Category Archives: association living

carrying moving boxes

Abandoned Property: What Happens When Tenants Leave Items Behind? 

What are the legal requirements when a property management company or landlord finds items that have been left behind? You might be surprised to find that the answer is not as simple as throwing it all out.

The laws regarding the responsibilities of landlords or property managers when it comes to property left behind by former tenants or lease owners are not straightforward or cut-and-dry. 

One would initially think that the most obvious answer would be to dispose of the items. Let’s take a closer look at why that is not the first step in this fairly complicated process. 

abandoned red chair

What Is Considered Abandoned Property? 

Your tenants have moved out, but some of their possessions have been left behind. Now what?  Landlords are faced with the issue of wondering what they can legally do with items once the tenants are no longer in the picture. 

Abandoned property is considered any possession that has been left in the unit, storage areas, or parking spots after the tenant has moved out or been evicted. Property that has been left behind could include: 

  • Things stored in a garage, attic, or basement.
  • Cars or other vehicles parked on the property.
  • Air conditioners or other fixtures that have become a more permanent part of the property. Permanent fixtures added to the apartment such as shelving, grab bars, or ceiling fans often become a part of the apartment and fall under the landlord’s domain.
  • Pets that have been left in the unit or on the outside of the property (yes, it happens). 

couches in an apartment

Steps in the Complex Process of Dealing with Abandoned Items

Depending upon the state in which you own property (or manage the property), you may have different legal requirements to check off before you can dispose of or sell the items in question. Here is a quick rundown of what you may need to do before packing it all up or hauling it to the dump. 

  • Determine why the tenants left. Check local laws for specific rules. Guidelines may be different depending upon if they were called up for military service, were evicted, or their lease came to an end.
  • Review your rental terms for clauses related to abandoned property. Many leases include a time allotment that tenants have for returning to claim abandoned property.
  • Document and inventory the abandoned property and damages. This should include not only pictures of the items but descriptions of them as well. 
  • Give the former tenant legal notice of abandoned property.
  • Sell, dispose of, or store the property, depending on local laws, the amount of time that has passed, and the steps you took to notify the previous tenants of the items. 

As you can see, handling rental properties and the items that were left behind is a fairly complex and legal process where the onus is put on the property owner or property manager to determine that they have fulfilled their legal duty to the tenant. Be sure to check with your legal team for your local laws and regulations regarding abandoned property. 

 

hammer with nails

HOA or Homeowner Repairs: Who Is Responsible For What? 

The regular and thorough maintenance of a condominium community is one of the aspects of living in a homeowner’s association (HOA) that many unit owners appreciate. In fact, many unit owners potentially chose a community because they would not need to take care of typical chores that other homeowners need to deal with, such as mowing the lawn, trimming the bushes, regular repairs, plowing the driveway, repairing broken and well-worn aspects of the building, and cleaning of the common areas and amenities. 

While most HOAs have bylaws and governing documents that clearly outline who needs to maintain and repair what areas, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out who handles certain repairs. Therefore, the goal of today’s blog is to educate unit owners, future buyers, and association members about maintenance responsibilities which fall in a unit owner domain versus those of a homeowner’s association. 

How HOA’s Are Divided

Before buying a condo or moving into a community, it is always good to understand how the responsibilities are divided. Association responsibilities are usually divided between the governing board and the individual unit owners. 

Individual unit owners are generally in control of the rights of that unit. Unless otherwise stated in the association bylaws or documents, this includes: the floors, ceilings, and walls of each unit including the airspace and paint on the interior walls. In townhome communities, this area of responsibility extended to the individual piece of land surrounding each individual unit, as well as any other structure/s within it.

Likewise, associations and the governing boards connected to them, have areas that they are responsible for maintaining and repairing. The Declaration, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) document should have detailed information that will set out specifics for each community. This document is made available to all community members. 

