CondoFeed

Condo, Strata and HOA News

Stephen Cassady Authors A Fun, Lighthearted Fantasy Book

As part of taking a break from blog writing, I’ve authored a fun sword and sorcery fiction book full of combat, humor, and a cast of crazy characters – including the main character, Pinty Lightbottom!

You can find out more and read reviews here: http://srcassady.com.

I hope you enjoy!

The plot of “Melee, Magic & Puke”:

At three-and-a-half feet tall, Pinty Lightbottom is the shortest psychopathic bar owner and professional adventurer in all the realms.

When his ex-fiancee is kidnapped, her father conscripts Pinty to bring her back home. Things get more complex when the rescue mission leads Pinty into the middle of a full-on war inside the local thieves guild.

In doing what he does best, Pinty is abused, beaten, stabbed, sliced, clawed, drowned, berated, poisoned, and otherwise exploited by everybody he meets. It doesn’t help that his ego well exceeds his cranium (so one might say the abuse is well earned).

As Pinty cuts a bloody swath through the mystery of the guild war, we meet his many companions, including his ever-loyal Muel; Mavis, the head cook at his pub the Bottom Up; and Gloom, a cat with the nasty habit of turning invisible in a murderous rage of hunger.

Taking a Little Break

Just updating that after 140 articles (and not just copy and pasting) in 1 year, I’m on hiatus. Will return.

Toronto Municipality: The Big Tax Loser with a Condo Bubble Burst

While the biggest losers in a Toronto condominium bubble collapse would be the owners of the property – there will be fallout to other stake holders (looking to the US for clear examples) including banks, federal insurance programs, and the condominium complexes (abandoned units which don’t pay their condominium fees).

But owners that decide to simply bunker down and hold on to their properties until they rise once again will face an additional burden for their trouble: higher taxes.

Toronto has a Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT) – on top on the provincial land transfer tax which accounts to about 300 million dollars a year. This tax takes place when a property changes ownership. For a cost example, on the average cost of a condo ($369,892 – Toronto Real Estate Board) the Toronto MLTT works out to $3074.52.

If property prices fall 20% the drop in city taxes isn’t the same because the rate varies based on the price of the property. This is important to realize when the cost of detached homes in Toronto averaged $650,147, and the blended value of all property types  in Toronto averaged $517,556 – a 20% reduction in property value would result in a 34% reduction in the MLTT – or about $105 million in reduced revenue for the city.

A collapsed bubble market coupled with a MLTT will result in even further loss in property values. It will be bad enough when values naturally drop in a bubble, but with Toronto scrambling to make up 100+ million in taxes, there will be dramatic raises in property tax (or other service costs) that will continue to put a downward pressure on housing values.

People who hold on to under-water equity homes will get punished for riding out the loss with new and greater taxes that were previously funded by an addiction to the MLTT.

I’m not a big fan of MLTT – I much prefer a fair market taxation rate (which is nice – more expensive properties pay more taxes) as a single, primary, tool of municipal taxation. The MLTT seems too variable, too addictive in certain markets, and especially too difficult to deal with when a municipality has to go cold turkey on a collapsed housing bubble.

HOA Hires Taser Wielding Guards for 3AM Eviction

HOAs and Condominium corporations when dealing with delinquent fees, and after following the correct steps, can foreclose on the property to recoup outstanding amounts. In foreclosing, sometimes you need to evict the owners or tenants.

Apparently, for the Jasime  Homeowners Association, California, simply knocking on the front door during daylight hours, and communicating the need for eviction isn’t their chosen approach. Instead they hired a security company to perform a 3am raid on the tenants.

After the guards entered the premises, awoke everyone, forced them into the street in underwear and then ransacked their stuff, the tenants had an opportunity to show lease and utility payments. This proved that the tenants were actually renters (with rights) vs. what the HOA claimed – squatters. With the new information, the guards allowed the tenants back into their homes.

The tenants are suing the HOA (and it seems rightly from the report) for a variety of charges. I would have to say that all this could have been avoided if the HOA had made sure that clear, and proper, notification of eviction had been given. Say, during daylight hours.

The best part, one of the security guards hired is quoted as saying:

between you, me and the lamppost, the homeowners’ association is over-zealous.

Really? Over-Zealous. Say it isn’t so!

