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Subject: The case of the unclaimed cupola
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Author Messages
DavidF22
(New York)

Posts:91


06/04/2021 1:01 PM  
Last year, some of us residents noticed that one group of four attached units suddenly had a brand-new fancy cupola and weathervane. The cupola is located on the roof of a garage building shared by two middle units. A number of us neighbors felt that the two owners would never spend money on something like this, so we were suspicious as to how the cupola got there since an end unit in the grouping is owned by the board president. None of the community's money is to be used to enhance private residences. But lo and behold, our annual financial statement is published and it's clear that our association paid $3,000 for a cupola. We have no common buildings in our community with cupolas. One of the residents asked the board president flat-out whether the association had paid for this cupola near his unit, but he feigned total surprise and ignorance and said he would get back to her. Well, he hasn't gotten back to her. What would you do? In one sense, this seems like a misappropriation of community funds that deserves a complaint to our attorney general (we have barely any regulation of HOAs in my state). Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:2475


06/04/2021 1:41 PM  
Don't know if the attorney general would bother with something like this. Boards can have different spending priorities, and you can assume that everybody has different ideas. Disagreeing with the board's priorities doesn't mean they're doing something wrong.

But if anyone in the community is hankering to replace the board, then they've just been handed a juicy campaign issue. This is the correct way you deal with boards when you don't like how they're spending association funds and it doesn't rise to the level of misappropriating funds or worse.

Having said that, it's still possible that there are other issues besides frivolous spending:

Does the cupola/weather vane qualify as a capital improvement, which would likely need the approval of the membership? Three grand doesn't sound like a huge expense, but most associations run tight budgets and wouldn't necessarily be able to accommodate something like this without cutting expenses elsewhere.

Are your roofs common area and subject to maintenance by the HOA/COA? Or are roofs individually owned? Who owns and is responsible for maintaining the new roof decorations? Do you have an architectural committee that must approve changes to the exterior of the buildings - and if so, was this approved?

Without more info, I can't tell if you need to be concerned or not. But board members do serve at the pleasure of the homeowners and usually can be replaced with or without cause. So if you feel that this crew isn't doing a good job for your community, throw the bums out.


AugustinD


Posts:1695


06/04/2021 1:54 PM  
Posted By DavidF22 on 06/04/2021 1:01 PM
What would you do?
If I were 15 years younger, I might start a web site, featuring a beautiful photo of the cupola; noting no one else's building got one; and stating I was running for the board starting now. I'd attend meetings and, if there is an open forum section, speak calmly but firmly about the self-dealing that was going on.

I agree with CathyA3 that this is not New York state attorney general material. It's a common misconception to think state attorney generals have much, if any, power over HOAs/COAs. Most HOA/COA disputes are based in the law of contracts, as in: Did the Board comply with the covenants (which in totality, are a contract) when it approved the cupola? If not, then the recourse of the membership is to either throw out the bums at the next HOA/COA annual election, or go to court. Every competent HOA/COA attorney I know will say it's easier to replace the bums at the regular annual election.
KerryL1
(California)

Posts:8620


06/04/2021 3:17 PM  
You and others, Davis, should keep the pressure on the Board and board president to answer your questions about the cupola. Get united with others.

Who does own the roofs or is responsible for them?


I believe in NY, the Board does not have to hold open meetings. So it's hard to know if this might have been boar decision. Do owner have access to board meeting minutes, David?
DavidF22
(New York)

Posts:91


06/10/2021 7:47 AM  
A belated thanks for all the helpful advice. It would be helpful in a normal community.

We are in something of an unusual situation where I live. With less than 60 homes, any mention of board service will cause most homeowners to run in the opposite direction because it has become such an unpleasant job. As a result, there is little interest in removing the current inept, opaque and self-dealing board and there is little outrage if examples of incompetence, dishonesty or outright lying are brought to the community's attention. In fact, we have had people on the board in recent years who have tried in vain to expose corruption and set things right, but other groups (including former board members) have gotten together to see that the honest ones are removed and the status quo remains. We don't understand why some of our neighbors would be motivated to maintain a corrupt and inefficient operation, but we can guess.