The HOA handles the maintenance of shared common areas as well as the overall building structure. Limited common areas are the shared responsibility of the HOA and unit owners who benefit from them. 

Specifics to Your Association 

Before you request a repair or start working on one within your individual unit, you may want to consult the CC&R for your association. Here are a few areas that could get confusing so you will want to ask for clarification. 

  • Roof and exterior walls: Depending upon the guidelines of your community, these areas are most often defined as common elements, but the unit might include the interior surface or drywall.
  • Floors or ceilings: Similar to walls, the unit might include just the surface, halfway through, or the whole floor or ceiling. Check your CC&R for specifics. 
  • Windows and doors: As determined by your association contract, the frames, glass, and the hardware might or might not be a part of the unit. It could be considered a common area. 
  • Permanent fixtures: Cabinets, flooring, sinks, and the like are typically considered part of the unit and thus the responsibility falls to the owner of the unit. However, certain fixtures including outdoor porch lights or garage lights might not be included.
  • Plumbing, electric, air conditioning systems: The portions serving air, water, and electricity to the unit may be under the unit owner’s domain, but when these areas serve other units as well, it could be considered a common area.  
  • Decks, balconies, and patios: These might be part of the unit, common elements, or limited common elements. (Source: Nolo Law) 

As you can see, the determining factors of what responsibilities belong to which party is mostly included in the documentation given to unit owners at the time of the purchase of the property. Examine those documents before you begin any repairs to determine who is physically and financially responsible. 

 

outside of a condo

What Landscaping Can Do For Your Condo Community 

Landscaping can have a huge impact on a condo community. Think about the last time that you drove into an association. How well were the gardens, walkways, bushes, trees, and lawns cared for? Were they well manicured, trimmed, and mulched cleanly? Were the hardscapes kept in good repair? These aspects could probably tell visitors and homeowners alike quite a bit about what it would be like to live in that community. 

Landscaping can not only tell a story about what the community looks like aesthetically, but also how well managed the community is as a whole. Well organized and financially structured homeowners associations are able to not only maintain year round landscaping projects but also major repairs and additions to outside amenities like grilling areas, outdoor activities such as pools, tennis courts, and fire pits. 

walkway

Benefits of Having Top Notch Landscaping 

Landscaping doesn’t just send the signal that the grass, trees, brushes, and gardens have been cared for, but also that the community at large is in good hands. Here are a few of the overall benefits of a great landscaping program for your community. 

Safety 

First and foremost, landscaping can send the signal that the safety of the community is a top priority for the Homeowners Association (HOA). Landscaping can include installation and upkeep of walkway lights, motion detectors, keeping debris away from high traffic areas, trimming bushes away from windows, pruning trees for roof and structural safety, and repair and general maintenance for hardscapes to prevent slips-and-falls. 

Home Values

Realtor® Magazine reports that landscaping improves a home’s overall value by as much as 12%. For Homeowners Association (HOA) communities, which on average already have homes valued at 5% to 6% higher than those in non-HOA communities, the increase can be even higher, depending on the landscaping techniques used.

landscaped birch trees

Reassurance of Future Buyers 

Landscaping not only shows off the current condition of the property of a homeowners association. It also shows that finances have been allocated by the HOA for general upkeep of the community. 

Well maintained landscaping that is well cared for on a regular basis shows dedication to consistent maintenance throughout the property. This can be comforting to potential buyers and tenants who want to be sure that building management cares about the quality and upkeep that goes into building, and will take care of internal issues in the same professional manner.

Complete, year-round landscape maintenance takes care of all of these factors. Is your community well tended? A landscaping routine can add so much to your community including: safety, a reassurance that your investment is well managed, and a positive return on your investment. 

 

paperwork

What Happens When A Tenant Breaks Their Lease?

The legal agreement (or lease) between renter and landlord is usually pretty straight forward. The renter or tenant agrees to pay for the use of the property and the landlord or property owner promises to uphold all aspects of the rental agreement. Seems pretty simple right? But what about when circumstances occur that cause the tenant to break the lease? 

