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Playing by the rules

Condo remodeling has its own challenge -- keeping the neighbors and board happy.

February 03, 2008|Frank Nelson | Special to The Times

Any homeowner who has lived through a remodel can attest to the stress of the experience. But for condo owners governed by association rules and regulations, this additional layer of oversight can heighten the strain and lead to conflicts with neighbors and boards.

Rules are generally most stringent regarding work that affects the exterior appearance of the building, structural alterations or water and power systems. But owners contemplating even interior upgrades may first have to fight their way through a thicket of association covenants, conditions and restrictions, commonly known as the CC&Rs, and make sure the work complies with them.

This can be a daunting, complicated and frustrating process; or, depending on where you live, it can be relatively easy and straightforward. The ground rules can vary so markedly that a nightmare project in your building may be a piece of cake in the building across the street.

Bob Perales, former worldwide facilities director for EBay and now an estate manager for private clients, has been handling the remodel of a 16th-floor condo in a luxury high-rise on the Wilshire Corridor. Condos in this building cost an average of $4 million, according to general manager Nancy Mohni, and Perales said his clients are spending about $500,000 to upgrade their two-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,500-square-foot unit.

Work includes putting new flooring in the master bedroom, refinishing limestone in the main family room and entrance, and installing custom furniture, new shades, curtains and light fixtures. A high-tech system is also being installed to control lights, curtains and alarms.

The project, involving eight contractors, is running smoothly, Perales said, something he attributes to using two key players with experience in condo remodeling -- the Nickel Co., the main contractor based in Agoura Hills, and Los Angeles interior designer Lisa Pagano. Work started in November and is expected to be finished this month.

"Once you have a routine and everybody knows what it is, then the whole thing flows pretty good," Perales said. "It all comes down to scheduling and planning." He also credits good communication with Mohni, the building manager, saying that they worked closely together and that she was helpful, cooperative and forthcoming about all the rules and conditions applying to remodeling and maintenance work in the high-rise.

Those rules address common concerns among condo associations, including contractors' insurance and work hours, noise, building security, disposal of debris, parking for workers and keeping public areas clean and clear of obstructions.

In this case, Mohni said, every contractor has to carry $1 million in general liability insurance and $1 million in workers compensation coverage.

Chuck Swan, president of CDS Insurance Services, based in San Dimas, said those are fairly typical figures for contractors working in condos or family homes.

The hours of work, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., are also fairly standard, though a sampling of condos around the Los Angeles area revealed varied start times -- for instance, 7 a.m. for one place in Burbank, 10 a.m. at another complex in West Hollywood.

Legal restrictions

City ordinances take precedence over homeowner association rules. That means a complex cannot have rules that are less restrictive than city law.

Los Angeles, for example, allows construction from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. In the interest of residents, condo rules can be, and often are, more restrictive -- not less.

For the job Perales is handling, the insurance requirements eliminated some smaller contractors from contention while the strict work hours made "daily prep and wrap-up a little bit tedious."

Limited on-site parking means some contractors have to use the street, while special debris boxes must be brought in and hauled away each day.

Though Perales readily accepts that the rules are necessary and in the best interests of the building and other residents, he noted that the cost of complying added to the overall price of the job.

Joanne Pena, portfolio manager with Torrance-based Horizon Management Co., oversees nine community associations, including three large condo complexes, a 108-unit high-rise on Wilshire Boulevard and five town home/condo communities.

She said the approval process will probably be tougher in a high-rise, especially if work could affect the structural integrity of the building or the electrical or plumbing systems.

When replacing like-for-like, such as kitchen cabinets or carpeting, the approvals are usually easier to get.

While stressing that the rules vary from one association to the next, Joan Urbaniak, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Assns. Institute, said internal painting and plastering is not normally regulated.

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