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Condo Q & A

Can Association Charge Rental 'Move-In Fee'?

January 16, 1994|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Hickenbottom is a past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization

QUESTION: My condominium association recently billed me for a "move-in fee" because tenants moved into the unit that I own. I think that charging a move-in fee is illegal. A former manager stated that the association can charge only for damage that occurs during the move. Does the association have the authority to charge this fee?

ANSWER: The association has the right to bill the owner for any damage that results from a move. In addition, if the association can substantiate the fee based on actual services that are provided to the new resident, then the association has the right to pass the cost along to the owner. It is illegal for the association to charge an unreasonable fee that is unrelated to the association's actual costs. All owners should be treated equally, whether they are living in their unit or renting it out to tenants. In my opinion, it would be discriminatory to charge a move-in fee only when the unit is rented to a tenant. All owners should be informed about any fees that the board establishes for move-in or move-out or other special circumstances.

You have a right to know the reason for the fee. You may be unaware of the services that were provided to your tenant, so ask for an explanation. Costs might result from staff services relating to elevator use, providing common area keys, changing the directory listing or setting up the entry phone connection.

Should Board Replace Play Equipment?

Q: Our homeowner association's five-member board is considering the replacement of expensive playground equipment that was vandalized by some of the older children in the complex.

Our association cannot afford to purchase unnecessary items. Our financial condition is suffering because of some delinquent owners.

We have two owners who want the playground equipment replaced because they are providing child-care services. Two children have had minor injuries in the past so we are concerned about the association's liability.

Two board members have their units listed for sale so they want the playground equipment to make their units more desirable to potential buyers. The other board members do not feel that we are obligated to replace the equipment, especially since it may be destroyed again. Perhaps the decision should be put to a vote of the owners because of all of the complicating issues.

Three board members do not want to replace the equipment but the other two board members constantly bring up this matter. Are we wrong if we don't vote to replace the equipment? Should all of the owners vote on it?

A: It sounds like you have already taken a board vote but the three that were in the majority are still feeling the pressure from the other two. I'm sure that you don't want animosity among the board members.

Your dilemma could be resolved by discussing the following questions: What is fair for everyone? Should the day-care providers expect the association to replace the equipment even if it is a hardship for the association to pay the cost? Do the day-care providers have adequate liability insurance and have the parents of the children signed an agreement freeing the association from liability? Is the playground an important amenity for all of the owners? Does it enhance the value of the property? Does it increase the association's liability or insurance costs? Is it fair to all of the owners to vote and let a simple majority decide the fate of an amenity? Would a special assessment be needed or does the association have reserve funds to pay for the replacement? Are these reserve funds needed for other immediate priorities? Could the association recover the cost from the owners whose children were responsible for destroying it? Does the association have insurance to cover vandalism? What is the best solution that is fair and reasonable? Is the solution good for the whole association?

If the association does not have the funds to replace the equipment, the board should provide all of the pertinent details to the owners and invite their input at a board meeting. If a majority of the board members want the owners to vote, then do so at a special meeting.

In my opinion, the equipment should probably be replaced unless the board determines that it would be highly imprudent to do so after weighing all of the issues. After the decision is made by either a board vote or owners' vote, the board members should agreeably abide by the decision of the majority and refrain from reviving the controversy at subsequent meetings.

Number of Renters Disturbs Residents

Q: We reside in a homeowner association in Orange County. The association's declaration states that the homes are "single-family residences." One of our neighbors has six or eight male boarders. Some of these men share one room, sleeping in the bed in shifts.

We are worried about the welfare of our children because of the large number of renters who are strangers. We also have a parking problem because of limited parking spaces.

Is there any way that the association can enforce the single-family concept and get rid of the large number of renters?

A: If you live in an incorporated area of Orange County, you may get some help from your city officials. Find out if the city allows bedroom rentals. Your neighbor may be in violation of local zoning codes or health and safety codes.

If the wording in the association's declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) is clear and specific, you may be able to prohibit or limit the number of your neighbor's tenants. For example, if the association's legal documents clearly limit occupancy to two people per bedroom, then enforcement of that restriction is more likely. The association board should seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in community association law to find out if the wording in the governing documents is enforceable. If so, then the association should vigorously pursue enforcement before rentals and overcrowding become more prevalent.

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