The right start to a condo association
February 19, 2019 9:25 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I just bought our first home in a newly formed condo association in Massachusetts. As members of the first association of this building, what should we include in our bylaws?

We are first time homeowners and first of both our families to buy in an association. The building (3 units and a detached carriage house with 1 unit) is newly redone and all residents are new, so we're starting this association from scratch, besides whatever legal steps the realtor may have had to put into place to sell the units (just association fees, as far as I can tell). The realtor took on a loose property management role until all the units were sold. We'll all be meeting at the end of the month to discuss the bylaws and figure out how we want to proceed with property management (stay with the realtor? find someone else? manage it ourselves?).

So hivemind, what should we keep in mind when laying the groundwork for this association? What should we make sure to include in the bylaws? What are words of caution/encouragement that you have from your condo experience? What would you have done differently if you were at the writing of your association bylaws?

An extra note: we have off street parking in a shared driveway that will definitely not fit four cars as well as a backyard pool. These are both high items on our "how do we handle this?" list.
posted by thefang to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Consult a local real estate lawyer experienced in these matters. May cost a bit up front, but will spare a whole lot of suffering later.
posted by praemunire at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

DO NOT SKIMP ON MAINTENANCE. Get someone on board who knows about all the maintenance that the association is responsible for, make a schedule of that maintenance, and stick to it. Charge dues that cover this maintenance. My condos, god help us, for the first several years, were managed by an HOA that deferred outdoor maintenance and it's a goddamned nightmare now.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:53 AM on February 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

I'll echo Medieval Maven: my wife and I live in a 25-unit condo building that's a month and a half out from the maintenance project from hell. They're replacing every copper vertical in the building, because the builders cheaped out in the late 70s, and Cambridge water is weird. It's got a 250k+ price tag all told, and it would have happened last year except that the Board keeps monthly condo charges low, so it's taken time for all the owners to get their 10k+ payments together.

I'd argue it's far better to have significant reserves for when shit happens then to whack the four members you'll have for painful special assessments. Spread out the pain!
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Include a ban on short term rents else you'll get people running unlicensed hotels through airbnb with all the noise and security risks that comes with.
posted by JonB at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

We lived in a three-flat in Chicago and had four bylaw/association issues that came up and may be worth thinking about:

(1) Do you want to have low dues and rely on special assessments for major issues or high dues with a cushion for the unexpected? I loved having low dues but can understand the flip side of it too.
(2) How does voting work? Is it 1 vote per unit or (if they are differently sized) is it on a percentage ownership basis? Do you need a supermajority or unanimous votes to make changes? Our association was one vote per unit and you needed 67% to do anything, so everything required unanimity. We had one member who was a giant pain, and there were several times that they vetoed what seemed like a clear need.
(3) Insurance/fault for damage. Our bylaws said that whoever's unit was damaged filed their own insurance claim and was responsible for it unless they could prove negligence on the part of the other owners. There were a couple of times when water leaks from the top unit flowed down and caused issue for the bottom ones, and the owners on bottom were cheesed that they had to make the claim and get the hit on their policy. But they weren't cheesed enough to try to legally stick it to the top unit.
(4) If you are going to do things on a DIY basis, feel comfortable that your officers (a/k/a you and your neighbors) will keep up the corporate necessities. When we bought, our condo association had been dissolved by the secretary of state for failure to file an annual report, and our officers and directors hadn't been updated since two of the families turned over. Our secretary rarely kept minutes of meetings and so we had to frequently reconstruct them after the fact. We had to jump through a few extra hoops to get back in the good graces of the state and keep our files up-to-date.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:37 AM on February 19, 2019

If the driveway will not accommodate four cars, then (presuming that all owners own at least one car) I would disallow driveway parking except for brief usage (pick-up and drop-off) and handicapped guests. You could try some sort of rota (such as each resident gets to park in the driveway for three staggered months, and then has to park in the street for a month) but no matter how you do this someone will feel like they're not getting a fair shake, particularly in a state with variable but occasionally bad weather.
posted by ubiquity at 10:44 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone who rents a condo, please write into your bylaws that if damage occurs you don't have to wait for approval from the board to fix the unit so it's back to the state it was in before the damage. My condo was recently very damaged due to negligent management, and I have been unable to live there for a month. Most of the time my landlord has been waiting for board approval to put in new carpet (same as the old carpet). The board shouldn't have to approve rehabilitation due to damage beyond the owner's control, if you ask me, in cases where the fix is the same as what was already there.
posted by sockermom at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2019

Have you tried searching for condo association model rules, like these (just a random google hit). That seems safer than starting from a blank sheet.
posted by monotreme at 1:16 PM on February 19, 2019

If there’s no quorum at the annual meeting dues double for the next year c
posted by tilde at 1:41 PM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are only 4 units/owners. I would not have a condo board per say, all owners would be on the board. I would suggest that instead of making decisions by vote it be done by consensus were all owners must agree on a course of action. This can make decision making more difficult but will eliminate hard feelings in the long run.
posted by tman99 at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2019

With the parking situation one option might be to set a monthly fee for driveway parking spots and put that money into the condo association fund. The problem is if everyone wants the spots and are willing to pay- use a lottery system and rotate annually? Pool will be a headache in terms of insurance and maintenance.
Seconding the suggestion of hiring a lawyer with relevant experience.
posted by emd3737 at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2019

For less than $3K you can get an auto lift from Amazon. Might want to plan on a long term project of installing underground parking.
posted by Sophont at 10:49 PM on February 19, 2019

If there is common space that might be used by one unit (part of that driveway, a storage unit), make those uses explicit in the bylaws with drawings. Conversely, if there are things that someone might want to put in "common" space later, make it explicit what is needed to do that (ie, if an air conditioner compressor outside for only one unit goes in common space, get approval from the board).

Technically, each condo unit "trustee" needs to be registered at the court. Our first association (3 units) didn't bother with that, and it was mostly fine. But we did have a problem with having old owners on the bank account and needing proof that new owners were trustees and really should get added. Our current association has had more litigation issues, so each trustee is careful to follow the legal requirements.

Consensus is a Fine goal, but please for the love of home do NOT put that in your bylaws. I once lived in a house where everything was on hold for Years because everything was supposed to be done by consensus (in our bylaws!), so when everyone but the guy who was being evicted voted for his eviction... there was no consensus. The court quickly found that corporations are majority rule and our bylaws didn't change that, but it took Years to get the case before a judge. Apportion votes by unit property so that a majority vote is a fair representation of value. And then do everything you can to have the association be fair and friendly so you don't have to lean too hard on your bylaws, let alone the law.
posted by ldthomps at 2:11 PM on February 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

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