I received a three-page written letter with photographs from one of my readers. Here is a summary of her concerns.
According to the reader, she has had an ongoing war with the association’s president and with the management company. She filed a complaint with ombudsman office but believes the staff is not equipped to deal with the broad spectrum of problems that she has been experiencing. She states its complaint form only allows room to submit one problem and there is not enough space to explain details. She believes that the ombudsman office needs more staff who are able to handle complex problems and not place limitations on explaining issues with associations.
When she bought her home 10 years ago, her assessments were $80 per month. They are now $166 per month. She was told that $60 of her assessment is being applied towards a reserve fund and wants to understand about the amount used towards funding. She has spoken to other homeowners in other associations who have told her that none of them have a reserve fund.
She questions why her association does not have lower assessments, especially when she has not seen any improvements and states the roads need to be resurfaced, the boards are peeling and dirt lots are not landscaped. The swimming pool has been closed and removed, so there is no pool maintenance. The reader thinks that her association should be audited.
The reader then lists a number of letters that were sent to her alleging violations of the rules and regulations. For each one of the issues, she responded to the violation letters in writing to her management company. The management company took no further action. Her question was why she was even cited in the first place.
The reader states that the laws need to be changed and that before a violation letter is sent that the association investigates and proves beyond any doubt that it is valid and has proof. A photograph should be included and a violation should be sent with self-addressed, stamped return envelope to the association. If the violation proves to be false, the association should be required to reimburse the homeowner for their time.
She questions the direction of the management company and the board as to their priorities. The reader also noted that the section where the president resides is better maintained.
Recently she received a violation notice pertaining to her TV cable wire that runs up the outside wall of her two-story unit. This time she refused to respond to the violation notice and is now being fined.
Finally, she asks how to obtain legal assistance to “deal with a bunch of crooks who are attempting to take my townhouse from me merely because of a cable TV line running up my wall.”
MY RESPONSE TO LETTER
The ombudsman office has significantly increased their staff over the years. According to the attorney general’s office, the ombudsman office can address those issues that can be related to the various NRS116 statutes and NAC 116 regulations. The initial complaint form asks for brevity and the problem be related with a statute or regulation that if the complaint is valid would demonstrate a violation.
The statutes already dictate a very specific procedure as to the issue of homeowner violations and fines.
In fact, during the last legislative session this year, the commission that regulates homeowner associations was given the authority to review the hearing process and to make recommendations and new regulations as to the hearing process in order to insure that due process is being met, from witnesses to cross-examinations from homeowners, etc.
Associations right now cannot immediately assess a fine for a violation without providing notice and without providing a hearing (assuming that it is not a continuing fine violation).
In the reader’s case, when she has responded to the violation letters, the association took no further action and no fines were assessed.
Most associations send out a courtesy notice asking the homeowner to address the alleged complaints. If the homeowners’ response to the courtesy letter is not sufficient or if the violation continues after sending the letter, the homeowner can attend a hearing and show cause why he or she is not in violation of the complaint.
In many cases, homeowners do not respond to the initial courtesy letters or hearing fine notice letters. Then homeowners act surprised when they are actually fined for the violation.
In the reader’s case, she decided not to follow the procedure and did not respond to the initial courtesy letter. She states that she received notification that she is being fined. If her association did not send her a hearing fine notice that provided her an opportunity to address the alleged violation, then her association does not have the legal authority to fine her. If her association sent her a notice to attend the hearing and she ignored it, yes, the association would have the right to fine her.
As to the issue of a TV cable line running up the side of her home, this could be a violation of the governing documents of the association and, for example, the architectural guidelines of her association.
Most townhomes and condominium communities do not allow homeowners to have wires or cables running on the outside of their walls as these kinds of intrusions can cause slow water leaks over a period of time, causing unexposed mold to grow inside of the walls.
Since the homeowner did not submit any information on the association’s regulations, I can only make assumptions as to this alleged violation.
In this case what she needs to do is to request a hearing with the board to review the violation with them. If the association did not tell her what specific violation of the governing documents regulate exterior wiring, she should request that information. This would allow the reader to review that section of her governing documents to see if they prohibit the wiring of the exterior of her unit.
As to her association dues and the funding of the reserves and the audit, state law requires all associations to fund reserves according to a reserve study that is performed once every five years. The purpose of the reserve study and the funding of the reserves is to provide information as to how much money is needed to replace the capital improvements within the community, issues that the reader has addressed as to the condition of the roads and exterior maintenance of the community.
Annual assessments must include an amount of the assessments to be allocated to the reserve account. If the reserves are properly funded, the association should have enough money to make the improvements without requiring special assessments. The reserve study also projects not only the cost of these improvements but also when the improvements need to be completed. If the reader has not received a copy of the summary of the reserve study or a complete copy (usually over 50 pages), then the reader should request a copy. A summary should be efficient.
The Legislature made changes to the laws a number of sessions ago, which required financial reviews and or audits of the association’s financial statutes at the end of each fiscal year. Her association should have been audited every year since the original law was passed. If the reader does not have a copy of the past and current audit, the reader needs to request a copy from the management company.
This financial information along with the reserve study should provide a financial picture of her association, which may or may not have enough money to properly operate the community or to provide the funds to make many of the capital improvements until their reserve funds increase. The current economic conditions of Southern Nevada with its increased delinquency and foreclosures may have significantly impacted her association’s financial conditions.
As to the perceived or real difference in the president’s section being properly maintained, if the president’s section is better maintained and improvement are being made only in that area, then the reader has the right to question the board and to find out when other sections of the community will be addressed.
Unfortunately, this particular issue is not really under the jurisdiction of the ombudsman office any more than the budget as to how money is allocated (other than the fact of the funding of a reserve account).
Arbitration and mediation are available to the reader through the Nevada real estate division but I don’t think the reader would receive much satisfaction.
The reader may want to consider placing her name for a director position at the next available election and or to find other good candidates who would run for the board who would be more receptive to the needs of the community at large.
Barbara Holland, certified property manager, is president and owner of H&L Realty and Management Co. To ask her a question, e-mail email@example.com.