TD Canada Trust Condo Poll Results – Owners Confuse Fees with Rent

TD Canada Trust’s annual Condo Poll results have been released for 2012, and there are some interesting findings in the four releases they have published:

  • Canadians don’t mind paying for the perks of condo living (link)
  • Maintenance-free living but can Calgarians really relax in their condos? (link)
  • Torontonians worry about affording their mortgage – but many don’t mind paying for the perks of condo living (link)
  • More affordable than a house: Condos seen as an attractive option in Vancouver’s expensive real estate market (link)

The interesting point for me

More than one-quarter (28%) of Vancouver condo dwellers say that their monthly strata fees make it feel like they are still paying rent, so they are saving up to buy a home without set monthly maintenance fees.

Condo, Strata, and HOA fees are not rent, but the monthly payments required to maintain the property that you have purchased. There is no concept of profit with monthly condominium fees unlike rent. The collection of monthly condominium fees is based off of a budget that is designed to be as close to actual cost as can be forecasted.

There is another focus about paying maintenance vs. paying rent. With rent – you have an owner that looks to maximize revenue and that usually includes significant controls on expenditure. Every penny provided to update or maintain the property is an out of pocket cost for a landlord.

With condominiums, you are paying (usually, unless the board is unusual) for proactive and ongoing maintenance and work designed to maintain the common property and the corporation. While owners may not like paying fees (35% of poll respondents want fees $200/month or less, 44% are ok with fees up to $400/month, and 17% with fees up to $800/month), they should realize that instead of lining the pockets of a landlord they are lining their own pockets by maintaining the condominium corporation.

I hope that helps understanding the difference between rent and condominium fees.

247Condo Receives Consulting Recommendation

CondoFeed is the blog for 247Condo, which received a letter of recommendation for its consulting services from Bank West. Bank West has recently started a condominium loan system for financing reserve fund costs called CondoFlex Maintenance Financing.

Of 247Condo, Bank West had the following to say:

Your expertise and experience in the condominium industry were invaluable to us.  We appreciated your professionalism and candor while assisting us during the product.

I look forward to utilizing your services again and would certainly recommend you to anyone needing information or services in the condominium sector.

You can see the letter here, on our 247Condo Consulting page.

When Considering a Condominium Purchase, Check How Long the President Has Ruled the Roost

If you are looking for a condominium that you’ll feel comfortable with, check how long the current board has been in power. If the board doesn’t turn over, it’s the same names year after year, then add additional caution when purchasing in the condominium or HOA.

I’ve read, and had some personal experience, about too many “lifer presidents” (an example here) that over time begin to treat the board as their exclusive play grounds. Where most elected bodies recognize the threat to good governance elected lifers create – even the President of the United States has term limits – no such measures exist for community associations.

The risk is, and it seems to come to fruition, that over a period of time the basic principles of the board get eroded.

Take for example the board of President Lorraine Walsh, who has held her title for over 20 years at the Deveonwood, Hercules California, condominium. According to one resident the board hasn’t held an election since 2005. Further, though there is a vacancy on the current board and an owner volunteered to fill it till next election – the current board voted down the appointment 4 to 0.

Other shenanigans appear to be happening there as well: holding in camera executive sessions in the middle of public meetings. That’s clearly a method to shut down the meetings.

Often long serving boards tend to use fining as a heavy handed method to enforce compliance, or threaten owners financially if they raise trouble. For the Deveonwood, first time violations carry $350 fines and have been handed out for improper window coverings and poor garden pot locations.

Sometimes I wonder if the property management firms hired by these long term boards are somewhat responsible for the condominium’s or HOA’s decline. If there really hasn’t been an election since 2005 the property management company should resign or make public notice that the board is failing to abide by all rule and regulations. The problem is management companies can fear failing to comply with the board will result in a non-renewed contract. It’s hard to protest the board that pays you. For the Deveonwood, one owner appears to have asked for the record of past elections to confirm when and how the last elections were held, and the management company denied to fill the request.

Condominiums are great places to live, but like any organization they benefit deeply from a regular turnover of the board, and a rotation of the roles. There is nothing scared or amazingly difficult about being on a board, and normally a management company will ensure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. I have yet to see a new board, with none of the old guard remaining, mess up a community.

When the Condominium Board Demands Your Facebook Page

There are many owners in condominiums and HOAs that, for one reason or another, have started Facebook pages for their community. I am all for supporting owners that want better communication with their neighbours – and it doesn’t matter in what venue: monthly klatches, book groups, or social websites.

What does get my hackles up is the boards of these condominiums or HOAs threatening, or taking, legal action to shut down these social media groups or sue for control of the social media.

