- Welcome to your new home!
- What are my responsibilities as an owner?
- What are my rights as an owner?
- Neighbor problems? What should I do?
- The Board – What do they do? Meetings.
- The management company – What do they do?
- Maintenance: Why are some items repaired and others are not?
- Emergency maintenance? What do I do? What is an emergency?
- Insurance: Do I need to buy my own coverage?
- Selling or refinancing? Information and forms
- Monthly assessments: How do I pay?
- What do my monthly dues cover?
- Rules & Regulations
- Why should I serve on the Board? How do I get on the Board?
We realize that you may be a fairly new owner of a condominium or maybe you have owned your condominium for a while, and you are interested in some general information about life in a condominium. As an owner of a condominium unit you have purchased a piece of real estate that is complicated to fully understand. The legal documents that attempt to fully explain what you own are lengthy and rarely ever read by the owners who own condominiums. Furthermore, the California legislature annually adds to the legal requirements which govern every homeowners Association in the state. It is essential that you undertake a process of understanding your rights and responsibilities as an owner. (Back to Top)
Condominium ownership offers benefits and at the same time there are responsibilities. There is a mistaken belief that living in a condominium means that you have no responsibility for the common area, or anything outside your unit. Every Association requires a Board of Directors to lead the Association. The Board is elected by the owners. Most Associations struggle to find new Board members to replace those that move away, or want to get off the Board because of other life commitments. The great thing about owning a condo is that you can share the load of property ownership.That load is essentially caring for the value of your asset, which includes the common area – the grounds and everything outside the living units.
As an owner who is not on the Board, you can support your Board in several ways which may encourage them to stay in their position longer. You can do this by offering your help on special projects that may interest you, serving on a committee, and respectfully treating the Board members as volunteers who for the most part are trying to do the right thing for the entire Association. Being a responsible Association member means that you attend and vote at the annual meeting. In order to protect your interests as an owner it is important to elect Board members who understand the importance of representing the interests of the entire Association. Once the Board is elected, encourage your Board members by occasionally attending a Board meeting to understand how decisions are made and providing your opinion on topics of interest to you during the “homeowner forum” time of the meeting.
You have invested in this property, and the future value of your investment can rise or fall based on the health of the Association.
What makes for a healthy Association?
- Annual meetings that a majority of owners attend.
- Owners who do not serve on the Board support the Board and serve on committees or the Board as needed.
- Owners who pay their financial monthly assessments and special assessments on time to the Association. These assessments exist to benefit you and your entire Association. If they are not paid, something will suffer as a result.
- Understand that the Association is an entity consisting of many owners and exists for the benefit of the whole. Sometimes our own desires may not be in the best interests of the entire Association. Flexibility and understanding are important considerations. (Back to Top)
The governing documents for your Association, known as Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (C.C. & R’s) and the state law, also known as the Davis-Stirling Act form the primary body of information that provides you your rights as owners. To simplify a few important ones here:
You have a right as an owner each year, to elect a Board of Directors to represent your collective interests as an Association. The Board members are similar to trustees or fiduciaries to see that the interests of the entire Association are protected.
- You have a right to view certain financial statements of the Association. There are a few statements that may be protected due to owner confidentiality issues.
- You have a right to receive minutes for the Associations Board meeting.
- You have a right to know what is on the Board meeting agenda four days prior to the meeting.
- You have a right to expect the Association to fulfill it’s duty to maintain and protect the common area.
- You have a right to receive the budget and other financial information prior to the beginning of each new year and be aware of how your monthly assessments are being spent. (Back to Top)
- It is possible that you may, from time to time, have issues with the neighbor, whether that is the neighbor upstairs and the neighbor with whom you share a common wall. Often the conflicts arise over noise issues. With many condominiums being built with relatively thin walls, floors or ceilings, and with inadequate insulation, this is understandable. It is important to realize some important issues in this regard.
- It is very possible that your neighbor is completely unaware of the noise that may be created from the occupants in their unit. Neither the Board nor the Association management company are the best ways to initially approach this problem. If you go first to the Board or the management company it may likely make the problem worse, and not better.
- Just as neighbors in single family homes realize, conflicts between neighbors are best dealt with neighbor to neighbor.
Based on the above, if you have first approached your neighbor and have not achieved a solution, the next step would be to communicate in writing with the management company, who will forward your correspondence to the Board for their review at the next Board meeting. (Back to Top)
Every Association is required to have a Board of Directors, consisting of owners elected by the entire Association. These Directors are volunteers and are elected to terms as specified in your governing documents. The job of the Board is to provide leadership and direction to the Association as a whole, and follow the state law and the governing documents of your Association. Their role is to protect the interests of the entire Association. Some of the most common tasks for the Board is to secure contracts for the needs of the Association, to review and monitor the financial matters of the Association, and to make rules and regulations for the benefit of all the owners.
