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Condo Regulations a Potential Mine Field for the Unwary Owner

May 13, 1987|MICHAEL BURKE | Michael Burke is a writer and photographer in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — Purchase a condominium in San Diego and you're handed an inch-thick stack of developer-inspired legal jargon that would confuse a Supreme Court justice.

These covenants conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) are so complex, poorly written and just plain boring that it's not surprising that few of us ever bother to read them. Those who do tackle them usually give up after the shock of reading that we've just committed three or four years of our salary for some nebulous entity called "air space."

So, having at best only a sketchy idea of what is and isn't OK in our new community, we wing it. And it usually doesn't take long to incur the wrath of at least some of our neighbors--innocently, of course, but that's never quite the way they see it.

Oh, you've seen us "read it later (maybe)" types--we're easy to spot. For example, in a power-line-free, TV-antenna-less condo community, one of us might be found, early one Saturday morning, installing a roof-mounted satellite dish big enough to hold an Olympic high-diving event inside it.

This result of ignoring the dreaded CC&R packet spawns a second community problem--finding enough volunteers to actively take part in the ever-present and very necessary Community Association. It seems that no one wants to have to enforce, let alone read, those cursed condo rules.

Well, there's a way to deal with both these CC&R-induced problems. A condo association's community newsletter, skillfully used, can be an excellent vehicle to both encourage CC&R compliance and to recruit volunteers. The trick is in not lecturing or threatening--newsletters taking this approach are read even less than the CC&Rs.

A more effective approach is to kid and cajole--to encourage cooperation, humorously if possible, instead of demanding it.

This "dealing with people" technique can be as effective in a newsletter format as it is in person. Here are some excerpts from one northern San Diego community newsletter that illustrate how to anticipate problems, diffuse disputes and recruit volunteers:

- Regarding driveways: "Driveway stains? Some of our neighbors have had success with GUNK for Driveways. . . . Also, trisodium phosphate works for light stains and can be found in paint departments, as can 'KED,' a concrete etcher for indelible stains. Some of these require wire brushing for best results--an opportunity for enterprising youngsters to earn a few dollars while contributing to the appearance of their neighborhood (i.e., Ding-dong. 'Hi. Would you like your driveway Gunked?')"

- To recruit committee members: "A suggestion has been made to pick at random a homeowner's name, appoint that individual Social Committee chairperson and force him to sit through board of directors meetings until he puts on some sort of community social event. Alternative suggestions are encouraged."

- Regarding unauthorized yard sales: "Another recurring problem (one that we can all assist with) is unauthorized garage/yard sales. These are prohibited within our community as a means of keeping down the number of strangers in our neighborhood. The once-a-year Community Yard Sale is sufficient for even the messiest of us to clean out the garage and find that missing second car. As an alternative, the Am Vets will pick up quite a bit of what you don't need. You can also help enforce our CC&Rs by removing any illicit garage sale signs you see posted on the wall leading into our community. You probably won't get to the sign before one of the board members does, but if you're up verrry early some Saturday . . . "

- On prohibiting satellite dishes: "Take heart, TV addicts--rumor has it that state-of-the-art electronics has spawned a satellite dish that can be used indoors! It can be mounted in the attic like some people mount their ordinary TV antennas, or even left sitting on top of the TV (perhaps filled with candy or nuts?)"

- Join your board of directors: "Of course, we all know that those serving on the board just aren't as busy as the rest of us, and have plenty of time to play 'community affairs.' They grin with anticipation at the chance to inspect landscaping, hold meetings, send out violation notices, plan maintenance schedules, approve budgets, hire contractors, litigate builders, respond to members' concerns, dash off newsletters, and in general do what they can to maintain the type of community that prompted you and I to make our homes here.

"Yet for some reason those serving on the board are reluctant to admit to all the fun they're having. In fact, they're claiming that, with more to do, and fewer volunteers from the community to help do it, some otherwise volunteer community operations may have to be contracted out. For money! Can you believe that!? I mean, what are we not paying these people for, anyway?"

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