does a condo board have a legal responsibility to respond to members, to show due diligence in addressing concerns?

    I’m happy to answer more questions.

    • Had you considered just not doing what they asked you to do?

      The bylaws exist for a reason. If you’re not violating them, you’re fine. If they ask you to do something you dont want to do, dont do it.

      For noise complaints, call the cops.

      Whats the big deal?

      • Dude, I agree with you. But, it was my first couple of months in the building (this issue existed before I moved in), and I felt extremely pressured to do it. I told them I wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t feel it was my place, but they told me it was part of my job as a member of the condo board/association because we were legally liable (when I checked with our PM on that, she said that it was highly unlikely we had any legal liability in this). My point was more that I feel I’ve put in a lot of time and effort and they won’t even respond to my emails. I want someone to respond to my concerns, even if it’s not the response I want, if that makes sense. It’s the silence that bothers me.

        Yeah with the noise complaints, I completely agree and tried to make that point. Again, I was unsuccessful in convincing anyone.

    • And, on their responsiveness, my guess is thats in the bylaws as well. You could try not paying your condo fees for a month and then when they call and ask where it is, you could say “HA I got you on the phone”. Downside here is they may not care and they’ll just wait till they can send it to collections.

      Maybe you could apologize? Sounds like you made some enemies. Or, you could sue them and see if that makes things better.

      I dont know what you’re expecting for advice on getting people to talk to you. My recommendations are:
      showing up in person

      If none of these work, some sort of gimmick or pretend to be selling wrapping paper when you knock on the door.

      I dont know. I’m really at a loss here for what kind of help anyone can reasonably provide.

      Read your bylaws.

      • Haha, I like the wrapping paper idea. I have considered sending an email basically explaining that I’m concerned by the lack of response, and if I offended anyone I’m sorry, it’s only because I care about our building and, much like them, have opinions on what’s best. Sometimes we’ll disagree, sometimes we won’t, but communication is important for continuing to improve the property together, and I would appreciate some communication and response on their part.

        I know when I was a tenant, there was legal expectations as to the communication you got from your landlord. That’s kind of what I’m wondering, is there any kind of legal jurisdiction over condo boards? I was hoping perhaps someone had insight to this, but it seems to be mostly limited to “man, condo boards are the worst” which is not helpful, but still kind of comforting.

      • Hmmm I definitely posted a response this and other comments, but now I don’t see it.

        Anyway, I have thought about writing a letter and basically saying I’m not sure why none of my emails have been responded to, but if it’s because I offended someone, I’m sorry, it’s only because I care about the building, etc.

  • I wonder if specifics aren’t necessary here. It seems like the issue is that the other residents, comprising a majority of the board, periodically vote to do things that OP doesn’t want to do. Most likely the issue is spending association money to deal with what OP thinks are unit-specific needs. Unless you can show that the votes somehow violate your association’s bylaws, them’s the breaks when you buy into a small building. You could hire a lawyer to look into whether the other owners are illegally self-dealing with association money, but that’s essentially a declaration of war against people that you’re tied to until you sell your unit. It’s your call, but there’s no one on this forum that can give you any advice on how to get them to listen to you — It seems like you’ve been tuned out already.

    • Thank you. It’s less of an issue with how the money is spent, and at this point it’s really more of every single communication attempt goes unanswered. At this point, I just want someone to address the various communication attempts I’ve made, even if it’s like “We really can’t deal with this right now due to time/budget/whatnot.” It’s the lack of communication that I have a problem with. I need to be able to communicate with the other board members.

      • Do the bylaws indicate how often the board needs to meet per year? Or is there just one annual meeting? If they bylaws say you need to meet, then call a meeting and host it at your place (if large enough). I agree that you shouldn’t have to be the board’s default representative in dealing with their tenants simply because you are the only owner who lives on-site – that’s unfair and could potentially put you in difficult situations.

        • Yes, I believe we have quarterly meetings, usually over the phone, and one annual meeting. The last one was actually hosted in my apartment. I’d like to get some of these issues addressed before the next meeting, but I guess if there is no other option, that will have to do.