It is a "hear-no-evil, see-no-evil" situation. Oh, we did have some pushback from homeowners last year when the current board tried to impose extraordinarily excessive dues and an outrageously high annual assessment without explanations of how the money would be spent or why it was even needed, but then most homeowners went back into hiding. We have a "management" company (in quotes because they don't do much) that works for the contractors and vice versa, and a board that works for itself. If the board doesn't like you or you disagree with something they've done, and you tell them, they will delay or withhold services. We think that's why most folks stay in hiding. Tens of thousands of dollars have been squandered on unnecessary or undisclosed "projects." Rules and bylaws are routinely broken, usually without consequence if the board likes you. All on the board have broken the rules at one time or another without consequences.

There is a small minority of us, maybe 10-15% of homes, that knows full well the complete extent of the problems, but we have thrown up our hands. We pretty much sit tight until it's time to move, hoping there will be no catastrophes and that our property values will not be damaged by what goes on in our community. The only advice that seems to be applicable is to move. Outsiders mean well when they tell us to run for the board or do this or that, but they don't realize that the normal remedies don't apply. It's a real mess. Sorry to vent, and thanks for listening.
DavidF22
(New York)

Posts:91


06/10/2021 7:51 AM  
I should add that so few people want to run that we have not had a board election in a number of years. Not all board seats are currently occupied and there have been recent years when we have only had the state minimum of three. The board does not go out of its way to ask people to fill the vacant seats. They would never ask anyone from the aforementioned honest minority because it would give us a window into their opaque and self-serving operation.
JohnT38
(South Carolina)

Posts:768


06/10/2021 8:12 AM  
Posted By DavidF22 on 06/10/2021 7:51 AM
I should add that so few people want to run that we have not had a board election in a number of years. Not all board seats are currently occupied and there have been recent years when we have only had the state minimum of three. The board does not go out of its way to ask people to fill the vacant seats. They would never ask anyone from the aforementioned honest minority because it would give us a window into their opaque and self-serving operation.




There hasn't been an election in years because the owners have let it happen and haven't taken action to correct the issue.
CathyA3
(Ohio)

Posts:2475


06/10/2021 8:13 AM  
Posted By DavidF22 on 06/10/2021 7:51 AM
I should add that so few people want to run that we have not had a board election in a number of years. Not all board seats are currently occupied and there have been recent years when we have only had the state minimum of three. The board does not go out of its way to ask people to fill the vacant seats. They would never ask anyone from the aforementioned honest minority because it would give us a window into their opaque and self-serving operation.



In this case I blame the homeowners - they don't know and/or don't care, and are reaping the rewards. (Very common in HOA-land, unfortunately.)

Until you have enough like-minded neighbors who are willing to do the work of removing the current board and *serving in their place*, you're pretty much stuck. As you probably know, if you remove the board and have no replacements, your association will likely end up in receivership. It's open to debate whether that's better than random cupolas - it's certainly more expensive. Some states like California and Florida have additional avenues for resolving disputes in HOAs, but I don't know if New York is one of them.

As I've said many times, these problems almost always boil down to this: change it, live with it, or move. You'll need enough competent allies to change it for the better, and only you can decide if you can live with things as they are or if moving is a reasonable option for you.

Sometimes there are no great answers...
JohnC46
(South Carolina)

Posts:11539


06/10/2021 9:57 AM  
Posted By CathyA3 on 06/10/2021 8:13 AM
Posted By DavidF22 on 06/10/2021 7:51 AM
I should add that so few people want to run that we have not had a board election in a number of years. Not all board seats are currently occupied and there have been recent years when we have only had the state minimum of three. The board does not go out of its way to ask people to fill the vacant seats. They would never ask anyone from the aforementioned honest minority because it would give us a window into their opaque and self-serving operation.



In this case I blame the homeowners - they don't know and/or don't care, and are reaping the rewards. (Very common in HOA-land, unfortunately.)

Until you have enough like-minded neighbors who are willing to do the work of removing the current board and *serving in their place*, you're pretty much stuck. As you probably know, if you remove the board and have no replacements, your association will likely end up in receivership. It's open to debate whether that's better than random cupolas - it's certainly more expensive. Some states like California and Florida have additional avenues for resolving disputes in HOAs, but I don't know if New York is one of them.

As I've said many times, these problems almost always boil down to this: change it, live with it, or move. You'll need enough competent allies to change it for the better, and only you can decide if you can live with things as they are or if moving is a reasonable option for you.

Sometimes there are no great answers...




I agree. Get active to make change or accept it or move.
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Forums > Homeowner Association > HOA Discussions > The case of the unclaimed cupola



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