By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
We’re seeing more and more coverage of issues affecting residents of Association Governed Housing – homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations. That’s a good thing. Public awareness of financial risk and social conflict in these common interest communities is growing: the petty rules, out-of-control bullies on the board, professional managers embezzling funds, mean-spirited homeowner disputes culminating in neighbor suing neighbor.
But, unfortunately, there’s a pervasive misconception that HOAs are nothing more than uppity communities or fancy condominiums for the rich. I’ve seen comments referring to HOA issues as nothing more than “first world problems” affecting “snobby homeowners” who can easily afford to lawyer up or pick up and move elsewhere.
But the truth is that many homes and condo associations are inhabited by residents of modest means – from low to middle-income households. And, in fact, a great many residents are tenants, not homeowners. In some communities, especially condo and townhouse associations, more than half of residents lease their home from the owner-landlord.
Condo vs. apartment rental
To outside observers, some of these associations can appear to be apartment home communities. But there is a difference between a condominium or homeowners association and a standard rental community. In a standard apartment home community, there is single owner-landlord for all apartment units. A manager is often hired to screen, lease, collect rent, and manage day-to-day operations of the community.
But in a condo association, there are usually multiple owners of one or more condo units, and therefore, multiple landlords. All owners are members of the condo association, but condo management has no direct control over the tenants. Likewise, tenants have no central point of contact for service and maintenance requests. Most interior repairs of the unit are the responsibility of the individual landlord. Other services affecting the common areas must be handled by the manager on behalf of the condo association.
Rent is often paid directly to the landlord. The landlord, a condo owner, is supposed to pay condo assessments to the manager. But what if the owner fails to pay?
Furthermore, what if water and sewer service is not individually metered and invoiced to each condo unit? In that case, the condo association gets one bill from the water utility. The money to pay the water bill comes from — you guessed it — condo assessments. So when condo owners don’t pay their assessments, the water bill might go unpaid.
Multiple landlords, plus a condo HOA manager
If you just do a little bit of research, you’ll find that most towns have several, if not dozens of these types of condo or homeowners’ associations – where the majority of “homeowners” are actually absentee landlords primarily interested in collecting rent, but not that interested in either managing or preserving safe, quality housing for their tenants.
Of course, another common issue is that condo owners may be embroiled in bitter conflict and legal disputes with their condo association board. In many cases, tenants end up in the crosshairs of those battles.
Litigation seems to be at the heart of the problem at Green Terrace Condominiums in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is just one example of a dysfunctional condominium association run for the benefit of a few owner-landlords, and with a history of irresponsible board membership.
I’ve blogged about Green Terrace before, and the latest update is that the City of West Palm Beach has turned off the water, ordering all tenants to vacate within one week. Meanwhile, the City is owed $30,000 in unpaid water bills. Those costs will, of course, be absorbed by other City water customers.
Keep in mind that tenants have been paying rent all along that was supposed to cover their water bill. The blame here falls onto the condo owners and/or the management company. Somebody dropped the ball. Now dozens of tenants must scramble to find housing in a City with a shortage of affordable options.
Green Terrace tenants must move out after water is turned off By Tania Rogers (Channel 5 WPTV VIDEO)