The Board is required to meet periodically, and is also required to post the notice and the agenda for the meeting in the common area of the Association. As an owner, you are welcome to attend to watch the Board in their process, unless the meeting is determined to be an “executive session” meeting which is allowed for limited and specific types of legally sensitive or confidential issues. At the regular Board meeting, you are permitted to speak to the Board at a time in the meeting provided by the Board for owner comment.
Since the Board members are volunteers and are also your neighbors who would like to enjoy their life in the Association, it is a good idea to respect the fact that Board members may only want to conduct Association business at a Board meeting. Board members feel differently about this, and your Board will need to let you know how they feel. (Back to Top)
The management company is retained by the Board of Directors to assist them with many issues that pertain to the entire Association. Without a management company the tasks of your volunteer Board would be greatly increased, and the process of obtaining Board members will be more difficult. The management company works closely with, and is accountable to the Board of Directors only. As such, there are a very limited number of items that homeowners who are not on the Board may request of the management company. Those issues are:
- Accounting concerns related to your own assessment account
- Common area maintenance – which you observe. If you are not sure, you should contact your Association manager.
- Here is a brief list of some of the responsibilities of the management company:
- Maintenance issues: Coordinating maintenance requests and needs of the Association such as obtaining bids. They are available to dispatch repair personnel on a variety of levels, access and assessment of vendors, after-hours emergency maintenance.
- Accounting: Collecting the monthly dues payments, processing of payable items to vendors, producing monthly financial statements for the Board.
- Administrative: Performing administrative functions, such as communication issues like notices to owners, distributing minutes or other items furnished to us, and writing violation letters to owners.
- General: Guidance and resources for the Association Board in a number of areas. (Back to Top)
The question of who is responsible for maintenance of different components of the property can be confusing and complicated. Settling the issue of who is responsible for maintenance is sometimes a gray area, as it is defined in both your C.C. & R’s and the California law (aka Davis Stirling Act). In some cases the law prevails, and in some cases the documents guide the decision. Often the governing documents are not clearly stated, and the law, which is in many cases more current, will be more helpful.
The information here will be generally true in many cases, but should not be relied on exclusively for your situation. Some Associations retain a lawyer to create a maintenance chart for an individual Association after reviewing the documents.
There are three different possible sources of maintenance problems that can originate with an Association.
- Common area – Common area means the entire common interest development except the separate interests therein.
- Separate interests or individual units – commonly defined as the walls, floors, or ceilings being designated as the boundaries of a separate interest.
- Exclusive Use common area means a portion of the common areas designated for the exclusive use of one or more, but fewer than all, of the owners. Unless the governing documents otherwise provides, any shutters, awnings, window boxes, doorsteps, stoops, porches, balconies, patios, exterior doors, doorframes, and hardware incident thereto, screens and windows or other fixtures designed to serve a single separate interest, but located outside the boundaries of the separate interest, are exclusive use common areas. Regardless of the governing documents, internal and external telephone wiring designed to serve a single separate interest, but located outside the boundaries of the separate interest, are exclusive use common areas.
A unit owner is responsible for the repair and maintenance of his or her unit. The Association is responsible for common area. Unless the documents indicate otherwise, in most cases the owner is responsible for their own exclusive use common area. While the individual owner may have the responsibility to repair something, the Association still retains any architectural authority. For instance, a balcony or patio is considered exclusive use common area, however the Association can create and adopt rules pertaining to what may be stored there.
It is important to check your own governing documents and the state law (Davis-Stirling) to confirm responsibility for maintenance in your Association. (Back to Top)
How is an emergency defined? An emergency is where there is a current or imminent threat to personal safety or property from a common area source. Examples of this would be where there is a roof or plumbing leak – either from the roof, if it is raining, or from a common area plumbing supply line.
Water that is leaking from the back of a toilet, or under a sink is an emergency, but not a common area emergency. You need to contact a plumber immediately, after shutting off the water source. There is usually always a shut-off valve behind your toilet or under your sinks. Your Association is not responsible for this type of plumbing emergency. As the owner of your individual condominium unit this is your responsibility.
If you have water entering your condominium from above you, and it is not raining, the first step is to immediately go upstairs and attempt to contact your neighbor and ask them to check the plumbing fixtures in their unit. There may be a plumbing leak and they may not be aware of it. By taking this action first, the resulting damage will be less significant. If no one is home upstairs you should then call the emergency service number (877-532-4293) if after normal office hours, or 626 795 3282, ext 156 if during office hours. If you reach a voice mail, you can dial 0 to get an operator.
Rain related issues: In most Associations, the roof is considered common area; consequently leaks which come from the failure of the roof are the Associations’ responsibility. You should call the emergency service number to report a leak from the rain.
Please take every possible step to protect your possessions and use buckets to capture the water. It is very difficult to effectively repair roof leaks during the rain storm. You will likely receive water for a longer period than you may think is appropriate. Once the storm clears the roofer is in a better position to diagnose the source of the roof leak.