The Maplewood Homeowner’s Association, Nashville Tennessee, has issued a letter to Susan Rowe that her failure to remove the name of the subdivision (Maplewood) from her 2 year old Facebook page would cause the association to sue her. The intent of the letter is not only to have her change the name of the site, but to turn the Facebook group over to the board.

Her Facebook group – “Residents of Maplewood” (changed from “Maplewood Subdivision”) is a private, invite only, group which posts about lost cats and neighbour requests to borrow lawn equipment. This isn’t even a case of “we hate our association postings”.

The use of Facebook for neighbors to communicate without authorization from the board is something that is legal, justified, and fully supportable. As well, identifying the group as related to a particular local or building – but indicating that it’s not the “official site” is also well and good. There can be no limitation on a group of activist residents using the name of the association within the group title. Otherwise it’s a lot like saying the Nashville Singers couldn’t use the word Nashville in their name. Just plain silly.

HOAs don’t have a right to control owner conversation – and really that’s the crux of most of these conflicts. It’s overbearing, control-freak, boards that see any ability for owners to organize as a threat to their position. To them I say good luck with that. Spend your time on building community – not destroying other people’s successful endeavours

PS. If the association wants is the word Maplewood removed – maybe the association should first go after all those other associations that show up on a Google search for Maplewood. It’s all so confusing as to which one is the real Maplewood, when they all stand up shouting “No, I’m Maplewood!

Safe Deposit Boxes Sold As Condominiums

I have already blogged about the use of condominium designation for storage facilities (here, and here for super luxury) – so it seems a natural evolution to offer really really tiny storage. SafeBox Condominium Vaults (Parallax Investment Corporation is the developer) will be opening up the first (world wide) condoized safe deposit box facility in Toronto, with further development in most large cities across Canada.

On a square foot basis, the units go for either $2160/sq. foot (for 3” ceilings), or $3300/sq. foot for the luxury 8” ceilings.

I’m all thinking this is a phenomenal idea, until I checked out their website and see they are marketing the purchase as “the ability to own a prime piece of real estate at an affordable price.” This is not an investment opportunity, this is a different way to manage and secure valuables. That the company is even marketing 1.67 sq. foot condos as a real estate play is not only inexcusable, it makes that plan feel a little scammy to me. Now I’ve got a little of that “buyer beware feeling.”

Owner to Owner Intimidation Must Be Responded To Immediately By a Board

Painting “Gay a*****e” on a person’s door is downright rude. But in a condominium community it’s significantly wrong. Publicly attacking a person in this manner stabs at the roots of trying to create an inclusive, functional, community.

It not only acts as an attempt to intimidate the owner, it’s a public statement that directly influences others owners to perform the same action, or become supportive of it. Seriously.

Setting aside all the work on advertising and the use of messaging, there’s a pretty famous test called the Milgram experiment which shows that people who see someone perform an action, even if they find that action harmful to another human being, would perform the same action (in Milgram’s case it was applying powerful electric shocks to another person) more often than a person who has no example of the action. In essence, people are way more willing to do things they are personally uncomfortable with (even harmful) if they have first had experience of the act.

So by publically painting the slogan on, in this case James Burns’ door, the painter not only attempts to intimidate James, but hopes to receive community support to repeat or increase the severity attack on James. Even implicit support (nobody objecting) creates the feedback needed by the painter.

Thankfully at least one other member of the condominium community objects to the vandalism. Mr. Burns received a poster that was hung on the door with statements including “We advocate zero-tolerance for hate crimes” and “heart, caring, helpful, kind.”

That’s freaking awesome. It’s the “backfire” that’s required to nip owner on owner persecution before it grows. With only 66 units in the “upscale” complex (Zillow shows unit prices at about 440k at the moment), the management and board should immediately follow up with letters to all the owners, postings in the building, and a letter to Mr. Burns that state any attack on an owner is fully condemned by the condominium corporation. The communication should not only include positive statements that people of all walks and cultures are welcome at the Copley Court condominiums, Braircliff Manor NY, but person or persons found responsible for the act will be sanctioned to the maximum allowance of the bylaws.

A home, is a home, is a home. And the corporation is always in the role to ensure that all people can enjoy and feel comfortable within their residence, and by extension the common property.

Sadly – at the time of this article neither the board nor property manager has contacted Mr. Burns about this.  Time for the board to step up to the plate ensure a positive community. The longer the board waits to respond, the more implicit support they give the evil doer.

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