Living in a Condo Association means that you are subject to a wide variety of Bylaws, rules, and other conditions. One of the interesting – and often frustrating – issues results from entering Owners’ units in Condo Associations. This can be necessitated by a variety of factors. The most common occurs when there is work that affects common elements, or shared space, that must be accessed via an individual Owner’s unit. For example, you might be servicing a fire system or sprinkler system. Additionally, the Association might need to enter to repair damage caused by the failure of a system, such as water damage.
Even though a Condo Association may have the right to enter Owners’ units, you are still entering someone’s home. You want to ensure you communicate well, are respectful, and protect the Association. These tips will help you be successful when entering Owners’ units in Condo Associations.
Ensure You Have Solid Legal Footing
First and foremost, you’ll want to clarify and understand your legal authorities. Every Condo Act and Bylaws are slightly different, but they all grant Associations some right to enter individual units. Sometimes there are different rules for emergency or life safety-related entrances as opposed to non-emergency. Identify the processes for each and figure out why you’re entering and which you need to follow. You’ll also want to take specific note of the Bylaws and Condo Act rules you are leveraging so you can cite them to Owners.
Communicate the Purpose and Intent
To the maximum extent possible, you want to be very clear in communicating the when’s and why’s of entering an Owner’s unit. In non-emergency situations, try to provide at least a week’s notice to the Owner. Include the purpose of why you will be entering their unit and what they can expect while you are there. If you need them to do something – like move stuff – clearly explain what is needed and the implications if they fail to help.
To smooth possible challenges, you’ll also want to cite the relevant Bylaws and Condo Act that grants the Association the right to enter. This cuts down on the spurious “You can’t do that, I’m going to sue” stance that difficult Owners might take. You also want to provide the implications of what happens if they fail to grant entry – for example, you might have the legal right to call a locksmith and charge the Owner the cost. You might even be able to call the police to grant entry. While these may seem severe, if you are repairing critical life safety systems like a fire alarm, there is little margin for error.
Bring a Buddy and Document
You never want just one person to enter an Owner’s unit. You always want at least two people from your Management staff to be present. If you’re working with a vendor, you want at least one Management staff member along with the vendor staff. This is to prevent accusations of theft, damage, etc.
If appropriate, also consider having your staff video the process or take pictures. For example, if your staff sees a huge gash in the floor when they enter, and you’re planning on moving furniture around, take a picture. You don’t want to be accused of creating the damage. This may seem onerous, but it becomes critical if there is a dispute.
What to Do if You Encounter Something Weird
When you enter someone’s home, you can expect the unexpected. Most people have the good grace to hide their cash, drugs, and dead bodies, or at least vaguely clean up. If you’re Entering Owners’ Units in Condo Associations on an emergency basis, they may not have time to hide their drugs, waste, or whatever.
If you encounter a hoarding situation or something that is unsanitary, like rodents or bugs, that needs to be documented. Take a few subtle pictures and reach out to your lawyer for guidance. There are complicated laws of what can and cannot be done in such situations, but if vermin spread from the unit, you may be liable if you fail to act. Plus it’s really gross.
In the event that you see what might appear to be drugs or other… suspicious materials, that’s on you to handle. At a high level, you generally don’t want to be NARCing on people when you enter their units, as it can end up leading to legal and cultural issues. Now, if you see something violent or evidence of a violent crime, that’s one thing. If you see giant stacks of cash and firearms (which you have no way of knowing whether they are legal or not) – that’s a trickier situation. Best to call your lawyer and go from there.
Follow Up After Entering Owners’ Units in Condo Associations
Upon completion of the work, make sure you send an email or other note to the Owners to let them know the work was completed. If something went wrong, make sure to let them know. Similarly, if the work was not completed and you need to return, document that as well. Make sure you follow the same rules as you repeat the process.
Be Diligent and the Work Will Be Smooth
There are always inherent challenges when you are entering Owners’ Units in Condo Associations. However, you can mitigate the vast majority of these issues if you plan ahead and ensure you are diligent. You get into trouble when you shoot from the hip. So as always – plan ahead and lead a better Condo life.