Other examples of true emergencies may include an elevator stoppage, an inoperable drive-way gate, or a power outage. (Back to Top)
While it is not a requirement in most Associations for owners to purchase their own insurance policy for their unit, it is strongly recommended. There is a policy that can be obtained specifically for owner’s individual units called a HO-6. As an owner, you will be well advised to consult with your insurance agent on this issue.
What is covered under a HO-6 policy?
- Items not covered by the Association master policy that may be your insurance responsibility.
- The value of building additions or alterations made by you, at your expense.
- Value added (If you’ve put in a better quality carpet than was originally there, for example, this coverage would make up the difference in case of loss).
- Damage to your unit not compensated because of the master policy deductible.
- Loss assessment – provides up to $1,500 for assessments arising from covered damage. This can be used to pay for your share of property damage or injury awards for which your Association’s policy does not provide coverage. Typically, up to $50,000 is available, but this may vary depending on your policy.
- Personal Property provides coverage for your household contents and personal belongings. In case of theft or fire damage.
Every owner eventually sells or refinances their loan. The process of selling or refinancing always includes the need to provide information about the Association to the lender, Realtor, Escrow Company or buyer. Every entity requesting information requests this information of the management company. Because time is always critical in transactions, and the law provides a ten day response time, Beven & Brock provides the required information within three business days, and can provide it on a “rush” basis, if needed.
Because of the fact that this service of providing information to the agents, escrow, lenders or the buyer is a “customized” need for each transaction, and there is no standardized request form from lenders, our staff provides this service to only the owner who is selling or refinancing. And our fee is based on the amount of information provided. Some lenders have very extensive forms with many questions to answer.
This is not a service that is provided to the Association. Some of the documents have already been provided to the owner, and there is a charge to furnish them again. Again, normally time is of the essence in transaction like this, and we are able to respond quickly. (Back to Top)
The obligation to monthly assessments, sometimes called “dues” is required of every owner. This is not an option, and is always an amount determined by the Board during the prior year’s budget process. Practically every Board member wants the lowest dues possible. There are rarely ever any excess funds. In fact, most times the opposite is true. It is very important for the Association that you take your responsibility to pay very seriously.
There are multiple ways to pay. Billing statements are sent to you, while they are not legally required. You can pay by check, or automatic withdrawal, by e-check through our website, or by credit card. There may be a fee to pay by credit card as every credit card company charges a fee. <
Each year the Association is required to adopt a budget for the following year. The budget process generally takes place three or four months before the beginning of the Association’s fiscal year. The budget is required to be sent to all owners at least thirty days prior to the start of the year.
The budget will indicate all of the budget categories, and what is expected to be paid for each during the next year. Those categories include insurance, contracts, utilities, administrative expenses, and repairs or maintenance.
No budget is perfect, since it is a projection of the future. It is always going to be inaccurate in some way, but it is legally required tool to project your assessments. There are unpredictable elements to every Association. For instance, it is not possible to know if 100% of the owners will pay their assessments as they are required to do. There is no way to predict a plumbing, or roofing emergency. A budget is simply an educated estimate. (Back to Top)
Most Associations adopt rules and regulations to help in promoting a great living environment for all residents. The Board does not have unlimited power however, and must comply with a process in which all owners are given the opportunity to address them, when new rules are being considered. All rules must be reasonable and certainly cannot be illegal in any way. For example, a rule that is discriminatory according to Federal law could not be enforced by the Association.
If rules are violated, the Association Board has a duty to enforce it. Typically, enforcement would consist of an initial warning letter, and if no change occurs, the Board has the power to assess a penalty, pursuant to the rules and possibly other remedies depending on your legal documents. Before a fine can be assessed, the owner has a right to request a hearing with the Board for the facts to be understood, and the Board may agree to waive, or impose the penalty.
As an owner it is important that you are aware of the rules, and that everyone who lives in your unit also is aware of the rules. This also includes tenants, if you rent your condo out to a tenant. (Back to Top)
Service on the Board is critical to the proper functioning of your Association. While every owner may not be able to serve, it is important that “invest” in the health of your Association at some time. What does it take?
It takes some time, somewhere between two and five hours a month. This is mostly time at a meeting, usually once a month, and possibly some intermittent time through the month. If you are a Board member reading this, and you are putting in more time, you may be doing too much for your Association and you need to utilize committees, the management company, and talk with your manager at Beven & Brock about this.
It takes a willingness to work for the interests of the entire Association, not just your own interest. This is essential, and if you are serving on the Board for your own personal benefit, you need to re-examine your service.
It takes common sense, and not technical knowledge. As a volunteer Board member you are not expected to know everything, but you are expected to rely on the advice of experts. In fact you are protected by insurance when you do.
As your management company we are committed to informing you of your tasks and responsibilities as Board members and we have a great amount of resources to make available to you.
If you feel you are able to serve on the Board, and can represent the best interests of your Association, speak with the current Board members, or your Association manager. Every year, just prior to the election, you will have the opportunity to nominate yourself to be on the ballot.
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