Get 1 year of free community web site hosting from Community123.com!
Monday, December 06, 2021











HOATalk is a free service of Community123.com:

Easy to use website tools to help your board
Only members have access to all features.
Click here to join HOATalk for Free! Members click here to login and access all features.
Subject: Can an owner build their own attic access?
Prev Next
Please login to post a reply (click Member Login on the menu).
Author Messages
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/06/2021 11:57 AM  
Hello

HOA President of a Los Angeles County community of condos. We have an upcoming roofing project and the HOA is purchasing access hatches on the roof so owners' ductwork and attics can be accessed. There currently is no inside unit access. Now as I understand, I've heard that one owner recently had their own attic access door created in their ceiling. The AC company we are using for this extensive roofing project had informed me that attic access has legal implications in CA as it is illegal for someone to enter the attic space and crawl into someone else's unit and spy on them. He said this a few times. So our plan for the access hatches was we'd put locks on them and only give the key to the Board or to the management company so the access could be controlled. I have not personally checked into whether attic access is a legal issue as I don't even know what to search for.

My question is, does this owner building his own hatch cause some kind of legal issue for us? I think the CCR does state something about not altering the basic layout of the condo without Board permission. I have no idea if this is something that should be addressed or not. If it is something to address i'm not sure what could be done.

Please let me know if you have any advice

N
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:11665


05/06/2021 12:03 PM  
Nathan

Regardless of that one owner, would you not want roof access hatches to be locked somehow?
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/06/2021 12:15 PM  
I would. I'm contacting the roofer to make sure that there will be a lock on the hatches. I brought this up to our HOA management company for advice and our guy said he didn't think the owner building his own attic access was a problem.
SheliaH
(Indiana)

Posts:4291


05/06/2021 2:06 PM  
Board members should already know what their documents say, so don't guess - pull your documents and READ them to see what homeowners are responsible for vs. the association.

That said, if the roof is association responsibility, I would think you wouldn't want homeowners accessing the attic and if they want some sort of access door, they should have come to the board first for approval. I know this isn't an exterior change like new windows, but this door would give them access to something the association's responsible for. Suppose they store all kinds of junk in there that may or may not be a fire hazard, thus risking their unit and everyone else's? Spying on another unit didn't pop into my head initially, but I suppose that might be something else to think about.

If after reading your documents, you still aren't sure, talk to your association attorney.
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:11665


05/06/2021 3:28 PM  
Nathan

Though you are saying you are a condo, what is your exact configuration/construction?

I once lived in an association in MA where each unit was a 3 story townhouse with 3-4 units per building but they were called condos in MA. I say townhouse, but they are often called row houses. Each unit had its own front and backyard but some shared a side wall with another unit. Each unit had a scuttle hole in a closet that led to a not usable, low overhead attic but some used the attic for storage.

Name versus actual construction can vary and throw people off into a tangent. I have seen standalone, individual homes called condos but their state law definitions called them condos (ala MA) whereas when I hear the word condo, I picture an apartment style, multi story building.
KerryL1
(California)

Posts:8729


05/06/2021 5:13 PM  
As with JohnC, I'd like to know your configuration too. Does every unit have its own roof???? Are the units all attached?

With Sheila, What do your documents, probably your CC&Rs , say about who is responsible for maintaining the roofs? Does it say anything else about the attics? For example, are their the owners to maintain? Or are they the resolubility of the HOA?

Does your HOA have any architectural guidelines or rules where owners must get approval from an Arct. Committee or the Board before they may penetrate the walls or ceilings past the sheetrock? They are very common in attached units.

(Forget JohnC's remarks about t whether you're really a condo HOA. In CA, it doesn't matter, with CC&Rs, you are a Common Interest Development with the homes are separate, partly attached, etc.)

Do not try to look this up on your own. Your Board truly needs an HOA (not some other kind) attorney's opinion (not a roofer's or your Mgmt Co.; they are not the correct experts for this issue.) I am concerned that your Board doesn't seem to have read your gov documents very well and that your prop. mgt. gave poor advice. Is your PM credentialed?
MelissaP1
(Alabama)

Posts:10590


05/06/2021 5:48 PM  
It is and is not an "legal" thing. Yes, it would be illegal IF this person was doing an illegal act of "Peeping Tom" or entering. However, having an access to attic isn't illegal or if you all installing would make that project illegal as well...

What it is is a FIRE HAZAARD. The way that fire works in a building this could create a "backdraft" situation spreading the fire across the attic. If you ever seen the movie backdraft you would have some understanding what could occur in a fire.

