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Subject: HOA billing for repair, but refusing to provide invoice showing basis for charge: normal?
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PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:184


08/02/2019 5:17 AM  
In my HOA, owners apparently are responsible for costs of repairing and replacing smoke detectors inside their homes, even though the HOA handles the work.

My HOA said that there was an issue with my smoke detector; it's somehow tied to the HOA-wide fire alarm system and so the HOA knew from that that the smoke alarm was defective.

So the HOA had the smoke detector replaced and added a four-figure charge to my monthly bill (i.e., the charge is over $1k).

I asked that HOA's property manager several times for a copy of the original invoice from the repair company. I haven't gotten it.

Is it normal for a HOA to (1) have a third-party repair company do repairs inside homes, (2) bill owners and (3) not provide any invoice at all to show proof of the charge? If so, doesn't that enable HOAs to impose inflated charges on homeowners?

Please don't respond with "you're a lawyer so you should know this" or "you're a lawyer so...". I've checked the governing documents and relevant statutes. I'm seeking information about how these things are typically handled in practice, please.

Thanks.
JeffT2
(Iowa)

Posts:479


08/02/2019 6:02 AM  
We have a similar alarm system.

Only trained people should be doing the work, so yes I would say it is normal and required.

The parts and labor are quite expensive for these systems, but a thousand dollars sounds ridiculous. I can replace a system smoke detector for less than a hundred dollars. Smoke detectors need to be replaced every 10 years, so they are generally designed to be fairly easy to replace. It sounds like they are adding other charges, perhaps travel for the tech, troubleshooting, re-certification of the system. A thousand dollars still seems high.

Your governing documents should describe the alarm system. Also the maintenance responsibilities of the owner and association, and allow for access to units for maintenance and a statement that the association can assess the owner for maintenance.

You can call the people who did the installation to ask about it. The association typically does not like owners to contact contractors directly, but in the case of a thousand dollar charge, I think the contractor should be helpful.
LetA
(Nevada)

Posts:736


08/02/2019 6:30 AM  
Yes! I think a grand is overly excessive. Are they sending you the bill for the entire building? Not knowing exact prices and based on other skilled labor. I would assume the average cost of a network smoke alarm is between $100-$150 and the trip charge around $80. Since HOA's are non profit, I don't know why they're allegedly inflating the bill. Something defiantly smells rotten.
SheliaH
(Indiana)

Posts:2621


08/02/2019 7:11 AM  
"Normal" is subjective - what's normal for one HOA may be out of the question for another. As I've often said, not everything in HOA land is addressed in the governing documents or state/local law, or even common procedure. As an attorney, YOU should know that because this can apply in any area of the law. Why else do you think law clerks were invented to research stuff?)

In this case, your board should have been more upfront about the cost before the repairs took place. Sure, you were told there was a problem, but if repairs required unit detectors to be replaced, homeowners should have told that too, along with the costs. If I'd been on the board, I would have also pushed for a payment plan because most folks don't have $1k lying around in case of emergency (although having an emergency fund is common sense for anyone because shit always happens when you least expect it.

I also wonder why the HOA would handle the work if homeowners are responsible for replacing and repairing smoke detectors. It seems to me if your building has an alarm system like this, major repair and replacement should be included in your reserve fund because that's what they're for.

You didn't say if you asked your board about any of this, so that's your next step. From there, you might want to start attending more meetings and taking a longer look at the budget to see what's going on. If you have questions or suggestions, bring them up - and perhaps offer to help research more cost-effective options.

KerryL1
(California)

Posts:6534


08/02/2019 8:48 AM  
I think NY is a closed-meeting state, Sheila, so Paul might not be allowed to attend board meetings. beside, he first needs to see his HOA's documents on Owner's rights to inspect HOA records. It'd be in the CC&Rs or bylaws.

If they're silent, NY statutes might help. In CA, for instance, the Davis-Stirling Act permits Owners to request inspecting records including invoices. We need to put the request in writing and the HOA has 10 days, for recent records, to comply.
SueW6
(Michigan)

Posts:526


08/02/2019 9:06 AM  
There may be much more to this job than “replacing” a smoke detector. Perhaps mandated government upgrades in wiring had to be done and more sophisticated units.

In any case, I cant believe that this was not discussed at meetings, approved financing, and some kind of notification done. Good reason for going to meetings, huh?
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:8550


08/02/2019 10:30 AM  
Paul

Their procedure sounds fine but the cost is outrageous. You deserve an itemized invoice. Demand such.
KerryL1
(California)

Posts:6534


08/02/2019 10:34 AM  
With Jeff & others, how do your docs, Paul, define this alarm system? Is it exclusive or limited use common area since it sounds like it's connected to the building system?

In your CC&Rs, under what conditions may "the HOA" enter your unit and do work? Are any particular elements of your separate use unit listed?
Our CC&Rs, for instance, do not permit the HOA to enter our unit unless there's something in it that's threatening the common area or other condos. I assume they argue that an alarm that doesn't work threatens the common area & other condos?

