Condominium and Homeowners Associations

Yes, this is a tongue twister and I’ll be impressed if you can say it five times fast, but parking is one of the biggest problems that community associations face.  No matter how the developer sets up the community, sooner or later there are either too few parking spaces, people parking where they don’t belong or parking vehicles that nobody wants to see out their front windows.  Too often developers don’t think about these issues or, if they do think about them, do not have a way to come up with a perfect solution.  The same is true of association boards.  Either they do not want to consider a plan to get a handle on parking problems or, if they do, their parking regulations don’t help the problem.

The lead article in the CAI Common Ground for September/October 2017 is titled “Park That Thought.”  It discusses some of the problems that associations have with parking.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t give many answers on how to solve the problems.  While there might not be a perfect solution to parking, some advance planning by both the developer and the association can help reduce parking problems. Continue Reading Proper Planning Prevents Parking Problems

A recent blog post from the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley Chapter of the Community Associations Institute discussed the danger of condominium and homeowners’ associations requiring criminal background checks for renters of units.  In the blog post, Marshal Granor discusses a Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance paper on this subject.  HUD warns that most criminal background checks by housing providers have a discriminatory impact.  This means that the criminal background check policy is very likely a violation of the Fair Housing Act.  This violation of the Fair Housing Act could cause real legal trouble for associations.

The CAI blog post and the HUD guidance follows exactly the advice I have given association boards for years.  If an association requires renters to submit criminal background checks to the board for board approval, this requirement could very well be a Fair Housing Act violation.  Even though the policy is neutral, the actual effects are likely to affect minorities more than other races.  This is what the HUD calls a “disparate impact.”  And, even if the Association means well, this “disparate impact” is a Fair Housing Act violation.  Continue Reading The Danger of Using Criminal Background Checks to Screen Tenants

The Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County recently honored its 2017 recipients of the C. Emlen Urban Awards.  I am proud to say that The Press Building in Lancaster City won an award for adaptive reuse.  Congratulations to The Drogaris Companies, the developer of the building, and to Tippetts/Weaver, the project architects, as well as to all of the other professionals and builders involved with the project. We have been involved in the project for nearly all of its history, and I have had a courtside seat for most of it.

The Press Building is one of my favorite kinds of projects. I love when a historic or rundown property is rescued. The building was built in the early 1900s as a cigar factory and warehouse.  From 1922 until 1992, the Lancaster Press Company used the building for printing.  The building sat vacant from 1992 until it was adapted for its current use.  Today, the building has been refurbished to house 48 residential condominium units.  In addition, the ground floor of the building is set to house a fine dining restaurant and bar.  Continue Reading The Press Building and Drogaris Companies Honored by Lancaster Historic Preservation Trust

We have written a lot of articles about the countywide property tax reassessment covering the basics of residential and commercial assessment appeals and what the new assessed values will mean to property owners.  Now that most of the appeals have been processed, the county and each school district and municipality knows the total assessed value of property.  They will all set their tax millage rates before the end of the year.  All of this coming together will allow you to calculate your total property tax for 2018.

I had the opportunity to work with a few commercial property owners who decided to appeal their assessments.  In these cases, we were able to get the total assessed value of the properties cut almost in half.  This is going to save these particular landowners around $20,000 per year in property taxes.  Every case is different, and I cannot guarantee that anyone would be successful in a property tax appeal.  There were, however, major similarities in the properties that received big adjustments in their assessed value.  These were:

  1. There was something unusual about the property that the county did not take into consideration; and
  1. The property owners had a good appraisal report to support their appeal.

With both of these things present, a commercial property owner has a good chance at getting their assessment reduced.

So what happens if you decided not to pursue a property tax appeal this summer?  You are able to appeal your assessment every year.  There is a short window of time between when taxes are sent out and the tax appeal deadline of August 1.  This does not mean you have to wait until next summer to think about a tax assessment appeal.  If you believe that the assessment of your property is incorrect, we can help to evaluate and pursue an appeal.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial and Residential Real Estate, Land Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

I recently wrote about a trend in Pennsylvania case law that has permitted short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and others, in otherwise residential neighborhoods. In each of these cases, a homeowner rented out their single-family residential dwelling to vacationers, the municipality claimed the short-term rental was a violation of the Zoning ordinance, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said that the short-term rentals were still residential uses, not hotels or tourist homes.  All of these cases said that if the municipality wanted to prohibit short-term vacation rentals, they needed to specifically and unquestionably prohibit that use.  Continue Reading How Can Associations Deal With Renters – Either Short Or Long Term?