This is more of a fire violation of which the fire marshal would be involve. If your HOA had a fire and this was discovered, the insurance may not cover the damages. So you want to emphasize this with the owners. Plus make sure this is not going to effect the work you are all doing.

Former HOA President
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/06/2021 7:55 PM  
Hello I guess we say condos but they are really 2 story townhomes where we share adjacent walls. There are two flats though. We are only 13 units large and mostly side to side. Two buildings, one shaped like a U and the other an L. We naturally have no attic/crawlspace access. The roof has some extremely small openings near the air condition pits but they were only big enough for like a cat or dog to get through.
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/06/2021 8:01 PM  
Each unit has their own roof and we are all attached and share at least one wall.

The HOA is very much responsible for the roof and I believe we established that the owner is responsible for the box. Nowhere in the CCR does it state who is responsible for the attic / crawlspace. I haven't seen it but it must be a pretty small space. There is no access to it in anyone's homes unless they made it themselves like this owner did.

Our CCR says that the owner must get approval for alterations additions and improvements that affect the exterior or that impair the structural integrity of any part of the project or the structural integrity of a common wall or the common area. I don't see anything as specific as talking about the sheetrock.
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/06/2021 8:08 PM  
Hello Melissa

Wow, I never thought of that. Can I clarify, are you saying that having an access hatch to the attic crawl space itself creates a fire hazard? Or are you saying if, as Sheila mentioned earlier, the owner was storing stuff in that crawl space, it could then be a fire hazard? Currently there are several very small openings to the crawl space on our roof. They are either completely open or are covered with only a piece of wood. They just aren't large enough for a full sized adult to fit into.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:2599


05/07/2021 6:05 AM  
Another thing to consider is fires.

Many townhoue-style condos have firewalls between units. The better ones have firewalls that extend from ground to roof; in the cheaper ones the firewall may stop at the ceiling of the upper floor (in other words, no firewall between attics) or no firewalls at all.

Changing access to attics - and storing a bunch of crap in the attic, which I assume is the point of this - can result in fires spreading more rapidly between units. Look in your CC&Rs to see if there is any language prohibiting changes that affect the association's insurance liabilities - if so, this change may fall under it.

Your AC guy is 100% correct about a security risk as well, which says to me you may not have firewalls between the attics.

It's a good idea to talk to your insurer about this in any case.
SheliaH
(Indiana)

Posts:4291


05/07/2021 6:16 AM  
Cathy's description is how my townhouse is set up. We have an access door,but the only reason it's there is because the roofers may need to go up their for inspection or repair. There's no folding staircase to get to the roof - your have to use a ladder, so it would be impractical to store anything up there anyway.

Personally, I suspect this owner may have been wrong to install this door - it could be argued this would risk the structural integrity of the roof - you've already noted there's a fire risk, which I agree could be a pro. Talk to your association attorney and the master insurance company on your next step and how to address this owner it doesn't look like he or she considered any of this before installation. If his/her contractor said there wouldn't be a problem, that contractor should be willing to speak to this at the next board meeting.
JeffT2
(Iowa)

Posts:638


05/07/2021 7:43 AM  
What is the definition and boundaries of your condo units? There should be a clear (exact) description in your governing documents of a unit (separate interest), and a statement that says anything outside of a unit is common area.

Your docs should also list exclusive use common areas (if any) that are assigned to a unit.

This should tell you if the unit includes the attic or not, and if the hatch modified the unit or the common area (or both).
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/07/2021 8:26 AM  
I will take a look at the CCR again, but I don't think the exact wording is in there that would answer that. We ran into this awhile ago with the issue of (incidentally enough the same owner) wanting the HOA to pay for tons of water damage accumulated over years from a leaky roof. His grandfather had neglected the place and he'd wanted us to pay for light fixtures, the tub, the cabinets etc. While the wording wasn't specifically in the CCR (and I remember looking) concerning what was his exact responsibility, our HOA lawyer made the "it's like a box argument" and we denied a lot of what he was asking for. This owner is pretty troublesome.
JeffT2
(Iowa)

Posts:638


05/07/2021 8:52 AM  
Posted By NathanL2 on 05/07/2021 8:26 AM
I will take a look at the CCR again, but I don't think the exact wording is in there that would answer that. We ran into this awhile ago with the issue of (incidentally enough the same owner) wanting the HOA to pay for tons of water damage accumulated over years from a leaky roof. His grandfather had neglected the place and he'd wanted us to pay for light fixtures, the tub, the cabinets etc. While the wording wasn't specifically in the CCR (and I remember looking) concerning what was his exact responsibility, our HOA lawyer made the "it's like a box argument" and we denied a lot of what he was asking for. This owner is pretty troublesome.