In your CC&R, there should be sections on maintenance, i.e., who's responsible for what. Are smoke detectors listed as the HOA's responsibility to maintain?
SamE2
(New Jersey)

Posts:133


08/02/2019 10:47 AM  
I think the process is okay but I would want to see the invoice. $1000 can't be for just replacing one smoke detector.
GenoS
(Florida)

Posts:3123


08/02/2019 2:38 PM  
Posted By JeffT2 on 08/02/2019 6:02 AM
The parts and labor are quite expensive for these systems, but a thousand dollars sounds ridiculous.

I agree with this. Sure, it's NY and there are possibly factors combining to drive the cost up, but 4 figures is insane.
AugustinD


Posts:1886


08/02/2019 3:08 PM  
Posted By PaulJ6 on 08/02/2019 5:17 AM
I asked that HOA's property manager several times for a copy of the original invoice from the repair company. I haven't gotten it.


If this is a condominium in the state of New York, then I would write the condo board a letter like the following and send it certified mail, return receipt requested:
---
Dear Board,

The New York Condominium Act (RPP Art. 9-B), Section 339-W states: "Books of receipts and expenditures; availability for examination. The manager or board of managers, as the case may be, shall keep detailed, accurate records, in chronological order, of the receipts and expenditures arising from the operation of the property. Such records and the vouchers authorizing the payments shall be available for examination by the unit owners at convenient hours of weekdays. A written report summarizing such receipts and expenditures shall be rendered by the board of managers to all unit owners at least once annually."

Please give me a time during the week when I may review the "detailed, accurate records" for all "receipts and expenditures arising from" replacing the smoke detector in my unit.

Thank you,

___ ___
Unit
____ Condominium
___, New York ____
Phone:
Email:
---

See https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/RPP/339-W
KerryL1
(California)

Posts:6534


08/04/2019 10:42 AM  
Augustin's letter looks useful. Wonder what Paul thinks?
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:184


08/04/2019 1:44 PM  
Thanks, everyone!
KerryL1
(California)

Posts:6534


08/04/2019 2:31 PM  
Have you tired a written request for the invoice, Paul? Let us know how this turns out.
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:184


08/04/2019 5:50 PM  
Posted By KerryL1 on 08/04/2019 2:31 PM
Have you tired a written request for the invoice, Paul? Let us know how this turns out.




I've asked for it, by email to the property manager, several times and was told no.
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:184


08/05/2019 12:59 PM  
So I finally got something--an email from the property manager to the smoke detector company, saying, "We had a smoke detector on site so we already had one. We used it. But we need to charge the owner for it. What's the cost for it plus labor?" The smoke detector company replied, "$1xxx.00".

So a four-figure charge based on an email.

Wouldn't it be better to order a new one and give me the actual invoice for the new one?
SheliaH
(Indiana)

Posts:2621


08/05/2019 1:14 PM  
Are they trying to say they had to charge YOU (and maybe some other people) because your detector wouldn’t be compatible with the repairs to the building’s systems? Did they have any installation issues that added time to the work? Those may or may not be factors, but nonetheless, more information should have been given to the homeowners who were billed.

As you know, the property manager works at the behest of the board, so if you’re going to lean on anyone, it should be them. If everyone was charged this, you may want to walk around and ask some of your neighbors if they’re just as pissed off as you are. If so, go to the next board meeting and demand answers. It’s easy to ignore one person as a “troublemaker,” but when you get a roomful of them…..And you know the rest – if they have a history of stonewalling the people who elect and re-elect them, it may be time to make a change with the next election (or just call for a special meeting to discuss this and possibly a recall). Sometimes the threat of recall is enough to blast information out of the board, not to mention ensure they’re more forthcoming next time.

By chance, do you know what kind of smoke detector system this is (the brand name)? Maybe you can Google the name and get some more information on installation, upgrades and what not, which may give you an ideal of the cost. That may be up, down or way, way up, depending on what’s going on in your community, but this information could give you some insight as to what to discuss with the board. You may find they didn’t ask any questions either and didn’t think they needed to because the homeowners were paying for it anyway (not a good excuse AT ALL).
PaulJ6
(New York)

Posts:184


08/06/2019 5:08 AM  
SheilaH, thanks; great ideas. I don't know which smoke detector it is but will find out. I want to be a reasonable team player here, but I also don't want to be a sucker. "Let's charge the homeowner $X" doesn't really sound right to me.
SamE2
(New Jersey)

Posts:133


08/06/2019 5:18 AM  
Posted By PaulJ6 on 08/05/2019 12:59 PM
So I finally got something--an email from the property manager to the smoke detector company, saying, "We had a smoke detector on site so we already had one. We used it. But we need to charge the owner for it. What's the cost for it plus labor?" The smoke detector company replied, "$1xxx.00".

So a four-figure charge based on an email.

Wouldn't it be better to order a new one and give me the actual invoice for the new one?





Our smoke detector is good for 10 years. If they had one on-site I would wonder how long they had it and when it was produced. On mine if you take off the date there is a manufacturing date. If it was made before 2019 you should get a discount for that alone. I bought 10 at an electrical supply store this year and they tried to give me ones from 2015.
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