Question: We own a unit in a condominium complex that consists of four detached buildings. For the past ten years, we have had very little problems. Our yearly condominium fees have modestly increased, and periodically we have had a special assessment for unexpected expenses, such as snow removal. Expenses are shared by all according to a "formula," in which each unit owner pays their share regardless of which building their unit is located.

Recently, however, a new owner in one of the buildings has created a situation that is causing a lot of heated discussion. He claims that since there is only one elevator in a building in which he does not reside, the expenses, maintenance, insurance and other costs regarding the elevator should be paid only by the unit owners in the building where the elevator is located.

Doesn't his proposal go against the very concept of a condominium association? What recourse do we have?

Answer: I have heard this all too often: "I live on the first floor and never use the elevator and thus do not have to pay for any expenses associated with the elevator."

Yes, this position is absolutely contrary to condominium living. Your neighbor may not use the elevator, but you may not benefit from the beautiful landscaping that is directly in front of his unit.

Living in a condominium means that you have to abide by the legal documents which govern your association. These documents are the Declaration and the By-laws. Typically, the Declaration will spell out the percentage interest that each unit has in the association, and that percentage will control your voting rights and your payment obligations.

You state that each owner in your association pays pursuant to a "formula." Is that formula based on the percentage interests that can be found in your legal documents? If not, it should be.

Let's take this example. There are ten condominium units in the complex. Five units are two bedrooms and five contain only one bedroom. The Declaration spells out the percentage interest of each unit: the 2 bedroom units each have a 15 percent interest in the association while the 1 bedroom units each have a five percent interest. There must be a total percentage of 100.

Your budget for the year is $30,000. Thus, the two bedroom units must pay $4500 per year (or $375 monthly), while the one bedroom units will have to pay $1500 per year (or $125 monthly).

Additionally, when there is a vote needed to be taken -- such as for special assessments or election of directors -- each unit owner votes his or her percentage interest. It should be noted that some legal documents may create different rules for voting as compared to payment of expenses, so you must review your own set of legal documents.

Are you following the procedures spelled out in your legal documents?

If so, then there is nothing more that you can do. The heated discussions can be ended merely by stating: "please read section XX of our declaration and Article YY of our By-laws."

If, on the other hand, your neighbor persists on pressing his position -- and indeed refuses to pay his fair share of the condominium fee -- you will have to bring a collection lawsuit against him. Obviously, no one wants to get involved in litigation -- especially against a neighbor. But if your association lets him get away with his position, you will have set a dangerous precedent.

Condominium law is quite clear: each owner must be treated equally. If a board of directors, for example, lets one owner violate a particular rule or regulation, that will be a strong defense should the board go after a different owner for that same violation.

A board of directors cannot arbitrarily enforce the rules and regulations spelled out in their legal documents. Furthermore, if a unit owner becomes delinquent in his/her condominium fees, the board should adopt a zero tolerance policy and take action immediately before the bill gets too high.

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