Question: We need help. We live in a condo and we are renting from a slum landlord. We have paid $1,300 a month since April, but the landlord never fixes anything. We have a bad refrigerator, and the patio screen has holes in it. We are two seniors. We have never been late, not one day. My bathroom is falling apart and we paid first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit in advance. No one has helped us. The condo has never helped us nor have they gone after him. Please help! — J.R.
Answer: While condominium buildings may seem like apartment buildings, they are quite different as far as the law is concerned. The unit that you are renting is private property, and the condominium association would have nothing to do with the issues you are having with your landlord. They would not have the ability to help you, even if they felt badly that you were being mistreated. From what you’ve described, this is a standard landlord-tenant dispute. Your lease agreement may specify many of the various responsibilities between yourself and the landlord. There is also a statute governing residential tenancies that may apply to some of your complaints. For example, the statute states that a landlord must ensure that screens are installed in a reasonable condition at the beginning of your tenancy, but thereafter must only repair them once per year. You need an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant disputes to assist you with your problem. If you cannot afford to hire one, you should contact your local legal aid society and see if they can help. The Legal Aid Society was founded to help provide equal access to the judicial system to disadvantaged people. Their programs include elder advocacy, and they may be able to help with housing issues.
Q: I bought a piece of land that was governed by a tiny HOA of 11 members. I did not use a real estate agent, but the seller had one. When I received the HUD I mistakenly assumed that it was based upon having received an estoppel letter from the HOA. At my first meeting with the HOA, a board member told me that the seller, now the former owner, neither paid for a new mailbox nor paid to clean the property ($1,500 estimate to clean property and $450 for a new mailbox). I have read that I may now be “jointly” responsible to pay. Can I sue the former owner or the title company? — E.P.
A: If you had insisted upon an estoppel letter with respect to the property you purchased, it would have specified whether there were any open rules violations — it’s one of the questions an association must answer on such a letter. The association will likely be able to enforce its rules against you, even though the original owner did not correct the violation, although I would have someone review the governing documents to see if the association had the right to exercise “self help” by cleaning the property and adding the cost to your account as an assessment (which is what you seem to be describing). If, in fact, these costs were applied to the lot as an assessment, you would be able to go after the seller to recover these costs — assuming, that is, that the contract you signed didn’t waive his or her liability (the association could always choose to go after him or her as well, but there’s no reason they would, as they can force you to pay and foreclose on your lot if you don’t). As for the title company, it’s not clear to me who hired the title company, or whether you had title insurance, at all. I can’t imagine a title company being involved without insisting upon an estoppel letter.
This is a good example of why it’s often worth hiring a lawyer to help with a property purchase, even if you don’t have a real estate agent. An attorney would have caught these issues for a few hundred dollars. At this point you’re going to have to spend your time chasing the former owner in small claims court, and it’s probably not worth your time. You may just need to accept that you made a choice to handle this transaction yourself, and that this is one of the costs.
Ryan Poliakoff is a co-author of “New Neighborhoods — The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living” and a partner at Backer Aboud Poliakoff & Foelster, LLP. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your hometown.