In most typical situations, renters stay the entire term of their lease, whether it is 6 months, a year or two years. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way of completing that agreement. A new job, a loss of job, a move, a medical illness, or even a military deployment can cause a tenant to break the lease. 

lease paperwork

Who Is Responsible for the Remainder of the Lease? 

A lease is a binding agreement that’s supposed to protect both the landlord and the tenant. Therefore, depending upon the state in which you live, there are laws that protect both the landlord from being stuck with a vacant property until a suitable renter is found and a tenant from having to pay rent for an apartment that they no longer occupy. 

Depending on the reason, the landlord might be legally bound to release the tenant without damages, or conversely, the tenant may be bound to paying the rent until a replacement tenant is secured. Check leasing laws in your state for more guidance. 

When Is a Tenant NOT Responsible for the Remaining Rent? 

While every case is different and should be examined on its own merits, there are several situations in which a tenant is not deemed responsible for continuing to pay the rent after they have given legal notice of moving out. 

military jets

When Called to Active or Military Duty 

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows those in the armed forces, National Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Public Health Service the right to break their leases to start active duty or if their orders take them far away (50 miles is the accepted minimum distance). A 30 day notice must be given to release from the lease. 

When Living Conditions Are Unsafe 

Landlords are required by law to provide a habitable and safe place for tenants to live. Heat, hot water, working plumbing and electrical systems, and a generally safe (up to code) environment that doesn’t constitute a health hazard are required or tenants may be released from their lease without penalty. 

When Domestic Violence is An Issue 

Some states allow victims of domestic violence to break a lease without penalty by providing the landlord a written notice. Check your local and state laws and consult a local attorney if you want to learn more about the rights of victims of domestic violence.

The Question of Loss of Wages or Employment

This one gets a little trickier. In the age of covid many renters have found themselves out of work and a way to pay rent through no fault of their own. Some states require that landlords work with renters on making accommodations such as a payment plan or deferred payment. There may also be federal, state, or local laws that temporarily limit or prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent. 

For more information about breaking leases and the Cares Act which currently protects evictions during the global health crisis, click here

 

two people hugging

How HOAs Handle Guest Policies 

Does your homeowners association have guest policies? How strict or lenient is it? Does it allow for long-term visitors, Airbnb or Vrbo allowances or is it merely a daytime visitation policy? Let’s take a closer look at guest policies, what they are, and why they are put in place.

condo grounds

What Are Guest Policies Within HOAs? 

There are a couple of layers of guest policies when it comes to living in a community. First, there is the concept of allowing people who are not living in the community but are with a member of the community to visit and use the amenities such as the pool, fitness center, and common areas of the community. 

This periodic hosting tends to be short lived and often benign. The rules surrounding this type of guest visitation are usually fairly simple and clearly stated within the bylaws of the community. Some communities limit the number of guests that you can bring with you to the pool for safety reasons or limit the number of hours/days a guest may leave their car in the lot as a visitor. 

Then there is the second layer of guest policies that address unauthorized renters, or home-sharing situations such as Airbnb or Vrbo. These alternative, long-term guest accommodations are often seen by owners as a way to create revenue for the homeowner and a cost-effective way to find lodging for visitors. They, however, are often a nuisance for other members living in the community.

pool

The Problem with Unauthorized Renters or Guests

While Airbnb enthusiasts have become somewhat the norm in the traveling world, they can be quite the conundrum for homeowners associations and landlords alike. Not only do these guests have no real concept of the rules for living in these communities, they have no vested interest in preventing abuses and liabilities. 

Furthermore, once unauthorized renters have entered the property and been given access to common areas, questions are raised about HOA insurance and how it would work should someone be injured or harmed as a result of these long-term guests. 

