1984 REVISITED or why selling condominiums is difficult today.

My wife and I are responsible for our three “senior” relatives: my mother, age 94; my wife’s aunt Sarah, age 90; and my mother-in-law, the youngster, at age 88. I pay the bills and take care of their other “business” needs while my wife accompanies them to doctor visits and makes certain that their medication is up to date. Together on weekends we visit them and take them out to breakfast, lunch or dinner – all in all a fair distribution of responsibility and one which we are happy to undertake as we are glad that they are still with us and we could not possibly repay all that they have done for us.

This past weekend I concentrated my efforts on my mother-in-law’s affairs as her condominium association is diligently pursuing the eviction of her cat which she has now had for the past eight years and which was originally obtained upon the advice of her doctor.

The cat has never left the condominium, does not in any way inconvenience or bother any of the other owners and certainly does disrupt the operation of the condominium. In fact, unless you are one of her friends who has visited her at her home or a golfer who has seen Ralphie sitting in the living room window as you passed by, I do not believe that you could possibly have known that the cat existed. There has never been a complaint filed by a resident and were it not for the truly Orwellian actions of the condominium Board (they caught another resident, a neighbor of my mother-in-law, with a dog earlier this year and as part of their action against him they required the culprit to “denounce” anyone else in the complex who had a pet), they would have no possible knowledge on which to base their action.

The rules of the condo association clearly prohibit pets, that is not disputed. I have, however, submitted certifications from three of her doctors that her cat, Ralphie, is a medically necessary therapeutic companion animal and is therefore protected under both the American with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. I have also provided them with extensive citations of medical articles and books which support this position. But apparently, the association is not interested in facts and has nothing better to do then waste time and money as they have involved their attorney and demanded that my mother-in-law submit herself for an examination under oath (a deposition, not even a medical examination).

I politely declined that request as I believed that it could not possibly have any meaningful benefit as my mother-in-law suffers from several serious medical conditions including substantial hearing degradation and, as often the case with elderly and infirm seniors, is often confused, somewhat disoriented and suffers from faulty memory. Further, I believe their request for such examination to be arbitrary, capricious, unconscionable and abusive and that such an examination would be coercive and constitute harassment and I so informed the association’s attorney.

And they responded by again demanding the deposition to which I again declined, offering instead to have a set of interrogatories answered under oath. But if this was not acceptable I informed them that any future action should be directed to my attorney. I have discussed this matter with my attorney and have been advised that in his opinion it is a virtual impossibility that the association could win if the matter were to be litigated and, in fact, the association would be liable not only for their own costs but also for my attorney’s costs plus statutory damages under either ADA or Fair Housing (including potential treble damages for intentionally inflicting emotional harm). He also said there was a good possibility that the officers and directors who authorized such action could be personally liable for pursuing the action having violated the law and their fiduciary responsibilities to the association.

A bit of history is probably relevant here. As the Sun Sentinel reported on October 31, 2007, this same condo association received some unwanted publicity when the association’s president /treasurer (same individual holding both offices) was arrested on charges of stealing more than $200,000 from the association. I am not certain if any of the current board members were serving back then but there certainly seems to be a history of inept (if not outright incompetent) fiscal responsibility and management supervision which appears to be continuing today. Perhaps the ownership of a cat is far more important than protecting the assets of the association and its members.

And by the way, there are a couple of interesting additional tidbits of interest here. One of the directors happened to drive his car into my mother-in-law’s car a couple of months ago and, although admitting total responsibility for the accident at the time of the incident, now refuses to be responsible for the costs of the repairs and will not even look my mother-in-law in the eye when he passes her in the parking lot. And one other thing, it is this director’s son who is the attorney for the association.

1984 - Big Brother
So here I am, Winston Smith reborn, in my own dystopian reality, only 25 years later. All that matters is the “Big Association” which appears intent on doing what it wants for its own purposes. I wonder if the association board is next planning to create a “Committee of Truth” so that law and facts will no longer be important or of any validity.

If I could distance myself from the specifics of this situation and my personal involvement, which is admittedly difficult due to my mother-in-law’s concern, my own aggravation and my intolerance of stupidity, I suppose this whole incident could be considered somewhat humorous. But perhaps there are underlying concepts here worthy of examination that provide a snapshot our society today.

When a condo association hires an attorney who is the son of one of the board members, is that not, at least on its face, an apparent conflict of interest and violation of fiduciary responsibility? If a serving board member has a personal (and potential legal) issue with a resident with which the association is pursuing litigation is this not an absolute conflict of interest? Have we become so immune to the antics of Jack Abramoff and others that we no longer see ethics as valid or beneficial? The Ethics Resource Center (http://www.ethics.org) has published several articles which suggest that, unfortunately, this may well be the case.

And how about the very nature of a condominium association and its directors? David Kirkpatrick wrote in his blog on April 4, 2008, “Condo and homeowners associations are common nests of idiocy and petty rules. Sure there’s some value in the concept, but in practice these things tend to fall into the hands of the most persnickety busybodies in the neighborhood/building.” He was referring in this instance to a Boca Raton condominium that was proceeding to evict a wounded combat veteran because his conscientious neighbors had performed a charitable act by buying the condominium he could no longer afford and permitting him to live there for free – but they had not “dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s”.

And that brings up an interesting question of its own – who are these people who run for and become elected to a condo or homeowners association board? Are these trained professionals, businessmen and women who are serving out of virtuous duty? Or Is reality similar to the February 26, 1998 episode of Seinfeld where Kramer runs for condo board president of Del Boca Vista Phase III so that Morty can run things from behind the scenes?

“Condo Bob”, the author/owner/manager of http://condotruths.com/ suggests that Condo Boards seem to be over-populated by four types of people: the Personal Agenda (i.e. “tree-hugger” or “landlord”) type; the Well-meaning but Overwhelmed type; the 15 Minutes of Fame type; and the Qualified but Frustrated by “Board Buddies” type. Having personally served on several dozen condo and homeowner boards as I was the developer’s representative, I would suggest that there are four more types of individuals that are attracted to these positions: the Let Me Recapture My Former Greatness As A _________(you fill in the blank”) type; the Power is Mine Now type; the “I Finally Found Something To Do That Gets Me Out Of The House and Away From my Husband/Wife type”; and the Let Me Get Settled Here, Build Up My Power Base, and Move On To The Real World of Politics”. And the fact is that none of Bob’s four groups or my four groups is “in it” solely to promote the efficient operation of the association and the well being of the residents. Catherine A Hosmer’s 2005 book A Wonderful Place to Live refers to several instances of condo boards’ arbitrary actions costing the association and the homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.

And back to the underlying theme of my blogs – marketing new homes, is it any wonder that many buyers are very cautious of buying a home in a development that just happens to be within a condominium regime? Do not those of us selling condominiums have to work much harder and much smarter to make the sale? Do we not have to understand our buyers much better, taking the time to truly understand their needs, wants and desires and work toward the personal relationship with our prospective purchasers where trust is created?

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