Home Forum / Elizabeth Rhodes
How can bully on condo board be stopped?
Q: I'm a new condo owner who's read my bylaws and covenants carefully. However, I'm still confused about my legal rights as an owner versus those of our association's board of directors.
Specifically, one board member has taken over, and no one seems willing or able to stand up to him. This is causing all kinds of ongoing problems. Is there a solution, or should I just cut my losses and move?
A: "I think the first step is to try and sit down with the board and address the concerns and see if you can clarify issues and work through them," says condo attorney Jim Strichartz of Strichartz Morgenstern.
If you doubt this would work, perhaps bringing in a trained mediator for a meeting between the board and other owners who feel the way you do would help. Most Puget Sound counties have free or low-cost dispute-resolution centers. (In King County, call 206-443-9603.)
Strichartz says many new condo owners are unfamiliar with the dynamics of condo living, or don't understand the dynamics of their building, and an informational meeting between you and board members may be helpful.
If you follow this suggestion and remain unsatisfied, Strichartz says, you have three choices. One is to mount a political campaign to replace the offending board member or members. The second is to ignore the problem. The third is to sell. Otherwise, "It probably isn't useful to try legal action," he says. "In most cases they're political issues as opposed to legal issues.
"It's certainly easier to leave, but there are costs involved," Strichartz points out. You may not be able to recoup them if you've only recently purchased your home.
Q: The tenants of a nearby rental house have generated many, many noise complaints. The owners of this rental are cooperating with neighbors in not renewing the lease, which is up in a few months. Why can't the landlords evict these people now based on the record of complaints?
A: Just a host of complaints won't do it, explains Des Moines attorney Drake Bozarth. Rather, the tenants must be violating the language of the lease (and not all contain nuisance provisions) or breaking the law. Then the landlord could take the highly structured legal steps necessary to evict.
That starts with a formally delivered 10-day notice to comply or vacate. Once they receive it, tenants often "think they have to be quiet for 10 days, then they can be noisy," says Bozarth, "but that's not true. You have to make it clear that if they're noisy after the 10 days expires and before 60 days, then the landlord can commence an eviction action."
Otherwise, if the tenants are noisy beyond that time frame — say, on the 61st day — then the whole process begins anew with a 10-day notice to comply or vacate. But let's say the offender neither complies nor vacates. Then the landlord goes forward with the eviction.
If the tenant doesn't fight it, the whole affair can be over in a month. If the tenant does fight it, it can drag on for two months or more and even end up in a trial. There, a landlord who doesn't have compelling proof may well lose.
Depending on how messy this whole process gets, the landlord may incur from $450 to several thousand dollars in legal, court and sheriff's fees. That's why Bozarth doubts the owners of the rental near you will want to go the eviction route. "It's unlikely the landlord will incur these expenses when it will take a month or more to evict and instead he can wait them out."
Q: A house near mine is owned by a real-estate agent and his family. The house has just gone on the market, and the agent is handling the listing. I recall hearing a number of years ago that it's unethical for an agent to sell his own property. Is this true?
A: Not exactly. Kimberly Brangwin, the current chairman of the Seattle King County Association of Realtors, says it's "perfectly ethical" for your agent neighbor to list his house and represent himself in the sale. But it would be unethical if he also represented the buyer.
"If you're a licensed agent and selling your own property, you're only selling your own interest. To claim you can also represent the interests of the buyer would not be correct," Brangwin says.
Indeed, state law says real-estate agents owe a fiduciary duty to their clients and can't do anything that would adversely affect them. Both would be pretty hard to do if an owner-agent were working both sides of the deal.
To keep everything aboveboard, agents selling their own property must disclose this, both on the written listing information and verbally, Brangwin says. "That information should be made clear; that's an ethical duty." If a situation should arise where a buyer asks an agent/owner to represent him, the agent should encourage the buyer to retain his own representation, she says.
Home Forum answers readers' real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.
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