Potential Policies for Guests and Home Sharing

Many HOAs have begun adding terminology and specific language to their bylaws that include not only reasonable limits for period hosting of a guest but also for long-term home sharing or house rentals. Within the language of the bylaws often is an allowance for a certain number of weeks a year that each owner must live in the property without home-sharing. Other HOAs are outright banning home-sharing and third party rentals without permission being granted by the executive board. 

What are your associations’ rules about guests? Drop us a note in the comments or on our Facebook page that let us know what works and doesn’t work for your community. 

 

banana under a boot

Avoiding Slips & Falls in Your Community 

It’s that time of year again, when snow, ice, and all sorts of precipitation or freezing temperatures could wreak havoc on walkways, driveways, and hardscape surfaces. The many ups and downs of Mother Nature is what makes living in the Greater Boston region exciting, but also a bit of a hazard during the winter months. 

If you are a landlord, property owner, or part of a condominium board, you may need assistance during the winter months to keep your hardscape safe in order to avoid any slips and falls that could occur. Here are some simple yet smart ways to keep your community protected from these incidences. 

condo grounds

Condo Living Benefits 

Living in a condominium community has so many benefits, including not having to worry about landscaping and outdoor maintenance. Shoveling snow, de-icing sidewalks and parking lots are two of the perks as well. Tack on some wonderful amenities like access to a fitness room, pool in the summer, or a guest house for parties and you have a trifecta of benefits to condo living.

The benefit we are focusing on today is the responsibility of preventing dangerous walkway and parking space incidents during the winter months, as well as keeping indoor common areas safe year round. 

walkway

Outdoor Spaces 

The responsibility of a condo community to keep its common areas such as the walkways, parking spots, and driveways safe really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preventing slips and falls. 

Walkways should be maintained carefully all year long, which means clearing them of snow and ice in the winter months, and leaves and other tree debris in the fall and spring months. These walkways should be treated with non-toxic de-icing products. This is the first defense of protecting your community against slips and falls. 

In addition to clearing walkways of snow or ice, many communities also install hand railings, use anti-skid paint on walkways, and keep all hardscape in good repair throughout the year. This includes repairing any cracks, bumps, or broken pieces to avoid someone’s foot getting caught on the ground and causing a potentially injurious fall. 

Outside areas should also have proper lighting so tenants or community members can see where they are walking and thus avoid a painful fall on ice or by bumping into something blocking their path. 

Indoor Areas 

As New Englanders, we all know that when winter hits it is pretty common to track in snow and ice on our boots. That snow will eventually melt and could cause a slipping issue in hallways or common areas. Property management companies should become experts at knowing what time of year to install moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges to avoid slips at entrance ways. They should also be quick to send maintenance crews to regularly mop and dry hallways that are not covered with rugs. 

What are ways that your property management company keeps your community safe from slips and falls? Drop us a line in the comments or check out our Facebook page. 

 

condo grounds

Keeping Your Condo Grounds Safe During the Winter 

As New Englanders and hardy Bostonians, we are used to inclement weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s snow, sleet, rain, or even some hail. We can handle it. Nor’easters don’t faze us. Hurricanes don’t panic us. And wind storms may knock us down, but we get right back up again. 

As property management specialists, we focus on the things we can control, like keeping our property grounds and buildings safe during the winter months. Here are a few of the steps we may take at your property.

pavers in circle

Walkways & Driveways 

Winter precipitation can be a nuisance or it can be downright dangerous. Snow or ice on a walkway can cause slips and falls or unsafe driving conditions. One of the more important services a property management group will provide during the winter months is the constant clearing and maintaining of slip-free walkways and driveways. 

Snow can come in measurements of inches or feet, but either way, a good property management company will stay on top of the situation and keep the areas clean of whatever precipitation comes our way.  