      • You’re on the board; they’re on the board. It’s not a full-time job. You don’t say how much communication; how soon you expect a reply. It could indeed be that someone has gotten tired of being pestered, and is choosing to ignore you. Or maybe someone has had an emergency, is traveling, whatever. Others than that what is in the bylaws, what responsibilities do you expect your neighbors to have beyond what you have?
        In the end, these are your neighbors/co-board members. I’d dial it back a bit since these are (for better or worse) long term relationships. If something is an emergency, and there is a specific board member who should deal with it, pop by in person until you catch up with them. If not, wait for that next board meeting, and raise they issue of communication. But not adversarially. It’s sometimes better to accept that some situations/people are annoying than create long-term grudges with neighbors. Although that might be too late after airing all this on popville.

  • Nightmare or not, when you’re on the condo board, shouldn’t you be responding to member’s concerns or at least acknowledging them?

    • Seek out a lawyer, put the fee in escrow until issues are resolved, sell and move on.
      I could not imagine living in a 2-4 unit building.

      • Selling is a lot more easily said than done. Depending on how long the OP has been there, she might even lose money on the sale.
        Also, a prospective buyer who’s seeking to buy the unit might find it hard to obtain financing if this building has 4 units and the only one that’s owner-occupied is the OP’s unit.
        It sounds like the other owners are expecting the OP to be a sort of on-site representative for them. Is there no property management company? If anyone’s going to be asked to mediate between tenants, it seems like it ought to be the property manager, not a fellow owner.
        Another idea might be for the OP not to sell the unit, but to rent it out and move somewhere else. That would put her on the same footing as the other owners.

      • Whatever you do, do NOT withhold or put your condo fees in escrow. Unlike tenants, who have some rights to put rent in escrow and demand certain things from landlords, owners in an association do not have such a right. As a member of a homeowner’s association, you have an obligation to pay your share of the monthly dues. Unless there is something really unusual in your condo docs explicitly giving you this right, no court will not side with you if you withhold dues. You’d be exposing yourself to fines and collection activity.

    • Of course they should. But I’m not inclined to correspond with someone if they’ve been consistently confrontational and unconstructive. I’m not saying that’s what you’ve been, but you’re definitely not in a good place now. Any chance you can set up a meeting–even over Skype since they’re not all living there–and hash this out? Wipe the slate clean, don’t be defensive, listen to and consider what they say, and then respond. You can, as you say, legally retaliate, but I’m not sure that “lack of communication” is grounds for anything other than a poisoned living arrangement.

      • No, and certainly I don’t want to drag this into a legal arena at all. My next course of action was going to be writing an email to everyone and just confronting them about the lack of communication and trying to hash something out. The thing is, the “this could be a legal liability” has been trotted out for everything. I don’t want to run my home under that threat unless it’s real. I think it’s reasonable to say, if we are so worried about our legal liability, lets talk to a legal expert and figure out where we stand (this request was also ignored).

        I struggle to find the line between being a pushover (or apologetic as some might call it) and being firm (or a nightmare, I guess). I don’t want to be defensive, and I actually do understand their concerns, but when I’m not defensive, I get pressured into things I’m not comfortable with. Maybe it’s worth rolling over on this. I don’t know.

  • You make a point of saying you “know your rights”, familiar with the DC housing code, tenants rights etc. I am sorry to say, none of those things apply to condo ownership. You aren’t a tenant, you are a owner and a member of a condo board.

    Without you giving specifics, it doesn’t sound like the other members of the Board are doing anything wrong, you are just upset because you feel they aren’t comminicating with you in the manner you prefer. All condo boards have to take meeting minutes and publish them, but I am assuming you are going to the meetings anyway. Sounds like more of a personality clash than anything else.

    • “Sounds like more of a personality clash than anything else.”
      Agreed. It also sounds like the OP is outvoted on these issues, as well.
      In terms of noise, do whatever the bylaws say are required of you. In all honesty, it sounds like absentee “investor” landlords want you to deal with their feuding tenants. Tell them you’ll deal with their tenant issues at the cost of $100 per month. You might as well get paid if you’re going to manage their apartments for them.

    • Most of the issues they discuss as condo concerns have to do with their own tenants, which is where my knowledge of the code has helped.

      Literally, all I want is someone to respond to my questions like “oh why is this part of the building locked?” or “where are last month’s financials?”

      • Can these questions wait until the next meeting? You can also discuss (not confront) what is an appropriate way to communicate between meetings at that time. As to them asking you to deal with their tenants, simply decline and do not engage in a discussion about it.

  • Sounds like all of the answers are probably in the bylaws… Are there not condo board meetings that you could raise your concerns at?

