Real estate experts warn us to take at least as much care, if not more, checking out a condo than a single-family home prior to purchase.
That goes double for small associations with less than a dozen units.
The major reason is that it's unlikely that a small association can afford to hire a professional management company that will protect the owners.
The success or failure of the association will depend on the few owners working closely together, a tricky proposition. And it requires them to check and verify, just like you do if you own a single family home.
Even more dangerous is when it's a small association and the developer is in financial straits.
The worst example I have heard of involves Raj Jain, whose expensive Bridgeport condo burned May 10 and he discovered that his four-unit complex had no fire insurance.
In a written statement to me and to state Attorney General George Jepsen, Jain said that when he purchased his 2,200-square-foot condo in February 2009, he had a document stating that the building and his unit was covered by a master policy taken out by Kerry O'Sullivan, Fairfield developer and association principal.
Jain paid more than $80,000 as a down payment.
From when he moved in, Jain said the complex was poorly run: snow was not removed regularly, even the monthly maintenance bill was sent irregularly.
Jain, a software engineer, was lucky that neither he nor his wife and child were at home the morning of May 10 when a fire burned his condo. Fire officials have yet to find a cause of the fire in which no one was hurt - even the pets got out alive.
Only after the fire did Jain discover that the fire policy had actually expired on Jan. 31, 2009, and that O'Sullivan failed to renew it.
"I called up the insurance agent that provided the insurance certificate to my lender at the time of my purchase (Feb 6th 2009). The insurance agent tells me that the policy expired on Jan 31st 2009 due to lack of payment. As of now, my unit is almost total loss and there seems to bea master insurance on the building," Jain wrote to me and to the attorney general.
Jain told the attorney general's office that he has been unable to contact O'Sullivan - who defaulted on at least three bank loans because he failed to appear and defend himself at court hearings.
I have also been unable to reach O'Sullivan, who according to Jain, owns two of the four Bridgeport condos and rents them out.
Nathan Valentino, Jain's neighbor who also owns and lives in one of the of the units, paid $470,000 in cash.
He, too, has been unable to reach O'Sullivan and said he has contacted an attorney to see what action he should take. I suggested to Valentino that he immediately purchase a master fire insurance policy to protect his investment.
Both Valentino and Jain have content insurance, but that policy does not cover the actual structure, only their furniture, inside content, liability, improvements they made and living expenses in case of a disaster.
The state attorney general's office said it is unable to help Jain.
"While we are sympathetic to the circumstances of this individual, our office does not have authority to intervene in what appears to be a private legal dispute," the attorney general's office said.
"We suggested, as we do in all private disputes, that the individual consider consulting a personal attorney to determine his legal rights. In addition, we advised him to contact his homeowner's insurance provider and any other third-party insurance provider to begin the claims process. To the extent that he suspects any type of misconduct involving the misrepresentation of insurance and payment of such monies to the principal/builder, we have suggested that he consider contacting the (state) Insurance Department, and have provided him the contact information."
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