Roof Protection 

The roof of any condo association or rental property needs to be cared for throughout the year. During the winter months, however, there are several things to be cognizant of when it comes to the safety and health of a roof. For example, snow and ice can accumulate making for a dangerous situation on any roof. If insulation is not working properly ice dams can cause leaking and damage to a roof line. And trees with roof overhang can become a problem, especially if branches break off and land on the shingles. 

icicles on gutter

Gutter Problems

Fall is generally the time of year that gutters need to be cleaned of falling leaves and yard debris. If this chore is not properly completed, there can be problems with clogged gutters and flooding/leaking concerns throughout the winter. A good property management company will keep those gutters clear of debris so that any type of precipitation can flow away from the roof and building structure, thus saving the foundation and siding from any damage. 

Piping Protections 

Freezing pipes can be an issue in many colder areas in the winter months. Property management companies can easily protect pipes through insulation and proper ventilation in crawl spaces and utility areas. In addition to protecting piping, property management companies should also be sure of clear exhaust areas and ventilation to avoid a buildup of hazardous fumes like carbon monoxide. 

Tell us how your property management company keeps your grounds safe during the winter months. Drop us a line in the comments or on our Facebook page

 

man in walkway in the winter

Prepping For Winter in a Condo Community 

Nobody here in New England wants to admit it, but the winter temps and precipitation is on its way. That means snow, ice, and below freezing temperatures for the next few months. Maybe even a nor’easter for good measure too! Are you ready for whatever Mother Nature can throw our way? Here is a quick guide of ways to prep in your community for the colder months that lay ahead. 

thermostat

Interior Unit Preparations

If you are a condo unit owner, there’s really not a whole lot you can do to prepare the outside of your home. That job usually falls to the organization hired by your condo HOA board. 

There are, however, a few steps you can take to ready your condo’s interior for the winter weather. Start by making sure your windows are sealed properly. Add caulking where necessary and maybe even invest in thermal window shades that can keep pesky drafts out. 

If dipping temperatures are a problem, try using a programmable thermostat that can have your unit nice and warm by the time you get home from work, and automatically adjust it back down during the hours you are out and about. If temperatures are a problem in your building, you may also want to protect your pipes on exterior facing walls as they can freeze and burst in the sub zero temps. 

In addition to taking steps to protect your condo unit from temperature fluctuations, you may also want to check the batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alerting system. The start of winter is a great time to check both of these as blowing and drifting snow can cause a blocking of exhaust pipes, a potential catastrophe in the making. 

While you are checking your monitoring systems, also take a close look at the lint trap in your dryer if you have one within the unit. A good clean out is a great way to avoid any fire risk associated with combustible lint inside a dryer. 

snowy village

Outside Winterizing 

Usually the winterizing on the outside of a building is handled by the homeowners association, (often a 3rd party vendor) who handles things such as: plowing and shoveling, roof repair, and landscaping. 

Winter tasks such as plowing and shoveling hardscape areas falls to the landscaping team and the HOA board. Treating walkways with de-icers is also a main task of the board who is responsible for the safety of its community members both on walkways and on the driveway surfaces. 

Clearing rooftops or decks that are at the mercy of the elements and winter precipitation may also fall in the category of responsibilities taken care of by the HOA. Read the bylaws about how often these areas will be cleared of snow or winterized for the season. 

Your property management team should be able to communicate with your condo community regarding a checklist of tasks that you may want to complete before the weather turns even colder, while they take care of exterior chores. 

 

city street

Common Condo Community Rules 

Looking for your next home? Maybe you are downsizing, hoping to avoid the lawn maintenance, or want less upkeep for items like the roof, furnace, or other high priced utilities. Whatever way you look at it, condo living may be a good choice for your lifestyle. Before you begin hunting for a condominium community, there are some community rules that you may want to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

condo living room

What is an HOA? 