In many cases, an association will seek a Court Order to enforce its rules and regulations.  In those cases, the association asks a Judge to order the unit owner to stop doing something that they are not allowed to do, or to make some sort of change to comply with association governing documents or rules and regulations.  Since the association is asking the Judge to require a specific behavior, it needs to be sure that it asks for exactly what it wants.  Continue Reading Associations Should Be Careful What They Ask For

A recent Pennsylvania case has again confirmed that a unit owner in a condominium or homeowners’ association is required to pay their assessments, regardless of whether they think the association has failed to provide some service. In Logans’ Reserve Homeowners’ Association v. McCabe, some unit owners believed that the association was not adequately mowing the area behind their units.  They complained that the overgrown common areas caused snakes and ticks to plague the unit owners.  Because of this, the unit owners decided to stop paying their assessments until the association mowed the common areas the way they wanted them to.

The Commonwealth Court held that unit owners are required to pay assessments “regardless of any alleged inadequacies in the association’s performance.”  The Court said that any breach of the association’s duties does not allow a unit owner to withhold their payments.  Unit owners are required to pay all assessments when due and they have no right to withhold payment of assessments for an alleged non-provision of services.

This case is nothing new.  Pennsylvania Courts have made and upheld this decision since 1990.  It is a good reminder that unit owners cannot withhold payment of their assessments, even if they are dissatisfied with the job of the association.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

A recent case, Serota v. London-Towne Homeowners Association, dealt with an association trying to alter the voting rights of a unit owner.  More broadly, the case gives some instruction on how to amend the governing documents of a community that was created before the passage of the Pennsylvania Uniform Planned Communities Act (the “UPCA”).

The facts of the case are straightforward.  London-Towne Homeowners Association is a community with 70 townhouses.  Serota owned 12 of these.  The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (the “CCR’s”) was recorded in 1979, before the UPCA was enacted.  The CCR’s provided that each unit received one vote.  This means Serota had 12 of the 70 votes of the Association.  The CCR’s provided that they could be amended with the vote of 75% of all unit owners.  The Executive Board of the Association amended the bylaws to provide that each unit owner receives only one vote, regardless of the number of units they own.  The UPCA provides that no amendment can change the ownership percentages or the voting strength of any unit owner without that unit owner’s approval.

Even though the CCR’s were recorded before the UPCA, some of its sections apply retroactively to communities created before the Act.  One of these sections deals with amendments to the declaration or CCR’s. Section 5102(d) of the UPCA provides that an amendment may be made either in accordance with the law at the time of the declaration, or be using procedures in the UPCA.  This means that if the old CCR’s do not have any way to be amended, then the Association can use the process in the UPCA. However, all amendments to a need to comply with the procedures and requirements in the document being amended, as well as the procedures and requirements of the UPCA.  Continue Reading Association Cannot Change Voting Rights of Unit Owner Without the Unit Owner’s Consent

I have written a number of times on this blog about providing reasonable accommodations for “service animals” and “emotional support animals.”  This legal battle continues to affect condominium and homeowner association communities.  A recent case shows a new way that a condominium association could get in trouble for refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation: because of a neighbor’s blog post.

Estate of Walters v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association, begins with the “usual” issue.  Two condominium unit owners sought to keep “emotional support dogs” in the condominium.  The condominium’s rules absolutely banned pets.  In this case, the Court determined that the unit owners were disabled, and that the support animals were necessary to allow them the use and enjoyment of the condominium unit.  Because of this, the condominium association was required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.

The concerning part of this case arises from the blog of some disgruntled neighbors.  The opinion from the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, quoted a number of blog posts from residents of the community that opposed the emotional support dogs.  One neighbor replied on a blog post “isolate them [the unit owners] completely to their little “dog patch” on the beach and ignore them at every venue or occasion!” Continue Reading Could a Condominium Face Legal Trouble Because of Residents’ Blog Against Emotional Support Animals

It may be strange to think about slipping on ice now that the weather is finally warming up.  But a recent court ruling decided the question of who is responsible when a resident slips on an icy spot on a community walkway.  Is it the Builder who installed the walkway, or the Association who failed to treat the ice?

In Davis v. NVR, Inc. a homeowner attempted to sue the developer, builder, snow removal contractor and architect for a slip and fall injury. Davis was walking on the homeowners’ association walking path when she slipped on ice and injured herself.  The ice was present at a low spot in the walkway where the walkway crossed through a wetlands area in the homeowners’ association property. Apparently, many owners pointed out to the homeowners’ association that water puddled up at this spot on the walkway. It sounds like this icy spot was a pretty regular occurrence. Continue Reading Is the Builder Responsible When a Homeowners’ Association Doesn’t Treat Ice?