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Question: In years past, the Board has either sanctioned or failed to stop illegal additions by owners to their units such as expanded decks, fences, awnings and patio enclosures. The unwritten understanding has been that the unit owners that install these things are responsible for all repairs and replacements. Over time, however, new owners have acquired some of the units and are now demanding that the HOA pay for the work since it's located in the common area. What now?

Answer: The Board has no authority to expand an owner's use of the common area. Any redefinition or reconfiguration of common area must be approved by an appropriate majority of owners which may be 100 percent depending on how your governing documents read. However, what is done is done. If the policy has been that the owners that have installed the additions pay for all maintenance and repair, that should be the policy now and the current Board should take inventory of all owner additions and advise those unit owners of their maintenance responsibilities.

To avoid misunderstandings, any unit that is so affected should have a document recorded on the title describing the addition and the owner's maintenance responsibility. This same principle applies to future modification approvals by the Board.

Question: When changing management companies, should an audit of the books be done?

Answer: It's always a good idea to have the books audited at change of management. The new company may insist on it or, at least, not take any responsibility for financial reporting of transactions that took place under old management. An audit is a good idea when there is a total change in the Board as well.

If the Board has been reviewing regular financial statements and has verified that the information was accurate (for example, the Treasurer has been comparing financial statements to the bank statements) and bills paid have been reviewed and approved by the Board, it may be okay to skip an audit, but the bigger the budget, the bigger the likelihood of problems.

Question: Our Board President often opposes and blocks bylaw amendment proposals. Can he do that?

Answer: Any HOA member (whether director or general) can propose a bylaw amendment. Bylaw amendments must be approved by the appropriate majority of general members. The board has no authority to amend the bylaws on its own. And the Board President has no power to block an amendment proposal on his own. He, of course, is entitled to his own opinion and is free to express it. He is not entitled to hold the HOA hostage because of his office. The Board President serves at the pleasure of the other board members. If he is being difficult, the other directors can remove him from office.

Question: Can the Board decide to replace unit dishwashers and assess the owners?

Answer: A condominium unit belongs to its owner and the HOA cannot take on this kind of expense unless every individual owner agrees to it. That said, it often makes financial sense for the HOA to arrange group buying for owners. For example, exterior window replacement is often a unit owner's responsibility. If the building has old, inefficient windows, it makes enormous sense for the HOA to coordinate a full window replacement project because individual owners could save up to 50 percent of the cost. Similarly, having the HOA purchase many dishwashers at once will doubtless save owners a lot of money. However, the HOA cannot force an owner to participate and some might opt out.

Question: We live in a four story building. Is there any law that prohibits installing hardwood floor because of sound transmission problems?

Answer: There is no law that restricts installation of hardwood flooring although some governing documents might prohibit it. Most new construction designs anticipate the noise issue and the desire for hardwood flooring, so they install concrete subfloors to address noise transmission. In older buildings without concrete floors, this can definitely be a real problem for downstairs neighbors. In these buildings, hardwood flooring will create a noise problem if not installed with proper sound dampening.

To safeguard all owners' quiet enjoyment, it is perfectly within the Board's authority to require hardwood flooring include such sound dampening systems. There are several systems that can be used including cork and Mass Loaded Vinyl.

I suggest the Board research alternatives and adopt a standard for such installations. Once adopted, the information should be made known to all owners and that failure to comply will result in an order to remove the flooring.

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