A homeowners association or HOA is the ruling board over any community living area. A homeowners association makes and enforces rules for multiple-unit buildings like condominiums and townhouses, or possibly planned communities of single-family homes. If you own a property within an HOA, you automatically become a member. In becoming a member, you agree to abide by the rules and regulations and to pay dues, known as HOA fees. An HOA will usually have its rules in a document called a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R). (Source: BankRate

landscaped birch trees

Common Rules of an HOA

When you become a member of any HOA, the rules are clearly spelled out for all community members. While these rules can, and do, differ from one community to the next, there are usually some fairly common rules to be aware of. Here are just a few that you will want to investigate as you begin your home search. 

Landscaping Rules: 

Most HOAs want a community to have a certain uniform appearance from one unit to the next. In order to have this, there are usually rules about the landscaping that is, (and isn’t) allowed around your unit.  For instance, there may be restrictions on how many plants you can have at your front door, or any decorations you may be allowed to have adorning your front entryway. 

Parking & Vehicle Rules: 

Homeowners associations usually have rules related to cars, including how many vehicles you can have on your property, where those vehicles can park, and what type of vehicles you can have. For example, if you own a boat, RV, or use a work vehicle, you may be required to park it in a different lot or not on the property at all. Remember to consult your bylaws before you buy to avoid not being able to park your work vehicle in the community lot. 

Pet Mandates: 

Most HOAs have very specific rules about allowing pets. If your community does allow dogs or other pets, there may be rules that require the pets be a certain size or breed. Again, check with your local HOA about how this could impact your fur-friend and your living arrangements. 

In addition to requirements about the type and size of pets allowed, most HOAs have noise and nuisance rules about where pets are allowed on the property as well as rules about picking up pet waste and leashing said pets. 

Decoration Guidelines: 

Are you one that really enjoys decorating for each season or holiday? If you are, you may want to check the governing documents regarding what is allowed for outdoor or visible decor for your unit. Some HOAs allow decorations during a few weeks a year while others have limits on the amount and placement of decorations. Still, others require that all decorations are kept inside each unit. 

Check with your community HOA board before you invest in a condo community. You will want to know the requirements and guidelines for your specific living area so there are no surprises. What are the common rules in your condo community? Leave us a note in the comments or on our Facebook page

 

urban condo

The Increasing Rates of Rental Fraud 

As if life is not stressful enough during this global health crisis, now rental fraud numbers seem to be on the rise. The logic of why this is happening is fairly simple. When money is scarce, the prevalence of fraud and identity theft increases. The mere fact that millions of Americans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet is enough to cause this alarming statistic to grow. 

What is Rental Fraud? 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Rental fraud occurs when someone claiming to be a property manager or landlord, in certain cases the actual landlord, tries to rent a property that doesn’t exist, isn’t their rental or is substantially different than advertised.” 

Most rental fraud scams happen when a deal is too good to be true. The price and location may seem perfect, but the landlord or rental agency is hard to reach, want you to wire money, or can’t show you the property because of one excuse after another. Always be aware of scammers especially when you are hearing about a rental location from an advertisement, email, or through online connections. 

landscaping condo area

What the Numbers Tell Us 

The Federal Trade Commission, which keeps track of this type of fraud, reports that, “the fraud industry is now costing $1.7 billion annually. And of that, we had a 56% growth rate just within our industry of rental properties.” 

They also estimate that 2020 is going to be a 200% increase over last year. They explain that the biggest challenge, now that the criminals have pivoted to this rental industry, is that they’re here, and they’re coming, and so we’ve got to take more aggressive action against renter ID theft.

walkway

What To Do If You Think It is a Scam 

You can help prevent these types of scams by reporting them to the FTC here. You should also report the scam to your local police so they can take legal steps and warn other consumers of the potential scam. 

We suggest that you do the online form to report the scam. It is quick and easy to file. It can help save someone else from falling victim to these new rental scams. If you know or have reason to believe that the person or company that scammed you is located in a different country, visit econsumer.gov.

To learn more about the types of scams and specifics of the scams check out the Real Page and their online article about “Rental Fraud: On the Rise.”