Watchdog: New laws can help owners of condos

Theoretically owners of condos in Connecticut have several laws to help protect them against abusive acts from condo association boards and property managers.

But the reality is that there is no state agency that condo owners can turn to for help to enforce their rights.

The only real option in a serious dispute is for a condo owner to hire an attorney and take legal action. The condo owner might or might not get reimbursed for his legal expense. It is up to the judge in the case to decide. And of course when the condo association hires a lawyer to defend itself, all unit owners share that expense, whether the board was right or wrong.

Two laws that went into effect Oct. 1 might help level the playing field.

The first law, which was passed last year but is only now in effect, requires property managers to not only register with the state Department of Consumer Protection, but to take educational courses and pass examinations.

The second law, passed this year, allows consumer protection officials to take action against property managers who knowingly violate state condo laws. Prior to passage of the bill consumer department officials were only permitted to take action against property managers who embezzle money from an association.

Richard Maloney, director of the consumer protection department's trade practices division, says he is hopeful the two laws will result in improved management for condo owners.

"I think the industry is changing and I hope the new laws will increase the competency" of property managers, he said in an interview.

Maloney said his division has been cracking down on property managers who have not registered with the state and have so far fined seven of them $250 each.

The department is investigating 18 other cases. Connecticut has 322 registered property managers and property management firms.

As an officer in the volunteer group Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition I see the kinds of complaints condo owners have.

Most of the issues are from smaller complexes - less than 25 units - without property managers or with property managers from small firms.

Complaints against property managers include failing to provide financial documents at unit owners request, or charging higher fees than allowed by state law for the documents, failing to provide complete and easy to understand financial reports, providing inaccurate information to condo owners or to real estate agents, and harassing condo owners who ask too many questions about the way their associations are run. Others have complained that property managers ignored their complaints of defects, structural damage and mold issues.

One ongoing investigation by Maloney's office involves a 16-unit complex in Fairfield County that is managed by a small management firm.

A group of seven of the unit owners last summer asked for the state investigation, claiming that the property manager's sloppy accounting practices have resulted in hundreds of dollars in fees from banks for bounced checks, thousands of dollars intended to repair a leaky roof unaccounted for, and that the property manager had hired her husband to fix the roof. They also allege that the property manager paid herself more than what her contract allows.

george@ctwatchdog.com; www.ctwatchdog.com and www.CtCondoNews.com

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