    • We really don’t meet very often, and my biggest concern is that no one is answering basic questions about the condo. We won’t have a meeting for another couple months, and I’d like to know why this part of the common area is locked or where this one document is before that.

  • Welcome to the thankless, infuriating world of condo boards! I live in a relatively easy to maintain condo building with no excess amenities. Sometimes we have to levee special assessments for overall maintenance and improvements, like replacing rotting faschia boards or entry tile. My husband sent me to a condo meeting once. He said he didn’t think he could sit through it without losing his temper with the condo president. When I met and listened to the condescending schmuck that was running things, I was so offended and frustrated that I nearly burst into tears. If my husband had been there he probably would have punched the guy in the face. Hold your ground, don’t suggest outlandish projects, and move as soon as possible!
    On the plus side, board meetings are a good way to toughen up. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger I guess.
    If you honestly don’t care what happens, appoint a proxy.

    • I love my condo, and I don’t want to move :(. I honestly don’t even care too much about the big projects. I just want someone to respond the simple questions and 5 minute requests I have every once in a while.

      • In that case, I think it makes sense to try to “make nice” with the other owners. Try to go into it not with the idea that it’s a confrontation, but that it’s a clarification, smoothing out, etc. It sounds like what they’ve been asking you to do isn’t fair… but it also sounds like you’ve made yourself something of a thorn in their side, so I can understand if they aren’t exactly leaping to respond to your questions.
        For what it’s worth, the idea that the condo board is legally responsible if the tenants receive a noise complaint sounds fishy to me. Especially since everything I’ve ever read on PoPville suggests that there aren’t lasting consequences to noise complaints unless you’re, say, a nightclub or restaurant. I thought that when it comes to individual residents making too much noise, the police come and tell them to keep it down, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

        • I always thought that too. There are so many issues, the noise complain, trash area, other small things, that are brought up as “well, if the tenants violate this, then the association would be responsible.” But, aren’t like DC residents themselves responsible for following DC law? If they’re too loud, wouldn’t they get the fine?

          • With trash, it would be different — if there’s uncontainerized trash behind your building, or if your building doesn’t have a recycling program, it would be the building (and hence the association) that gets hit with the fine. Same with overgrown grass.

      • This is why condo boards have bylaws specifying a minimum percentage of owner-occupied units. Or at least members of the board must live in their unit. Or a majority of the board must live in their units. And FYI for the future: if you ever want to sell the unit you may have trouble if all the other units are rented. Some banks will only finance if at least X% of the units are owner-occupied.

  • What does your bylaw say about communication? Since you’re on the board, why not start proposing responses as well as posing questions? I’m betting that if they do not agree with your proposed solution, that could get a response out of them. Good luck!

    • Nothing, it’s not addressed at all. I think I will start proposing a couple of things, just to see what happens. Maybe I will try calling a meeting and see if anyone bites.

    • “Since you’re on the board, why not start proposing responses as well as posing questions? I’m betting that if they do not agree with your proposed solution, that could get a response out of them.”
      How often are you asking questions of these people? Are you bombarding them (i.e. more than once a week)? If so, they probably find you to be a bit of a worry wart.
      As a Board member, you can also propose to do a monthly Skype or phone call with all owners. Draw up a list of items for an agenda and then resolve them on the call. This should cut down on a lot of the email traffic that is probably annoying your fellow owners.
      Also, are you young? If these guys are a lot older, they might just not be very responsive over email or have it tethered to them all the time. There might be a big generational gap in terms of expectations of communication.

  • So incredibly thankful to have been able to score a rowhouse, my tiny castle, in fee simple. It makes me shudder to think of being trapped in shared ownership and governance of my own home with randoms, and bearing the full brunt of their delusions, eccentricities, liabilities, and unreasonable meddling. Particularly in this obnoxiously litigious and over-regulated town, and in a small building like the OP’s. Good luck to you.

  • Before our little community gets scared away from condo ownership, I own in a small building where all of us are on the board and there’s no property management company. And it’s AWESOME. My neighbors are phenomenal–low-key, responsible, friendly, and just interested in a peaceful environment. I’m absolutely awful at legal issues, and I would be lost without them. Some of these situations can be great!

  • I owned in such a 4 unit where we all were on the board. Will never do it again. Mine was a nightmare, but yours sounds even worse.

