Deck Those Condominium Halls

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 19 June 2018 12:43

Question: At our condominium, the grounds and buildings are kept immaculately and our hallways and lobbies have just been renovated by a professional decorator. The lobbies look elegant, and halls are newly carpeted. Some owners, however, have taken it upon themselves to put tables, plants and even paintings in the corridors. Some owners are constantly asking for a more "democratic" acceptance of their tastes and wishes. Some have even suggested putting reproductions of Impressionist Art in the hallways, since they feel nobody could possible object.

Other owners believe that the professional decorator has done a good job, and that our building is beautified and in good taste. Is there any condominium rule to cover this problem? Can anyone put up art work in the hallways?

Answer: Let's face it; one person's definition of art will be another person's definition of pornography. You suggest that some owners want your association to be more democratic. The irony is that a community association is the ultimate of democracy -- with the good, the bad and often even the ugly.

The rule is quite simple: the common elements do not belong to the unit owners, but to everyone who owns a condominium unit within the complex. The Board of Directors of the Association is charged -- both by law and in your association legal documents -- with making most of the decisions for the Association.

Often these decisions are not earth shaking. Sometimes they involve making repairs to the common elements; sometimes they involve refurbishing the lobby and the elevators. And sometimes they even involve determining the color of the walls to be painted or the kind of art work to be displayed in those common elements.

Your Bylaws determine the Board's responsibilities. Some association Bylaws give the Board carte blanch authority to spend an unlimited amount of money for repairs, renovations and improvements. Other association documents place dollar limitations on the Board, requiring a majority of the unit owners to approve contracts that cost over a certain dollar amount for common element improvements.

In most cases, however, the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the common elements rests with the Board of Directors. If a unit owner wants to put up a painting or a plant in the hall, that unit owner must obtain written approval from the Board. The unit owner cannot take it upon him or herself to decide what is in the best interest of the entire Association.

If a unit owner likes impressionistic art, they can hang all they want in their own apartment. If a unit owner likes a certain table or plant, those items can be nicely located in his/her unit. But no one unit owner has the right to make any decision for the entire Association.

Your Board must take immediate action to stop the individuals from decorating the common elements. Although I seldom recommend it, the Board can take self-help, and have those objects removed. Alternatively, if the Board has the legal authority to do so, it can issue fines against those unit owners who are acting improperly. And if it really becomes necessary, as a last resort, the Board can go to Court and seek a restraining order against the violators.

Board members have a difficult task. Regardless of what they do, someone will no doubt object. Thus, before a Board decides to make aesthetic changes to the common elements, it is strongly recommended that input be sought from the unit owners.

I know of several associations that were facing similar issues. They had their interior decorator make some drawings which were posted in the front lobby. All owners were given two weeks in which to review those plans, and then an "informal" community meeting was held to discuss the plans and obtain comments from the unit owners.

While the final decision was made by the Board of Directors, they did receive -- and accept -- input from the owners. And even those owners who objected to the plans, recognized the fairness of the decision-making process.

In the final analysis, if you do not like the decisions made by the Board, you should consider running for office so that you can be part of the decision-making team.

That is the essence of democracy.

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Benny L Kass

Author of the weekly Housing Counsel column with The Washington Post for nearly 30 years, Benny Kass is the senior partner with the Washington, DC law firm of KASS LEGAL GROUP, PLLC and a specialist in such real estate legal areas as commercial and residential financing, closings, foreclosures and workouts.

Mr. Kass is a Charter Member of the College of Community Association Attorneys, and has written extensively about community association issues. In addition, he is a life member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. In this capacity, he has been involved in the development of almost all of the Commission’s real estate laws, including the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act which has been adopted in many states.

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