In order to be condo, your docs have to define a unit.

Civil Code §4125. "Condominium Project" Defined.

(a) A “condominium project” means a real property development consisting of condominiums.

(b) A condominium consists of an undivided interest in common in a portion of real property coupled with a separate interest in space called a unit, the boundaries of which are described on a recorded final map, parcel map, or condominium plan in sufficient detail to locate all boundaries thereof. The area within these boundaries may be filled with air, earth, water, or fixtures, or any combination thereof, and need not be physically attached to land except by easements for access and, if necessary, support. The description of the unit may refer to (1) boundaries described in the recorded final map, parcel map, or condominium plan, (2) physical boundaries, either in existence, or to be constructed, such as walls, floors, and ceilings of a structure or any portion thereof, (3) an entire structure containing one or more units, or (4) any combination thereof. ...
NathanL2
(California)

Posts:37


05/07/2021 8:56 AM  
Ok I'll look again

Our CCR is old. Like decades and decades old. I don't remember anything like that when i looked before but i'll check

Just for reference our CCR literally says that no one under 14 can live there. I was told that that is completely illegal unless we were some kind of senior living facility which we are not.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:2599


05/07/2021 9:38 AM  
Posted By NathanL2 on 05/07/2021 8:56 AM
Ok I'll look again

Our CCR is old. Like decades and decades old. I don't remember anything like that when i looked before but i'll check

Just for reference our CCR literally says that no one under 14 can live there. I was told that that is completely illegal unless we were some kind of senior living facility which we are not.



It sounds like your community predates the Fair Housing legislation which outlawed discrimination based on age, among other things. An exception to the age thing is the 55-and-older exemption, but there are a bunch of legal hoops a community has to jump through to receive and maintain that designation - can't just put up a sign and call it good.

For your particular question, you'll need to see whether the upper boundary of the unit is the ceiling or the roof, in which case the attic space will belong to the unit. If you don't see anything specific, look for things like maintenance easements. For example, if there are any utility lines serving multiple units running through the attic space that need to be maintained by the association, the presence of a maintenance easement suggests that the space belongs to the unit and is not common area.
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:11665


05/07/2021 10:11 AM  
In one HOA I lived in, we had (3-4) townhouse (shared side wall(s) per building. Each unit had full basement (could be refinished), 1st floor, and a 2nd floor. Each shared wall was a double cinder block wall that reached to the roof. Each townhouse had a low, not usable attic space one could get to via a scuttle hole in the upstairs hall by bringing a ladder in. I had ceiling fans installed in the 2nd floor bedrooms. The installer had to creep around in the attic space to install them.

The HOA was responsible for exterior building maintenance. When a roof on a building needed replacement, the entire roof was replaced. Never was only the roof over one unit replaced. In my present HOA we have some duplex units which are two single story units side by side. When a roof needs replacing the entire roof (as in over each unit) is replaced.
Please login to post a reply (click Member Login on the menu).
Forums > Homeowner Association > HOA Discussions > Can an owner build their own attic access?



Only members have access to all features.
Click here to join HOATalk for Free! Members click here to login and access all features.







General Legal Notice:  The content of forum messages are from the posting member and have not been reviewed nor endorsed by HOATalk.com.  Messages posted by HOATalk or other members are for informational purposes only, are not legal or professional advice and do not constitute an attorney-client relationship.  Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.  HOATalk is not a licensed attorney, CPA, tax advisor, financial advisor or any other licensed professional.  HOATalk accepts ads from sponsors but does not verify sponsor qualifications nor endorse/guarantee any sponsor's product or service.
Legal Notice For Messages Posted by Sponsoring Attorneys: This message has been prepared by the sponsoring attorney for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Readers of HOATalk.com should not act on this information without seeking professional counsel. Please do not send any sponsoring attorney confidential information unless you speak with the sponsoring attorney or an attorney from the sponsoring attorney’s firm and get authorization to send that information to them. If you wish to initiate possible representation, please contact an attorney in the firm of the sponsoring attorney. Sponsoring attorneys that post messages here are licensed to practice law in a specific state or states as indicated in their message signature or sponsor’s profile page. (NOTE: A ‘sponsoring attorney’ is an attorney that is a HOATalk.com official sponsor and is identified as such in the posted message or on our sponsor page.)

Copyright HOA Talk.com, A Service of Community123 LLC ( Homeowners Association Discussions )   Terms Of Use  Privacy Statement