    One should never buy into a building where most of the units are rented out. It means you have checked out owners who see their units as investments, not their homes, and you have absentee owners, who will place the burden of running the place on you. Making you deal with ANY disputes about THEIR tenants? Ridiculous! You have no liability about noise – they do.

    Either only one was rented out when you bought, or you bought with all cash, or they lied on a form to your mortgage bank about how many units were rented out, because no bank will lend in that situation. Which means unless they stop renting out their units, you can only sell to an all-cash buyer. Not a situation I would ever put myself in.

    You may love your home, but the situation with the board is never going to get better. I finally realized this (and we all lived there, and as nasty as it got, we still responded to each other.) My advice is to ignore them as much you can and enjoy your place. You can’t force them to communicate, or even to distribute financials even if required in the documents. You are at their mercy. And it isn’t worth suing about – you still can’t make them do anything they don’t want to. Just let them run their investments, as that’s what they are going to do anyway, and pick your battles – though you should have access to the common areas, good luck getting it. A locksmith?

  • Previous condo owner, Board president, treasurer, secretary, etc. here. My condo experience was a living hell, but I learned alot – until I couldn’t take it anymore, sold at a loss and moved on with my life. Best decision ever. With that said, a few things for you to consider:

    Have you asked your property manager your questions? The books for our association, as well as copies of all documents were kept with our property manager (until we went electronic). They also were in the loop on who had keys for what, why things were locked, etc.

    In terms of communication with the Board, while I understand your frustration in getting the silent treatment you may need to wait until the next meeting or investigate what your condo docs say about calling a special meeting (although since you’re outnumbered – that may be a tough meeting to call, b/c it typically requires a majority of signatures). When you do meet with the board – compile all of your questions/concerns, send your agenda out in advance, but most specifically please be sure to ask how communication should be handled between meetings. Ask them what their preference is. I don’t know how many emails you’ve sent but maybe they feel bombarded. Perhaps you propose a monthly email with questions unless there is an emergency situation that requires immediate attention. At the meeting also find out where all the records/docs are kept, when you can access/how frequently you can access the documents (this is key), and perhaps even ask if you can do a property walk with the Board for inspections (and so you can find out why doors are locked), state of repairs, etc. If they refuse to do a property walk – ask if the Property manager will do one with you.

    But I urge you to approach the conversation as diplomatically as possible. Perhaps start the meeting with “I’m new to owning a condo in a small association and I apologize if I am bombarding you with questions. I’d appreciate it however if you could clarify on the association’s preferences for communication in between quarterly meetings so I’m not bothering you on a regular basis.” Take the high road knowing they still may ignore you. If they don’t make any concessions and continue to give you the silent treatment, you’ll have to figure out what’s important to you and move forward. If that means hiring a lawyer to get their attention, so be it. Or you may decide that you can wait for the quarterly meeting to find out why a door is locked. You’ll figure out what battles are important to you. It took me five years of trying to sort out association issues before I realized my sanity was worth way more and that selling at a loss was the best route. Hopefully it won’t come to that for you. Good luck regardless.

  • It sounds like the main issue is that you think they are being very rude for not responding in a timely manner. However, it doesn’t sound like there is actually any real problem with the Condo or update/project that you desperately want. So let it go! It’s really not worth involving lawyers, your time, efforts just to get someone to be communicative, and your efforts might not make you friends.

    You aren’t liable for their tenant’s noise complaints and you certainly aren’t required to be some type of Condo mediator! Since the other owners aren’t living there for small issues I would suggest proposing a question along with a solution, like OP Anon. For example I would send an email/phone call/in-person proposal stating the Jacuzzi is broken it can be fixed on X date for TBD amount by Z firm please confirm approval. Leave all other questions for large issues or information finding (where is doc x?) for the board meeting.

  • Your condo should have a set of governing documents, including Bylaws, that set out your responsibilities as a board member and a unit owner. Also, the DC Code (Title 42, Chapter 19 – http://dccode.org/simple/Title-42/Chapter-19/) has a whole set of laws regarding condominiums (rights, duties, etc., which would govern and not the landlord tenant laws). It sounds like the nonresident owners have been guilting you into acting as their personal property manager. And as a general matter, if someone is breaking the law (noise ordinance violation or otherwise) you call the cops… not your resident condo board member. Shame on your fellow unit owners!

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