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Condo Q&A

Malfunctioning Elevator May Be Hazard and Code Violation

July 18, 1999|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I live on the top floor of a five-story condo complex. I get along well with the board of directors but they have failed to correct a problem with our elevator. I think it needs to be replaced since previous repairs have not corrected the problem.

The elevator is located where heavy rain can pour into the elevator shaft. I think we need to prevent water from entering the building and the elevator pit. Even in decent weather, the elevator does not work properly.

I am usually the first one to use the elevator in the morning. During the descent, the elevator makes a loud crashing sound and almost jolts me. When the motor is warmed up the problem disappears until the next day.

The elevator doors often get stuck open and I have to forcibly close the doors so that the elevator will function again. Sometimes that does not solve the problem.

Our association does not lack the funds to repair or replace the motor and protect the elevator from water intrusion. The board is just not making a decision, and I don't want to run for the board just to solve this problem.

Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: You could volunteer to contact the elevator company to obtain recommendations and bids for the repair work.

The first step is to report the problem to the elevator service contractor. You should describe the problem in detail and submit your written complaint to the board of directors.

The elevator must pass periodic inspections by the city. The jolt that you describe is certainly not acceptable, and it could be a hazard.

By failing to take action, the board may be running the risk of a safety citation by the elevator inspector or a lawsuit from an injured party.

Another possible consequence is increased maintenance costs. The elevator may require more extensive repairs in the future if the problem is ignored.

Water entering the elevator pit can contaminate the soil under the elevator shaft. This could be a violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and decontamination and penalties could be very expensive to the association.

Perhaps the board has not considered the consequences of their inaction. The board has a duty to maintain, repair or replace the equipment that is owned by the association. They could be liable for negligence if they fail to take action.

Board Should Sign Off on Proposals

Q: Our board of directors voted to table a proposal for a major landscaping project. After a few weeks, the board president had the landscaping done without the board's approval. The $5,000 bill was submitted for payment at the following board meeting. Despite loud objections, the board is paying the bill.

What can be done?

A: The board members are in control. If a majority of the board voted to pay the bill, there is very little that you can do about it now. Perhaps the board agreed, after the work was completed, that the project needed to be done.

Since you were not specific about the type of project, I cannot determine whether a speedy decision was warranted.

Consider other reasons that might have persuaded the president to take action. Was it for the good of the association or were there other motives?

The board president acted without proper authority, but if none of the other board members is willing to challenge his or her actions, your association is essentially in the control of a dictator.

A board member who acts alone takes on a great deal of liability. Other board members should not be intimidated. They have a duty to participate in the decision-making process or they can be held liable because of their inaction.

Obviously, you are displeased. If you want to pursue extreme measures, you could consult legal counsel to find out how to stop the board from paying the bill. If the bill is already paid, it is doubtful that the association could recover the money from the contractor. The contractor could argue that the board president's acceptance of the proposal was sufficient authorization for the work to be performed.

A more reasonable tactic would be to find out if other owners are interested in electing a new board at the next annual meeting. Are you willing to serve on the board yourself or devote some time and effort to see that others are elected in the future? You may find that is the only solution to your complaints.

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Hickenbottom is a community association management consultant and a founding director of the California Assn. of Community Managers. She selects questions of general interest for the column and regrets that she cannot respond to all questions received. Send questions to: Condo Q&A, Box 5068, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.

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